Book Title: Once Upon a Time in Gravity City
Foreword: Michael Bunker
Editor: Crystal Watanabe
Publication Date: May 14, 2018
Available on: Amazon as an eBook and as a paperback
Indie Athenaeum Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars
Gravity City. In the future, there’s a city on a distant planet that’s rife with corruption, despair, and people ruthlessly preying on one another. It’s filled with two mega-corporations trying to wring every last profit out of the public. Drugs are prevalent, robots are artificially intelligent and have their own biker gangs (!). Veterans of wars drink away their sorrows and the illegal underground is thriving, bustling with activity.
Gravity City. Its population is filled with mostly the poor and the disenfranchised who’ve lost all hope and try to make it through another day. The rich get richer, living in their mansions hovering high in the sky over the filth that pervades this megalopolis.
Gravity City. It’s not a city filled with fairy tales, not even once upon a time. A city like this is filled with dark stories. Noir stories, science fiction stories, gumshoe stories, war stories, alien stories and smuggler stories. In this city, imagination is bursting at the seams, the sky’s the limit and the tales to tell here are numerous and filled with variety.
A man lying in the desert, wondering about his identity and surrounded by debris. A sniper given the opportunity of a lifetime with a huge payday. A mysterious vigilante with a deadly agenda. An alien fish that somehow rips a family apart with its desires. Assassins who are trying to get out of the game, in a game where retirement means death. An artificially intelligent robot making an effort to become more human-like. A missing person’s case turns into unimaginable horror. A private eye with a secret employer investigating something unusual. And a smuggler trying to evade corrupt cops on a ride across the dangerous desert, trying to outfly his pursuers. Where else will you find stories like this?
Now, Artie Cabrera has opened up his world to other authors, curating this anthology filled with delightful expansions on his original concepts and seeing where the stories take them. It starts with a mind-blowing and insightful foreword by author Michael Bunker about Gravity City, the nature of gravity itself and how it’s all connected to us and the world we live in. From there, we get ten stories set in this inventive universe.
While all of these stories were superb, I found several of these to be the best of the best. Here’s what struck me the most and why:
Michael Ezell’s “Suicide Snails Have No Legs” – Darryl is a sniper, a veteran of a long-forgotten war and stuck in the city with no employable skills. For someone who is down and out, he must turn to sell drugs just to pay the bills. But when someone of dubious character offers him a job to assassinate a bad guy, will he take it?
The author fully immersed me into the dreary day-to-day life of a former soldier who still has a moral code. I could feel the world-weariness of his life, the pain of his cybernetic limbs and the sweet relief of the alcohol as it went down my gullet. He has some difficult choices to make, not a lot of time to make them and must make some quick judgments about the right thing to do. It’s an intense story that shows you both parts of the equation and lets you decide which is the least of two evils. The nefarious and ingenious plan set into motion here is truly unique and had me turning pages to see what would happen next.
Caroline J. Gill’s “Parts Unknown” – Nini and her family live in a poor section of her neighborhood. She’s looking for her missing brother Donatello and finds out he was in a car crash. However, not everything is as it appears and something is not adding up with this story that she’s been told. What is going on here and how it is connected to a rich family that lives nowhere near her?
This is a conundrum with numerous twists and turns until an unspeakable horror is brought to light. This conspiracy comes from a completely unexpected source and made me very sad as its revelations became fully known. The complexity of this story made my head spin in delight also made me despondent at the depravity of what happened. It was completely unpredictable and was very involving, invoking deep sorrow and heartbreak.
Artie Cabrera’s “Johnny Rangers: Space Detective” – Johnny Rangers is a private space detective who’s cultivated a bad reputation with lawbreakers who hide in a technologically-enhanced area called Gravity City. This hard-boiled, sci-fi mystery noir mashup starts with Johnny meeting a dame in a bar, picking up an unwanted kid sidekick along the way and investigating a fascinating murder! And how do cyborgs fit into all of this?
When you find out the reason behind the murder, the story becomes even more complicated and spellbinding in the process. This tale is the progenitor of this entire anthology and it is quite an offbeat and original tale. It’s a vastly entertaining with sparkling dialogue, plenty of laughs and many unexpected twists that grip you throughout the entire story.
All of the other stories were quite noteworthy as well. Christopher J. Valin’s story about a dark vigilante has a vicious twist to it that made my jaw drop. And Valin’s story with Artie Cabrera about The Red Baron had the best humor, rollicking action and the second strangest creature in this book. However, the strangest creature in this book is the Roob. Author K.J. Heritage gives us a tale about someone on death row who explains her story to a lawyer and it is the craziest story in this anthology. The surprises in The Roob made me shake my head in wonder. D.K. Cassidy’s story of who was investigating who had plenty of bombshells in it as well that made me awestruck.
Stephen Lomer’s story about robots was creepy and eerie, making the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end. Steve Beaulieu’s story about a nobody with secret data that could bring down a mega-corporation was a study in spine-tingling suspense that makes you question the reality of the moment. Monica Enderle Pierce’s tale of two assassins with a sordid past together was heart-wrenching, exciting and filled with an intriguing mystery.
The author set this up this anthology to be a world that shares many concepts. The two mega-corporations warring for dominance is Axon Labs and Pantheon Industries. Their corporate espionage and secret machinations to increase profits reek of corruption and have an impact on all the stories in one way or another. There is even one instance where I even saw a character from one story cross over into a different authors tale. These seamless story elements blend together to make a hard-boiled cocktail in which anything can happen to anyone, anywhere.
Things like the robot biker gang called “The Soulless” terrorizing the population with a specific agenda in mind and their dangerous activities lurk in the shadows. The station XYZ-1 News is always on in the background. A type of music called Deperky is part of the popular culture. And the Gravity City Safety Guidelines at the beginning of the book warn the reader about what they should know before they start reading. This kind of attention to detail and world-building is something I always appreciate, as it makes the entire anthology more immersive, cohesive and much more real.
The collection made me glad that I didn’t live there. Yet at the same time, it presents an undeniable reflection of the darkness that lies in the hearts of humanity, as well as that of the aliens and the robots who live here. This is how expertly this anthology drew me into it and made me smell the dankness of its environment, lament the situations in which its denizens had to live in and feel the constant fear that my life could be in danger.
A serious gravitas hangs over the entire collection as if you reach out and touch it. Endless possibilities abound with such a rich world to play in. It is a superb anthology filled with bold storytelling, innovative concepts and creative ideas that were brilliantly executed. I highly enjoyed this collection and I would very much welcome more stories set in this universe.
Enter Gravity City at your own peril, as its dark & exciting stories of danger will capture your imagination like nothing else!
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Previous Indie Athenaeum book reviews about stories by Artie Cabrera include “The Legends of Boone Ridge“.