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Incarceration Paperback – May 18, 2017
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"Children of Blood and Bone"
Tomi Adeyemi conjures a stunning world of dark magic and danger in her West African-inspired fantasy debut. Learn more
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In this case, though, "favorable" doesn't imply pleasant reading and feel-good stories. The organizing theme of the book is a look at some kind of imprisonment, almost always in the context of the correctional system (Hightshoe and her husband, who contributes 1-2 sentence introductions to each story, have both worked in corrections as deputy sheriffs, which prompted the idea), seen through the lens of science fiction, usually extrapolating from present trends in society to paint a picture of how these might shape the "justice" systems of the future. (And the quotation marks are well advised.) These tend to be dark, grim stories, generally utterly bleak and devoid of any note of hope (the title of Godfrey's flash fiction "Here Lies Hope" is indicative). Often the protagonists (who may not be genuinely guilty of any criminal behavior at all) are thrust into situations that could be described as starkly horrific. But the stories are mostly extremely well-crafted for emotional effect, and so gripping that once you begin one, you have to finish it.
As in much dystopian fiction (which is definitely what this is), the utterly pessimistic depiction of the triumph of tyranny and injustice provides a galvanizing motivating force for the reader to want to oppose, with every fiber of his/her being, the forces driving us towards the kinds of futures depicted here. The typical canard thrown at speculative fiction by its detractors is that it's "escapist," but nothing of that sort applies here. On the contrary, readers who want to bury their heads in the sand like ostriches and ignore (assuming they even know about, because the media won't tell them!) the ongoing gradual transformation of the U.S. and the rest of the West into brutal police states run for the benefit of an elitist oligarchy, in which constitutional rights and the rule of law are relics of the past, can find plenty of distractions in the real world's "news;" but this collection will rub their noses in it. And it rightly points to dangers that cloak themselves both in the rhetoric of the Right (with its obsession with profit, "privatization," and cost-cutting, in tales like Kyle's "Research Project" and Cheryl Toner's "The Sponsor Trials") and of the Left, with its run-amok "political correctness" and goal of a drug-stoned citizenry, as seen in Dean Anthony Brink's "The San Francisco Fun House" and Melodie Bolt's nauseating "Green Matter," respectively.
My favorite story here was Andrew's "Malicide," which is one that doesn't deal directly with imprisonment in a literal sense (but there's more than one kind!), and which, though dark, is characteristically one that manages a note of hope. (I beta read an earlier version of this a couple of years ago; but he's transformed it here into something that's exponentially more powerful and meaningful; I think it's one of the best stories he's ever written!) "As Bad as It Gets" by A. L. Sirois is another standout story, particularly reminiscent of Philip K. Dick in some respects. R. Joseph Maas' "The Truth" is especially evocative and gut-wrenching. There are so many layers of deception in David Boop's far-future "A Taste of Freedom" that it's actually hard for the reader, by the story's end, to be definitely sure how much of what went before was a lie and how much wasn't, which takes away something of the impact (though it's still very ugly and disturbing); "The Sponsor Trials" leaves, IMO, too many unanswered questions about key elements of the plot, and I still don't understand the last sentence of Matley's "The Auditor." But these are minor criticisms overall.
Some stories have a certain amount of bad language, and a few contain uses of the f-word. Given the milieu, this isn't necessarily gratuitous. There's no explicit sex, and not a lot of reference to sex at all, though it's alluded to in a couple of stories.
Bottom line: I would highly recommend this, both to science fiction short story fans who like SF that's more about social science than technology (technological advances are depicted, but this is soft SF, where the technology simply exists to serve a premise and isn't explained or extrapolated from real technology.) and to those who have a concern about the real-life justice system and a conviction that it needs serious reform. For the latter, this could be profoundly thought-provoking. The authors don't set forth a program for change, and it isn't the obligation of fiction writers to do so. But they might well prompt readers to think about programs for change on their own.