Volume 15, Number 02, Spring, 1997

Cries at Dusk and Other Tales of Science Fiction and Fantasy

By Zach Smith

Independent Mind Press in association with HyperBooks Online, 1997, $3.00, 112 pp, pdf
Reviewed by Anders Monsen
Spring, 1997

The Internet has created a publishing bonanza. Until now short story writers who tried to crack the publishing world had limited options: a dwindling number of mass market or small press magazines, and years of rejection letters. The world is now a much different place, and any person with a computer and access to the Internet is instantly a publisher. There is more to material to sort through, but quality has not entirely been sacrificed. An example of such quality on the Internet is J. Neil Schulman’s Pulp-less.com. Another is Terry Austin’s HyperBooks Online.

Among the latter’s offerings is a collection by libertarian writer Zach Smith. No newcomer to the business himself, Smith has been writing for several years. In fact, the title story received first prize for sf/fantasy at the Deep South Writers Conference in 1994. Many of his stories have been published in electronic magazines; “The Road Men,” also featured in this collection, is reprinted elsewhere in this issue.

The eleven stories in this collection run the gamut from modern dark fantasy to hard-edged sf. All attest to the writer’s breadth of imagination and his abilities to captivate the reader. The title story, “Cries at Dusk,” is a rare find. What appears to be an innocent event in a genealogy trip turns out to have far greater implications, reaching to the stars and beyond.

“A Tale of Arpent Country: The Cyclone,” is a curious tale of the forces of nature and love, and second chances. “The Farm Committee” is a brief, very libertarian glimpse of a world where a farmer is forced to continue to farm. His defiance stems from a love of farming and the land, and his belief that he should make the choices that determine his life and livelihood.

The pure sf story, “The Once and Future Man,” throws in standard genre props such as time-travel and nanotechology, yet provides an original twist. Two friends are brought together, literally, in a war accident that unites their bodies and spirits. Great untapped potential in this all-too brief story. “Receivers” angles in from the perspective of psychological horror and alienation in the modern business world. Do you really know what’s going on in your company?

“For Celie’s Sake” deals with computers, and stored memories. A downloaded personality suddenly revived against his wishes must make a difficult choice. One of many corpses inhabiting a vast archive, Simeon Wrightfall, the scientist who created the process of downloading personalities, must act to save the entire Archive from a strange virus. Now he must confront his creation, and all the fears and horrors of a sleepless death. “For Celie’s Sake” burns with intense fire, though narrative intrusion in spots hobbles it from reaching full strength.

“The Road Men,” manages in very few words to capture the essence and blindness of bureaucracy. “A Fool’s Gold,” was first published in Cosmic Visions, the Sci-Fi Channel’s online convention in October, 1996. A pair of humans and an alien rock-like creature find themselves lost prospecting for gold. The story parallels other instances of invading humans, yet also highlights the kinder side of humanity, concluding with redemption and understanding.

“Parker Trilby: Hero, ” also published in Cosmic Visions in 1996, is an aliens-invades-the-earth story. We find our ‘hero’ in the midst of peace talks between the aliens and Earth. Short, clipped style with comedic overtones that hark back to 50s sf. Unique twist makes an attorney the hero of the day, rather than the villain; for one side, at least.

“Robbie’s Robot,” which will appear later this year in Prometheus, Vol. 15, No. 4, is a poignant tale about a boy learning the meaning of individuality, and a robot who must undergo the same journey under different terms.

“Humpty Dumpty at 40,000 Kilometers,” was first published in the electronic magazine, Nuketown, January, 1997. Terrorists threaten a space station on its gala demonstration to world leaders. The main station technician, Frank, who happens to be an android, must try to save the station. Yet Columbia, whose main computer core appears sentient, mistrusts everyone as it tries to save itself. Well-written tale of survival in space, although the android bit seems unnecessary to the story. [Smith explained to me that this was a chapter in a novel, and in that book the android issue is more central.]

Cries at Dusk is a strong collection from a new libertarian voice. Zach Smith tackles a multitude of themes and genres with great skill and imagination. The field of libertarian writers continues to grow, bringing new blood and insights into the arena. Download this collection today at HyperBooks Online. You won’t regret it. Cries at Dusk and Other Tales, can be downloaded at http://www.hyperbooks.com

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