Volume 24, Number 04, Summer, 2006

Humanity’s Edge

By Tamara Wilhite

Blue Phi’er Publishing, 2005, $14.95
Reviewed by Anders Monsen
July 2006

Tamara Wilhite’s first short story collection brings together thirteen tales of transformation and identity. These stories vary in length from brief sketches of only a couple of pages, to longer novelettes. Each piece packs a powerful emotional punch, and cover both near-future extrapolation and far-flung future speculations.

Of the longer stories, “New Beginnings,” “Cathedral,” and “Breathing Room” stood out as the strongest of the tales. The opening scene of “New Beginnings” deceptively lures the reader into thinking the characters comprise a space-faring family after a major accident. One part of that statement is true, and as the young characters grow and mature, they learn the terrible truth that their “father” hid from them through their lives. In “Cathedral,” genetically engineered geniuses with built-in shortened life-spans seek a means to save their own kind. In the end, their dreams aren’t quite realized, but instead one renegade genius sows a seed of creative destruction in the rest of the populace. While these two tales contain unexpected twists at the end, “Breathing Room” is a straightforward post-apocalyptic story, although the pace stumbles when the writer inserts info-dumps to set some scenes. Parts of this story reminded me of Nancy Kress’s recent novel, Nothing Human, at least in tone and direction.

A few of the stories rely somewhat on gimmicks to drive the plot, such as “Double Trouble,” a cloning story with a legal bent. “Banking on Hope” and “Kyoto Plus Ten,” both quite short, also has sort of a ripped from the headline feel. The former covers the dark deception of a group in need of gene therapy blackmailing the one person who can save them. The latter opens with burger on a grill in an alley, an illegal act in the near future. The brevity of these tales only hint at their potential. However, I was uncertain about the views and groups the characters represented in “Banking on Hope”—the story seemed slightly rushed and foreshortened. Two other tales, “Denny” and “Gone in a Flash” also extrapolate on what-if scenarios. Whereas the latter feels at times preachy, the former is a mere scene, and tells the reader little.

“Church of the Called,” which deals with fear and telepathy, comes off as one of the weakest stories. A reporter investigating a secret cult becomes its prisoner, and he faces a terrible choice. Perhaps this group really is acting in self-defense in how it deals with the reporter, but I wondered about other options. Four alien tales deal with questions of what it means to be human. In “Moment of Humanity,” a future war between humans and cyborgs seems to go the latter’s way, when a brief moment of kindness sparks a like gesture in return. Perhaps there’s hope for something beyond constant war.

In “The Hunter and the Hunted” a samaritan brings a hurt man into her house, only to discover certain thing about him that she fears, perhaps because it mirrors something within her. When she finds herself captive, things look grim, and there’s a nasty surprise at the end. “The Ghosts of Tedjai” deals with first contact on a planet, where humanoids similar to mankind are dealt with harshly by the human settlers. It’s a story fraught with emotion, and one of the strongest tales in the collection. “Survival of the Fittest” echoes the same issue as “Ghosts,” with humans struggling to interact with near-humans.

This slim volume contains several thoughtful, well-crafted stories that debate the nature and scope of humanity. What does it mean to be human, and how do we deal with radical changes in our environment, both physical and cultural? How do we relate to other beings, both human and alien yet near-human? Wilhite asks important questions, and her characters deal with critical issues that make the reader think and question conventional wisdom. There are moments when the style stumbles, particularly when it comes to certain points of view transitions. Occasional info-dumps detract from the narrative. One can sense the writer at times still searching for her voice.

Wilhite’s fiction has appeared in Liberty Magazine and Prometheus, as well as many other publications. Humanity’s Edge brings together a nice baker’s dozen of journeys well worth a trip.

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