INHUMAN CONDITION: Tales of Mystery and Imagination
A Twenty-one Gun Salute to the 21 amazing “Tales of Mystery and Imagination” in Kate Thornton’s new collection of fiction, science fiction and fantasy. “Inhuman Condition” will carry you from the nostalgic past, through today’s hard-core crime scene, to the eerie yet somehow plausible worlds of the future. It will amuse you, shock you, warn you, but most of all, it will entertain you.
The collection begins with “Summer Freeze,” a story that teases the senses and catches the reader unawares. So caught up are we in the sweltering heat of summer and the frosty delights of icy bottles of RC Cola, that we are unprepared for what the young narrator discovers … and what he keeps secret.
“Mare Tranquillitatis” is one of five space-themed stories. Although Tranquility, the first real space city and a shuttle base for inter-planetary travel, is on the Earth-visible side of the moon, this story takes place deep in a mine on the “dark side.” An elusive figure flits across surveillance cameras. Is she a lost little girl, or a harbinger of evil?
In “Toshiba Layover” the pilot of a junk freighter (I pictured Hans Solo in the first Star Wars movie, but I couldn’t have been more wrong.) stops to refuel at Toshiba Station. Fueling takes 24 hours and spacecraft must be unoccupied, so hotels and entertainment spots there do a brisk business. What happens to the pilot during his layover is a real jaw-dropper.
In “Just Like the Movies” a tough young girl, sporting an electronic monitoring device, is “doing time” at home with not a lot to entertain her except old TV movies. As in Rear Window, she also watches her violent backyard neighbors. In the afternoons the girl’s friend from school stops by. One day they get a visitor.
“Cell Phone Call” and “Working In The Suburbs” are both chilling cautionary tales that will keep you awake at night and scare you into changing your ways.
“Part Time Job,” “The Eyes never Change,” and “Ai Witness” are gritty contemporary stories about unusual cops and detectives “just doing their jobs” and not getting caught at it.
“One of the Family” is another space travel story. This one has a “warm and fuzzy” feel to it. What could be more “cozy” than a woman going to a pet shop looking for a little kitty to replace her pet that died? Don’t be fooled. This is one creepy story!
Visuals in “The Common Cold” will make special-effects artists salivate and gleefully rub their hands together.
“Neighborhood Cleanup” tells about a “knight in tarnished armor” and a marvelous little device that I guarantee you would give anything to own.
“Nightwatch: Cardenio” is the longest in the collection. It’s a wildly imaginative and intricately plotted story that stretches the mind with its time travel and matter shifts. Thornton overlaps reality and speculation so thoroughly and convincingly that you wonder just where science ends and fantasy begins. Suspenseful and thought-provoking.
“Veterans” with its subtle concluding twist is a poignant reminder of how war affects the soldiers who serve and the loved ones who stay at home.
And finally, if you know Kate Thornton, you might wonder how much of “War Story” is autobiographical. A gritty tale of revenge served well-chilled that perhaps stops just shy of satisfying our baser nature. A tribute nevertheless to the military and to law enforcement.
INHUMAN CONDITION is an eclectic read that highlights only a small portion of Thornton’s “library” of short stories. Hopefully more volumes will follow.