I had never heard of Mark Rich prior to this collection, but it was published by Fairwood Press, and based on their masterful collection of stories by Ken Scholes, Long Walks, Last Flights, and Other Strange Journeys (see my review), I had very high hopes for this book. While not as consistently great as the Scholes book, this one was still worth reading.
“Across the Sky”—The collection starts off with a nice tale of alien-human relations, and the beginnings of a brighter future. A fun tale, with more seeming to be under the surface than above it.
“The Real Thing”—A slightly gimmicky idea that leads to an otherwise entertaining tale. Rich creates interesting characters, even if the basis of the story seems a little too unlikely. In a land of distance and credit, can a man who wants “the real thing” find what he is looking for?
“Foggery”—Another tale of contact between humans and aliens, in this one Rich creates the character of Benny Fogg, reporter and human, who just wants to do something heroic so he can win the girl. One of the best tales of the bunch.
“They Arrived”—One of a few poems in the collection. A fun idea, well written.
“The Beauty Monster”—Another story that just seemed a little too gimmicky for me. The irony of the ending seemed a little overdone as well. Rich wrote fun characters and an okay story around an idea that I just don’t find interesting in the way it is presented.
“Smoking Gun”—Another of the excellent tales, this one is a murder mystery without a disappearing body, few clues, and a very well-thought out ending. Excellent.
“Fifty Cents”—Poems either work for me or they don’t. This one didn’t.
“Overdue”—This tale was a little too artsy for me, but it was still readable, without doubt. As people are checked out of a human library, their disappearance leads to repercussions on Earth.
“The Suckers”—A very entertaining tale in the “too much technology is bad” vein. In a world where so much is a part of a virtual reality existence, how does one find love and happiness, and how real can it be?
“Forever Down the Ringing Grooves”—This is another of Rich’s assortment of more literary, artsy tale. I found this one just a little too artsy and not enough solid story. This tale of communication tried too hard to be literary.
“Souvenir”—Another poem. Another that didn’t work for me.
“Impossible Alone”—When two old friends who have been out of touch find themselves together again, what secrets might come out? This story attempts to play with that, to mixed results.
“The Never-Winner”—A very interesting and intriguing tale of a future space race, and just who might end up winning. This one shows Rich at his best, and is worth every minute.
“Whenever They Go Out”—A fluff piece that was worth the time it took to read all two of its pages, but not much more.
“Spindle-Legs”—The best of the poems in this collection, Rich’s piece tells a tale that is both interesting and unpredictable.
“The Asking Place”—Another artsy story that I wanted to like, that I felt I could have liked, if it hadn’t sacrificed the story for literary merit. I wanted this one to be so much more than it was.
“To Hunt in Fields”—A solid tale from Rich, this extrapolation of the increase in marketing of medicinal devices, and how it can be taken to an extreme, was fun and thought provoking. Very good.
“Staying the Course”—The last poem. Again, didn’t do much for me.
And there I stopped. I don’t know why, but all my push to finish this book died. There is one more story, “The Apples of Venus,” which is getting great reviews, but for whatever reason it is that drives my subconscious, I lost my desire to read the very last story. Haven’t started it, just can’t make myself, not any time soon. I think I just hit my limit of more artsy SF, and needed to move onto new things. I’m sure my overload of “good literature” while working at my literature degree didn’t help.
I did still read most of it, all except for about 40 pages, so I still feel I can fairly judge the overall grade for the collection. This book would definitely be for the fan who is looking for more literary-aspiring science fiction, but I feel like the casual fan, looking for just a few stories to entertain and to sit down for an afternoon of enjoyment, would find about half of these stories not quite to their enjoyment. As I am working on this site to rate books of that sort, and get enough artsy literary works from my course load, I just don’t feel like this one lived up to the enjoyment I had hoped for it. If you are looking for a serious read, look no further. If you want something that you can sit down with and find fun, exciting, and engaging, you may want to pass. A couple stories were work to finish.