Thursday, November 12, 2020

Book Review: Ventures and Visions: A Short Story Collection by Kayla Hicks and Steph O'Connell

 A Fantasy Shines in a Collection Sometimes Missing Realistic Conflict and Suspense

Ventures and Visions is a collection of eight short stories, described by the authors as thrillers, action/adventure, and mystery. The stories representing the first two genres showed good pacing—there are plenty of battles, strange occurrences, and mass devastation as you would expect. And the stories that leaned toward mystery clearly raise the whodunit issue—who blew up the capitol, for example. But my favorite of the group, The Quietus, is more in the realm of a paranormal fantasy with a side of humor. One of the main characters, Sophia, is the grim reaper … or one of them, since being the grim is a job where the long-dead are guides for the recently deceased, rather than the harbinger of death. And because Sophia loves wearing black and has a flair for the dramatic, she dresses the part even though that’s not a job requirement. She comes across like a veteran tour host, with her canned lines and well-practiced patter. But her thoughts still reflect the mystery of being dead—what’s time when you live exist forever, strike-throughs being the author’s way to show these evolving mental concepts. I appreciated the technique. Overall, this short story was a fun reinterpretation of a common myth.

The stories, however, were not without some issues. Simple attention to detail was one when, for example, a character named Mick was occasionally called Mike. Several sentences, such as “Seizing my chance and I went for it” were unusual (conjunctions don’t usually connect a prepositional phrase and an independent clause). Some word choices were incorrect, e.g., “Mateo hadn’t seemed phased at all.” From the context, it should be “fazed”. And telling something before it’s spoken happened often. “She ate so fast, I doubt she tasted it at all. ‘Did you taste any of that?’ I asked. The repetitions slow the plot. An additional, independent edit would have helped the flow substantially.

But the primary limitation of most of the stories was that they failed to develop sufficient conflict, tension, or suspense, and the reason varies from tale to tale. In some, the story just seems to end—no twist, no surprise, no thought-provoking question. Others are too implausible to generate tension in the reader. After the Shock, for example, involves a bombing in Washington DC sufficient to destroy the capitol and several nearby buildings. But since there are no first responders for days, the devastation had to be wider. And there’s no communications, so all the cell towers must have been destroyed. The secrecy, expense, and expertise that such a large-scale operation would require is far beyond the capabilities of the culprits revealed, making the story seem surreal rather than gut-wrenching.

Overall, this debut collection shows promise, but for short stories to work, they need more conflict, tension, or realistic suspense than some of these supplied.

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