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Monday, November 16, 2015

Souls and Other Stories by James Stevens-Arce

This collection is bound to unsettle. It starts with "Souls," a tale wthat first appeared in Michael Bracken's Fedora II. Two men gamble. One rattles off the ills of the world. The other plots the first's demise after losing, certain he's been cheated. The idea is that only so many souls exist in the world and, thus, violence. The off-hand news stories will  put off some, turning stomaches.

"Was Once a Beauty," from Cicada, employs a similar tone but switches to a younger female narrator, Milagros (or Miracles). She encounters a humped over "witch"--rather a bag lady, letting her see a tiny part of her past, from beauty to her current degradation. This spurs an unwarranted if small tragedy, which in turn spurs Milagros. This perhaps the most moving of the stories collected.

"Soulsaver" first appeared in Shawna McCarthy's Asimov's.  A novella version won the UPC award, and the novel version was up for the Locus Award. We step into a religious dystopia where suicides, on the rise, are restored to life when possible. Angela, the protagonist's partner in restoration, gradually becomes ill from her work and sees more than originally intended.

Appearing in Greg Bear's New Legends anthology, "Scenes from a Future Marriage" relates how a woman becomes disaffected with her husband after he unwittingly causes her to do twice what she didn't want to do once.

A unifying theme of life and death threads these together. Unwanted life, unwanted death--forced to accept both. Each tale feels larger than it is, as if they could all form parts of a novel. It leaves the reader  wanting more. In the case of "Soulsaver," the story is developed at greater length in a novel. Soulsaver has recently been re-released

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