Friday, June 14, 2019

Book Review: Not One of Us (Anthology)

Not One of Us: Stories of Aliens on Earth by Neil Clarke

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

As is the case with most anthologies, not all the stories were good but most were decent. A couple stood out as amazing. There are some really great quotes/snippets in these stories that I've shared below.
Consistent throughout each story in Not One of Us anthology is that there are no green men, humanoids or aliens like we traditionally think of. These are truly 'alien' beings from the dark creatives minds of each writer (and lets face it way more likely to be what we might encounter in real life!). Some are bug-like, others are monstrous, more blob-esque or didn't even have a physical or perceivable tangible form! My imagination was pushed to its limit by these alien forms, societal beliefs, and even their methods of communication.

Story 1: Touring with the Alien by Carolyn Ives Gilman
If only I were half as creative as this writer! What an odd, yet meaningful story. A solid way to kick-off what becomes a very mind-bending anthology.

Story 2: Laws of Survival by Nancy Kress
An odd story. We are solidly in the territory now that 'alien' is not an archetype or in any way typical for this anthology.

Story 3: At Play in the Fields by Steve Rasnic Tem
”Sometimes the best thing is just doing the only thing that’s left.”
What you do when you appear to be at the end of civilization. Not bad but was missing some substance.

Story 4: Ants of Flanders by Robert Reed
A very engaging story; even though it has some large, difficult to digest concepts in it.
"Adventure is the story you tell afterwards. It’s those moments you pick out of everything that was boring and ordinary, and then put them on a string and give to another person as a gift. Your story.”

Story 5: Taking Care of God (translated) by Liu Cixin
This is not what you might expect based on the title. I really enjoyed this story about aliens that 'created us' returning to Earth thousands of years later. It has lovely language and style. A wonderful translation!
"In this universe, as long as you’re patient, you can make any wish come true. Even though the possibility is minuscule, it is not nonexistent."

Story 6: Water Scorpions by Rich Larson
Written by a fellow Canadian whom I'm familiar with! Sadly I didn’t really get this one. But there was a bit of a creepy-crawling ick factor that might have been most of my problem. Sometimes my brain just won't cooperate or allow me to imagine something.

Story 7: The Three Confessions of Jessica Churchill by Kelly Robson
Robson, another fellow Canadian, is a sci-fi author I’ve been meaning to read for some time now. If this story is any demonstration of her writing she is well worth reading! I loved the legit Canadian tidbits and settings in this one. Alongside the contrast of real catastrophic events against that of the events our lead gal is experiencing. Very clever and well done!

Story 8: Men Are Trouble by James Patrick Kelly
There is a great irony, given the title, that there is not a single man in this story. It was okay. I didn’t love it or hate it. Mostly meh on this one. Part of me can't help but wonder if perhaps the author doesn't really get how women feel and made too many presumptions?

Story 9: They Shall Salt the Earth with Seeds of Glass by Alaya Dawn Johnson
*yawn* this one was sooo boring. Also it’s a poor editorial choice to put two stories where pregnancy/conception are the main topics. Neil Clarke should know better.

Story 10: Bits by Naomi Kritzer
Best story yet! Well only because it’s the most amusing and yet makes perfect sense when you really think about it. Bits is about a squid-like alien that comes to Earth and integrates with us. Including having relations (a.k.a. sex) with humans. Now (of course) our 'bits' don't match-up quite right. So a company starts making silicone-like sex organs that are compatible for the aliens and humans to enjoy one another. Seriously hilarious but also genuinely truthful in the necessity that pleasure plays in happiness and general existence of humans (and maybe aliens too).

Story 11: And Never Mind the Watching by Keffy R. M. Kehrli
Alien or covert way to gain knowledge of everyone’s life? Either way these glitter frogs gain access to everywhere, literally. This is a story that I could actually see being true. At its core it’s about teenagers wanting to get away from it all. And let's face it, if we had aliens (in any form on Earth) I can definitely see many teens wanting to run away with them. No questions asked. Adolescence is a tough, tough time and a ride in a spaceship could easily seem like the answer; especially when you feel you have no other options. This is also a statement on societies inability to really help those in abusive situations or whom become homeless just to stay alive. A sad, yet kind of bittersweet story in the end. I really liked this one and it stuck with me long after I read it.

Story 12: Dark Heaven by Gregory Benford
This is the longest story so far; as well as the most boring. There is so little alien involvement in this story that it's a stretch to even consider it remotely appropriate for this anthology. While the major (eventual) plot point involves aliens; the first 70% of the story is just a detective investigating a homicide. A murder mystery is not my cup of tea on a good day; and certainly not when what I'm expecting (and frankly hoping for) is odd alien-esque stories. Give our annoyingly broody detective an alien sidekick and maybe we can talk...

Story 13: Nine-Tenths of the Law by Molly Tanzer
This is an interesting little story of a married couple who are having problems; and one night the husband spices things up. Except the husband may not really be the husband anymore. Talk about alien's learning how humans interact! A very good (and very adult) short story about trust, relationships and marriage.

Story 14: Five Stages of Grief after the Alien Invasion by Caroline M. Yoachim
This is an okay one. It's not really about aliens; so much as it is about a result of their arrival and unintended consequences on humans. I'm not really sure there is a lot here that stands out to me but I did enjoy this quick read well enough.

Story 15: Time of the Snake by AM Dellamonica
Great, quick, action packed story. And love to see a lesbian writer included in here! LGBTQ+ rep has been really good all around in this anthology in fact. Kudos to Neil Clarke for finding some ensuring good diversity.

Story 16: The Fear Gun by Judith Bergman
This story could easily be adapted into a book or even series. So much potential! It reminded me a bit of Wayward Pines. I don't want to give anything away as this one is so good. I just wish there was more of it!

Story 17: Tendeleo’s Story by Ian McDonald
Any avid follower of sci-fi stories (especially novellas, shorts, etc) will have heard of Ian McDonald and be familiar with his genius sci-fi writing. McDonald is skilled at taking a basic, seemingly everyday concept, and twisting it on its head. Here he tells the story of refugees and their plight. However unlike so many refugee stories this one has an ending/twist I absolutely did not expect! McDonald is a master at giving new perspectives. Suddenly you find yourself really thinking differently about a situation without even realizing you might have felt otherwise before the story was laid out for you. Honestly brilliant.

Story 18: The Choice by Paul McAuley
I’m clearly missing something on this one as I didn’t get the point at all. Maybe following McDonald hurt this stories chances. I dunno just wasn't there for me.

Story 19: Passage of Earth by Michael Swanwick
I had to look up words, how fun! They were medical/scientific terminology related to worm anatomy, so everyday practicality is low, but still exciting to learn new words. :)
This story is beyond shiver worthy if you don’t like insects, mud or worms. I read it at home and halfway through retrieved my boa constrictor (Bowie) to sit with me to make me feel safe (he'd eat those icky worms!). If you can get past the possible ick factor, this is a very original and well written story. I’m definitely going to keep Swanwick on my list to read again; even if I have nightmares of giant sentient worms that devour me and my pet snake.

Story 20: Reborn by Ken Liu
”Just because something is true doesn’t mean you stop struggling.”
A very deep story about how humans are more than the sum of their history. For example, a murderer can still be a good husband or father irregardless of his murdering past. In Reborn, an alien race comes to Earth to assimilate with us and yet we fight back (as that is what humans do it seems...). We fight even in the face of a truth we don’t want to believe or hear. This is a weird story but has something unique to it. It reminded me a little of Altered Carbon in that it's about our humanity and willingness to accept what may seem counter intuitive.

Story 21: Story of your Life by Ted Chiang
This reminded me of the movie Arrival (I have not read the book). It’s entirely focused on learning an alien language. It has some really cool linguistic science in it but sadly doesn't deliver at the end. Any drawn out, slow story like this (with a lot of fancy words) needs to have a punch of an ending or some sort of twist. This one missed that for me. It's too bad as I would have loved to see the final story really grab me.
Were I putting the anthology together I'd put McDonald's or Swanwick's story last. Each left a lasting and punchy impression on me. I like to have an anthology end strong so I don't immediately forget all the stories in it.

I really enjoyed the majority of these stories. The best part of all of them was the lack of defined gender roles put onto our aliens. Because to assume aliens would be female or male would be very arrogant of humans. It was clear that there were no rules given to these writers in advance to keep things within a certain societal context; sexually, physically or emotionally. This gave a lot of depth to the stories that you don't always get in collected anthologies. I would definitely recommend this set of stories for anyone into sci-fi and for those wanting to dabble in true alien fiction (not just little green men stories).

Please note: I received an eARC of this book from the publisher via NetGalley. This is an honest and unbiased review.

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1 comment:

Leonore Winterer said...

Sounds like a really cool collection! Somehow, scifi goes better with short stories than many other genres do, at least that's how I feel.
I think you might really like Children of Time...even if it's not 'Aliens' per se, it was one of the strangest (and by far best) scifi books I've ever read.