Saturday, February 20, 2021

Speculative Los Angeles - Edited by Denise Hamilton


The good news here is that Akashic Books has begun a new series of short story collections similar to its successful series of noir short story compilations readers have enjoyed for several years now. The bad news is that the first offering in this new series of “speculative” short stories, Speculative Los Angeles, is not home to many really exceptional stories. According to the book’s editor, Denise Hamilton, the fourteen writers whose work is included in the collection were asked to “reimagine Los Angeles in any way” they chose to do so. The problem is that most of them could not get past the basic premise of the effects global warming might ultimately have on the city or what life would be like in Los Angeles after “the big one” knocks everything down around the city’s population. Some of the stories, in fact, have so little real plot that they become hardly more than a hallucinatory tour of the destroyed city streets and the people forced to live among the rubble. 


That’s not to say that there are not some good stories in the collection, because there are. Among those is “Peak TV,” a story by Ben H. Winters about a television producer whose new hit series seems to be causing teens to kill themselves in copycat fashion to what happens on the show. This one has a particularly nice twist at the end that makes it even better. Then there’s Aimee Bender’s “Maintenance,” the story of a little girl and her father who take comfort from a mastodon tableau on display at the city’s famous tar pits. The tableau speaks to them emotionally in a way that fits their own family circumstances, and they visit the tar pits every week to revisit the mastodon family - right up until the massive pieces disappear and no one knows where they went or who took them. 


One of the stories that does a good job with the destroyed-city concept is A.G. Lombardo’s “Garbo on the Skids” in which a bad cop thinks he his taking advantage of a beautiful young woman living in a condemned building but finds out that she may be a lot smarter than him. Another effective tale is “Walk of Fame,” a story by Duane Swierczynski in which someone has murdered so many celebrities that they are down to the “D-list” now. Needless to say, no one wants to be famous anymore.


But as it turns out, my favorite story in the entire collection is its very last one: “Sailing That Beautiful Sea” by Kathleen Kaufman. This is the story of a dying woman being tended by specially-adapted caretaker bots who are doing everything possible to make her last days as comfortable as possible. The kicker is that she is now the last human being alive on the entire planet, and that after her death the bots will carry on alone in their own brave new world. 


Bottom Line: Perhaps Los Angeles was not the best choice as the city to launch the new series with because its dystopian future is so easy to visualize that it all seems to be too predictable after a while. I am looking forward to seeing what the next collection brings, however, because I do like the premise of a city-by-city alternate history survey of the world.


Review Copy provided by Publisher

4 comments:

  1. I'm not much for short stories, but I like the sound of each of the ones you mention--especially Sailing That Beautiful Sea. I'd also like to know what happened to the mastodon family. :)

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    1. The ones I mentioned are really good stories, Jen. I'm a big fan of short stories, but this one was feast or famine. I think it includes the absolute worst short story I've ever read in my life...and I've read thousands.

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  2. Alternate histories of different cities is a cool premise, and I can see where a collection of short stories would work particularly well. I'm sorry not all the stories in this one were well-plotted.

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    1. I'm looking forward to reading more in the series, for sure. This one was just too obvious and that made many of the stories in the collection too much alike for them to remain interesting. As for as "well-plotted" goes, it was sometimes more like "no-plotted." :-)

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