|The Experimental Notebook
of C. S. Boyack
Four Royal Crowns
I had trouble reviewing this collection of 12 short stories. Deciding on a rating was easy — I enjoy short-format stories, and was totally immersed in 9 of the 12. My problem was what to write about each of them– my two choices seemed to be completely spoiling them, or writing something too vague to be helpful. I suspect I may have over-achieved, and done both.
I’d categorize the collection’s stories as two science fiction, four fantasy, one superhero, one urban fantasy, and four horror, although the urban fantasy/horror distinction was a tough call. Things which appeared in the stories: An ogre, a robot, a dragon, a ghost pilot, a plane crash, corpses, a few murderers, clones, a skull, and a snail.
I read this on my kindle (no page numbers), so I could be wrong about story length, but my impression was that there were four longer stories, roughly the length of those you’d expect in a sci-fi magazine, and eight shorter works of varying lengths.
Something in the Water — This was my favorite story from the collection. Some of the subject matter was a bit dark for me, but then again, it’s a revenge story, and if someone avenges something that isn’t dark, they are either a petty jerk or a full-blown sociopath.
Bombshell Squad — This is a follow-up to the author’s novel, Wild Concept, but it works as a stand-alone story, and pushed Wild Concept higher on my to-read list. I normally like my robots cold and logical, but I can accept them being programmed to mimic human behaviors and emotions.
Soup Ladle of Destiny — Some other book bloggers believe this is the best story in the collection. A teenage girl goes on a dangerous mission usually undertaken by brave knights.
A Humid Business — A man who suffers from an unusual condition finds a new calling. I’d like to say more about this one, but can’t think of anything spoiler-free.
Jack O’ Lantern — You can read this story as part of Amazon’s free sample, or on the author’s blog. I think it’s the shortest story in the collection, and it wasn’t one of my favorites because I guessed the ending too quickly. If you can avoid guessing, you’ll probably enjoy this creepy Halloween tale.
73 Seconds — This story works stand-alone, but I think it would also make a great opening chapter for a novel. I have a slight quibble — when I’ve been in situations like this, I couldn’t hear, but perhaps there’s a paranormal explanation.
Diplomat — Man vs Dragon. I liked this story for its psychology rather than action, but it’s not boring like I’m making it sound. There is a similar man vs dragon story in Leyfarers and Wayfarers.
Urban Renewal Project — I think this one would also make a good novel opening. Most of the story would disappear if the main character used a backpack or something, but I figure he’s a little nuts.
50 Gallon Drum — This story focuses on a location over a number of years. I’ve been fortunate to live and work all over the world, but this story made me nostalgic for a familiar place year after year. (Is it possible to be nostalgic for something you’ve never experienced?) I would have liked the story without the ending, but then it wouldn’t have fit with the rest of the collection.
A Tale of Rebirth — Something washes up on shore. This story has some morality lessons rolling around in it.
Extending Life — This story has been done a couple of times in Hollywood, but I think the version here has some superior elements.
Transference — Boyack tries to avoid his well-deserved fate. I like how the author wrote himself into the story, and how it was placed at the end of the collection.