The higher than average customer book reviews on Amazon.com enticed me to read R. A Scrittore’s Short Order – A Collection of Speculative Fiction and Science Fiction Short Stories. Scrittore is the author of several short stories featured on the critically acclaimed Polka Scene ‘Zine and Fanstory.com. The short story anthology is Scrittore’s first. One story in the collection—”The Greater Plan”—was nominated for Story of the Month in June 2010. A shorter work, A Disturbing Balance, was published in July 2012.
Two of the five short stories in Short Order are most definitely science fiction, while the other three stories speculate on what if. In all five stories, the protagonist is male, and in at least two of the stories, the protagonist is gay. Scrittore’s well-developed characters rule each story while a solid plot slowly unfolds. A major theme among the works is that of internal struggle about the personal choices each protagonist makes in the face of conflict.
“End Product” shows us the consequences of bullying. Sammy, a tormented schoolboy, continually lives in fear and angst. He’s bullied routinely by Mike, Todd, and their gang to the extent that he plans his day by charting routes to avoid them. On his way to school one day, Sammy, who thinks he has avoided Mike, suddenly finds himself trailing behind him. Sammy lags just enough to keep his eye on Mike while remaining unseen. A black car pulls up out of nowhere and ultimately kidnaps Mike. When questioned by the police later, Sammy tells them that he hasn’t seen Mike. Through Sammy’s thoughts, we learn that Mike is never seen again, and Sammy grows up, has a family, and doesn’t feel guilty about his decision.
“Bait and Switch” illustrates Scrittore’s remarkable ability to lure us in deep, keep us engaged, and then surprise us with an unexpected outcome. In this tale, Tom Munsini, a peace officer assigned to the Bordean station, falls prey to a premeditated crime. Tom is lured to his death by a fragile old man who tricks him into checking out his place after finding the front door unlocked. The old man poisons Tom so that a gangster can assume his body and his identity. When Tom’s body begins to die, the Bordean inside emerges and claims one of his kidnappers as his new host.
“Bitter Reproach,” tells the story of James, who, out of shame and guilt, can’t admit to his inner circle that he’s gay. An alchemist, who claims to have the same tormenting desires as James, unexpectedly approaches James. The alchemist offers the tormented James a deal—work together using black magic, or alchemy, to persuade others to help the two of them satisfy their lust. James cannot succumb to such deceit and rejects the offer. Later, James tells a good friend about the whole ordeal in the hopes of receiving advice. Instead, he is abandoned when the friend believes James to be under a spell of the alchemist.
In “The Gift,” Simon, who is grief-stricken over the loss of his partner, has stopped living. He rarely meets with friends, and he stops playing the piano—a gift his partner thought was beautiful. When he’s not working, Simon spends his time at home in solitude while imagining and talking to his dead partner. He hesitates when his new neighbors befriend him, especially the son, who is a musical prodigy. After spending time helping the teen hone his piano skills, Simon realizes that teaching is his real gift. He talks to his partner about his discovery, and he is reborn. His partner no longer appears, and Simon tries to recoup his lost friendships and his life.
“The Greater Plan” shows the agonizing struggle of Quintin, a Jageek, who finds himself under human rule after the colonization of his planet by a renegade Earth corporation named Omnipres. Slaves to the humans, a group of Jageek’s plan a coup to overthrow their human masters. Quintin, who is torn between his faith in the Creator and the prospect of defeating humans, ultimately chooses to put his fate in the hands of the Creator. When humans begin to die, Quintin believes it is because of divine intervention, and he begins to challenge his new master. His happiness is soon destroyed as he learns that a vaccination has cured the udge, the disease that threatens both humans and Jageeks. His master, who will not tolerate Quintin’s behavior, has him put to death.
Scrittore’s strength is in well-developed characters, plot, and scene. His characters are life-like, familiar, and believable. The mannerisms, habits, and dialogue of these characters are exceptional. These characters struggle with choices and decisions that ultimately change their future, sometimes for the worse. The plots are substantial and unpredictable, often revealing a surprise outcome. While I enjoyed reading every story in the anthology, I have one criticism about the way Scrittore ends each tale. After the plot is revealed, the stories just end, with the character doing or uttering something or another that I just didn’t get.
Overall, Short Order – A Collection of Speculative Fiction and Science Fiction Short Stories is a worthy read of works by an author, who, I suspect, has a future in writing. If anything, Scrittore’s anthology is a good lesson in character and plot development. For sure, I will read his other work, A Disturbing Balance.’
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