After getting my hands on the paper version of the RealLies anthology, I naturally began reading it. Sure, I’d had the galley proof for about a year and the Kindle version for over a month, but as one of my friends put it recently, there’s something about having a dead tree in yours hands that has been sacrificed so that you might gain knowledge. Maybe there’s a kind of ritual here. Maybe it’s just because print copies are what we grew up with. I don’t know.
Hyperaware of this mental juxtaposition between ebook and print, I opened RealLies gingerly, as if it were a comic book or graphic novel. I tried not to bend back the cover too roughly and to handle every page with care. I’d obviously checked out my story when the book first came, which is featured last, but reading through Descarta first seemed like egotism. (Besides, I know everything that happens to Reese anyway.) Instead, I thumbed over to page 1 to check out Oscar Francesco’s story, “Psycho-Submersible”.
Despite what you see on the front cover of almost every bestseller, writers are actually lousy at reviewing each other’s stories. One reason for this is the constant comparison. I’ve been criticized as being “negative” when traipsing through other people’s worlds and showing where reality’s edges have frayed, where the seams don’t quite come together. I know the rules. No work is every really finished, just abandoned.
Given my skepticism and “negative” attitude, I’d have to say that Francesco’s work, given a fair shake, will probably impress most readers. Because by the time I turned the last page and my eyes bugged out of my head, I was impressed. No easy feat.
Francesco and I seem to share the idea that Sci-fi should be accessible to a general audience. I’m not against hard Sci-fi, but I do feel that it limits the audience to geeks like me that will do the mental work to understand your quantum mechanics. Francesco writes Sci-fi the way that Bradbury wrote Sci-fi—he focuses on a single, (in this case literally) mind boggling conceit and builds a story around it. The difference is that he’s willing to take the necessary risks to make the reader believe that this isn’t his formula at all. What precisely he was doing wasn’t apparent to me until about three pages from the story’s ending. Then, at the end, he ties the story, which got pretty wild in places, up in a nice, neat knot.
I’m serious. Pretty much everything I questioned made sense at the end.
Damn, I wish I could do that.
Without spoiling too much of “Psycho –Submersible”, the Sci-fi conceit involves a form of telepathy that can be generated with a machine and then honed with practice. Francesco explores the potential consequences of unbalancing minds through the use of scientific meddling. Like many Sci-fi conceits, this might be a cautionary metaphor, in this case potentially representing a number of different forms of mental abuse, stimulation, and simulation—a terribly relevant theme right now.
To keep the story accessible, Francesco provides us with a focus character of average intelligence who is, by his own admission, an underachiever in life. This enables the reader to learn and experience each new trope with the character as opposed to being blasted with exposition. Many writers (I’ve been here too) feel they must lay all their proverbial cards on the table early in the story because editors pass over so many manuscripts without reading them thoroughly. Francesco, on the other hand, uses this perspective character tactic to bluff the reader till the end, when he lays down the winning hand.
There were a few moments when reading that made me sit back and think, Really? You’ve got this idea, and this is where you’re going with it? And why is he … if … happened? Other critical readers might experience this same issue. But to make readers question reality is part of the Francesco’s plan. There’s risk and reward here. At the end, he practically punishes you for ever doubting him.
In many ways, his story and mine are polar opposites. Perhaps my editor knows a thing or two because he polarized them by placing Francesco’s work at the beginning of Curiosity (Part I) and mine at the end of Control (Part II). I was originally just stoked to make it into print. Now, I can’t wait to see how all the stories fit together.
As my bias as a contributor prevents me from jumping on Amazon or Goodreads and dropping reviews like this, I think I’m going to post them here. If time permits, maybe I’ll say a little something about all the works in the anthology.
Kudos, Oscar. I’ll have to check out more of your work!