First up is Milo James Fowler's "Like a Good Neighbor." It's about eating, well, not the festive, wholesome kind.
"They kept Bobby in the basement because he ate people." That's the first line from Fowler's horror tale. Cannibalism plays a pivotal role in "Like a Good Neighbor," but this isn't splatterpunk or some sort of gore fest. Fowler feeds us quiet horror. Who could imagine what sort of monster lives in the neighbor's basement on the quiet cul-de-sac of Tanglewood Road? Yes, there is a bit of blood, but it's not the blood that's gruesome and gross, it's . . . . Well, you should just read it for yourself and find out. Fowler succeeds here with a story about a young man, twenty years after the fact, struggling to come to terms with memories he vainly wishes he could forget. Need a creepy read for a cold fall night? Pay a visit to the "good neighbors" on Tanglewood Road. You'll be glad you did.
Next, check out Simon Kewin's cyberpunk novella The Wrong Tom Jacks, the first installment in Kewin's Genehunter series.
Set in a not-to-distant future version of Earth in which information is the most prized commodity, the stories follow the exploits of Simms, a pessimistic but likable criminal, if you narrowly define a criminal as someone who breaks the law. Simms is a professional genehunter, a trade that can be practiced both above and below the law. The best paying contracts are less than legal. Simms finds the DNA of deceased persons, both famous and not so famous, whomever the client wants him to find. What the client does with the DNA, Simms does not seem to much care. Illegal cloning is rampant as the super-rich create private "zoos" populated by the talented and famous from the past.
Simms's brain is augmented with plug-ins that allow him to access public and private networks and a host of other interesting functions. Kewin manages to make all the high-tech gadgetry seem natural. Perhaps it's not that much of a mental leap to go from carrying a personal electronic device at all times to having one that your brain controls and interfaces with directly. It's a testament to Kewin's skills that the reader quickly feels at home in a world that is so like and unlike our own.
My only criticism of the story is that I want to know more about Simms's world. How does node-jumping--a type of travel--work? What is the nature of the plug-ins? Why is society shot to hell? Simms finds the London of his day particularly dismal, but yet he continues to live there.
One of the constants of human existence is greed and in Kewin's world, greed is alive and thriving. There appears to be little that the super-rich cannot get or do if they have enough money and everyone from low-level clinicians to high-level law enforcement officers have their price. For Simms, the joy is in the search and retrieval of the data. He's not happy unless he's stimulated, on a job. He's mostly indifferent to the moral implications of his work and in that sense he's an anti-hero, but his love interest is devoting her life to alleviating the problems that Simms's work facilitates. And despite her hostility to continuing their relationship, Simms's thoughts keep coming back to her. Simms is a complicated man. I suggest you get a copy of Genehunter and get to know him. It'll be well worth your time.
Now get ready to step back in time, way back to before the Mayans in Lyndon Perry's novella Ulemet and the Jaguar God.
Set in Mesoamerica during the time that the Olmec people flourished, Ulemet and the Jaguar God tells the story of Ulemet's struggle to find belonging and community. Ulement is seriously malformed at birth. Her mother dies after the long and difficult labor, giving in to despair after seeing her baby. Her father flees to the jungle. The midwife keeps the child despite the medicine man's instruction to "dispose" of it and nurses Ulemet but ultimately abandons her. Ulemet lives on the edge of the village, scavaging and begging. Her ugliness marks her as an outcast.
Her face marred with a twisted upper lip and a cleft head, Ulemet was ugly in a way that attracted second looks, but seldom pity. With barely a feminine feature, she was often mocked by the other children as a should-be boy.
A few villagers show some sympathy and give her enough food to survive but most leave her to fend for herself and hope she'll go away. Her one joy is playing ulama, an ancient Mesoamerican game played with a hard rubber ball. She has talent, but the boys rarely let her play. She leaves the village one day for the jungle and ultimately joins a band of merchants heading for the capital, but the merchants are not whom they appear to be. Ulemet's second attempt at community fails, and the stakes get higher when the slavers reach the capital. Ulemet will need all her skills at ulama and much more if she hopes to survive.
Perry is at the top of his game in Ulemet and the Jaguar God. The story has the feel of an ancient tale passed down through generations and only lately written down. The prose is effortless and the pacing is spot on. Ulemet's suffering speaks to anyone who has endured rejection and the closing eucatastrophe gives hope to all.