Amr Nasser asked me to read his short story collection, "Earthware". It has a frame narrative of aliens doing anthropology on Earth's humans, and so the short stories are presented as snapshots of their work. This means that my normal method of evaluation is insufficient. However, I will still assign a grade at the end.
These short stories are basically dramatizations of areas in science or psychology etc. that the author finds interesting. The topic, question, etc. is presented as typically two people talking to each other while other events may or may not take place.
For instance, there is one where a scientist makes the argument that smart phones are alive/intelligent because they can do more complex tasks than ants. They can't make this known to us because they don't have the means to. The mad scientist then devises an experiment to test this theory. The story ends as this experiment begins. I can only assume this means that the author does not an answer and doesn't want to speculate.
That is a thing with most of the stories. They have no ending or any kind of resolution, be it happy, sad or otherwise. They don't even have a Sequel Hook or The Adventure Continues sort of ending. They usually end after a single twist, which is something I feel is common to short stories as a style. Overall, they all feel like great beginnings of stories, without a middle or an end. This is especially egregious with "The Chant" because it ends at its climax. After reading it, I sincerely thought the book's formatting cut off the last sentence or so.
"The light at the end of the tunnel" is more like a completed story. It takes the "life is a (subway) tunnel" idea and makes a society out of it, complete with sub-cultures. There are the creative types who make art and music as they go, not really caring about getting out of the tunnel. There are the KBOs (Keep Buggering On) who only care about getting out of the tunnel, but are never far ahead of the others. Then there are the nihilists, who don't care about anything and that includes the resolve to let the subway run them over.
They are all really short, some only a page long. "Brink of Survival" is so short and ends so abruptly that I have no idea what is going on. "Pulling through the curtains", on the other hand, is made stronger for this. It is about a guy with memory loss who is taking medication for it. There is a lot of confusion and few details in its narration. It is disorienting. That's because the protagonist is disoriented by their illness. The treatment is ongoing as the story ends, but there is a sense that it will end in time. It is well done.
The thing about short story collections is that they are a grab bag of quality. Some are excellent, some are dreadful and some are decent. This one in particular is difficult to find an average. I hovered between C- and B+ so I'll settle in the middle.
Trickster Eric Novels gives "Earthware" an even B
This was a free review request. The author requested an honest review and so I provided one.
Click here for my previous book review (for fun): Order of the Stick - On the Origin of PCs
Brian Wilkerson is a independent novelist, freelance book reviewer, and writing advice blogger. He studied at the University of Minnesota and came away with bachelor degrees in English Literature and History (Classical Mediterranean Period concentration).