Review: “Human for a Day,” ed. Greenberg & Brozek

Pros: Some fascinating takes on what it means to be human (and not)
Cons: Almost any anthology will have a story or three that don’t suit any given reader
Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Review book courtesy of Penguin Group

 

Human for a Day is an anthology edited by Martin H. Greenberg and Jennifer Brozek. Each story tackles a different aspect of the question: what if something could become human for just one day? How would that affect them and those around them? What would happen? Each author has a very different tale to tell, and the range is quite interesting. I’ll delve into a few of the more memorable tales, although I’ll do my best to avoid spoilers.

The Mainspring of His Heart, The Shackles of His Soul by Ian Tregillis: Jax is a clockwork man geased to obey any order given to him by a human. The only way for him to be free is to find a key to fit the keyhole on his forehead, and set his soul free. The lieutenant of the ship Jax works on has promised to bring him to the Underground Railroad, where a man makes counterfeit keys. Mainspring tells the tale of Jax’s escape, Willem’s role in it, and what happens when Jax has a chance at freedom. It’s a lovely story, fraught with danger and touching in its exploration of what it means to be free.

The Blade of His Plow by Jay Lake: Longinus is a deathless soldier, doomed to fight again and again in other men’s wars until a day when he might be released from his condition. Watching him live and fight through century after century of evolving warfare is both fascinating and sad. The topic of the anthology makes it inevitable that he will find his freedom, and seeing what he does with it is equally fascinating.

Cinderella City by Seanan McGuire: The city of San Francisco has been incarnated as a human without her permission or understanding. It’s up to a strange bartender and the Summer King to unravel the mystery and save her from an alchemist’s dastardly machinations.

“Are you humans always this complicated?” I rubbed my forehead. “I’d like to resume being a city, please.”

Mina frowned. “You never stopped,” she said. “You just stopped paying attention to yourself.”

My favorite part is the attraction of the various animals of the city to her incarnated form. In particular, the pigeons that follow her everywhere. Cinderella is clever, fun, and entertaining.

Tumulus by Anton Strout: Normally I’m a real fan of Strout’s stories, but this one left me a little cold. In it, Jeanine, who has been unable to conceive a child, decides to call on a very unlikely source of power for aid. I found the story too thick with detailed explanations, and had trouble believing in Jeanine’s justification for her particular choice of power to call upon.

The Sentry by Fiona Patton: I found the beginning confusing, but the rest of the story was so evocative and compelling that I could forgive that. A statue of a military sentry comes to life, and sets off to help a fellow soldier finally let go and move onward. It turns out that the sentry himself, however, has some of his own realizations to come to.

Mortal Mix-Up by Laura Resnick: A vampire and a high school student trade bodies, leaving the stunned vampire to try to fake her way through a teenage girl’s morning. While the concept is interesting, the vampire feels awfully stereotypical, and the altered state she finds herself in didn’t feel like it went much of anywhere. It felt like it could have been an interesting start to something that got cut prematurely short.

Band of Bronze by Jean Rabe: It’s a tale of what happens when a statue of the Mad Hatter comes to life for a day and brings a few other statues with him. He’s on a mission, and he’s determined to do some damage along the way! Bronze was simple, straightforward, and just plain fun.

Zombie Interrupted by Tim Waggoner: This tale clearly takes place in a pre-existing world from the author’s novels. It’s impressive how well Waggoner manages to get the feel of the unique setting across to the reader without info-dumping, failing to do justice to the actual plot, or leaving the reader stranded and confused. The plot itself is interesting (but would probably be more so with the book background); the nifty part is the setting and the zombie’s unique place within it. I found myself caught up in caring about what happened to him.

The Destroyer by Kristine Kathryn Rusch: I adored this tale of a tomcat’s attempt to save his territory and those within it from a particularly vile human. I loved the ways in which Rusch conveys the attitudes of both indoor and outdoor cats and how they’re affected by what’s going on around them. In particular I found the arc of the main character’s actions and cares engrossing and affecting.

Finally, Epilogue by Jim C. Hines lived up to what I’ve come to expect from his tales. It’s quirky, touching, and unusual, and my only regret is that it wasn’t a bit longer and didn’t explore its subject just a wee bit more. In it, a woman finds herself trapped in a cave-in with only a collection of her father’s stories on her phone for company.

 

I left out a handful of stories that didn’t particularly affect me in one direction or the other—six out of sixteen is a high percentage of ‘okay’ stories, particularly combined with the two I mentioned that really didn’t do anything for me, which is why Human for a Day didn’t manage a 4 out of 5. The stories that I did enjoy were quite good, however, and the central conceit of the anthology is a fascinating one. It’s a good book to spend an afternoon with, and you might find a new author or three to follow.

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