Review: “Snapshots from a Black Hole & Other Oddities,” K.C. Ball

Pros: A wonderful array of consistently great stories
Cons:
Rating: 5 out of 5

The collection of K.C. Ball short stories entitled Snapshots from a Black Hole & Other Oddities is fabulous. It includes more than 20 stories of primarily SF, with some horror and a skein of paranormal and urban fantasy. It’s sorta/kinda an “old-school” SF feel in some of the stories, but there’s more of an emphasis on character than one might expect from that description. There’s a handful of flash fiction in here–it’s a format that Ball seems quite good at.

Snapshots I Brought Back from the Black Hole is an excellent tale of a handful of people studying a black hole, told from the point of view of an AI who’s working with them. It’s one of the old-school stories I mentioned, except that it revolves around a rather interesting set of relationships between characters, and what those people do because of their feelings for one another.

There’s a handful of post-apocalyptic stories in here. Dial Tone gives us a brief glimpse of life after a plague that claimed seven billion souls in 13 days. Bringing in the Dead is kind of a zombie post-plague story, although apparently the zombies are smart enough to use guns, which is an interesting touch. Apple Jack sees a couple of fairly unlikable characters working together to hack a computer left over from pre-Collapse days. I can’t say much about this one without giving some nifty developments away, so I’ll just say that the character interactions and developments are very engaging.

Perhaps my favorite story is Cretaceous on Ice, a sort-of time-travel story in which some country boys accidentally create a time portal and bring through some dangerous dinosaurs that they have to hunt down. The good-ol’-boy tone and context blended with the SF subject matter is quite striking and a lot of fun to read! In another quasi-time travel story, Synchronized with Evelyn allows someone to synch their consciousness with a particular person from the past, to live through her final moments. Ball’s time-travel stories are definitely a bit unusual; Coward’s Steel has a nifty circular story to it, and it also fits within the post-apocalyptic genre.

There are just a couple of pieces of superhero fiction, both of which show our heroes dealing with the every-day. At Both Ends is a superhero flash fiction that didn’t provide anything entirely novel, but was fun. A Son of the Night totally tickled me–it shows us a hero engaging with his family in new and interesting ways.

Several stories delve into a wonderful bit of diversity. According to His Substance explores a moment of crisis in the life of a man who’s sick and tired of the fact that the world insists on seeing him as his birth gender. This involves a bit of world-crossing as well, and a really nice touch at the end. Flotsam, which has a same-sex couple in it, introduces us to three people who suddenly find themselves trapped in space with no apparent way to safety–this is an inventive tale with some great characters in it. The Fluting Man shows how far people will go for each other out of love, with an interesting world-hopping story and some complex relationships.

Tin Man is a very strange piece of short fiction about a man who’s poisoning himself with his own bitterness, and sees someone about a curse removal. I would have liked to see it go a little further along the plot than it did, but it’s great. And Bay the Moon introduces us to Borden, who likes to run through the park at night–until he’s chased by huge dogs that get back up again after he starts shooting them. This one is really creative.

Gossamer Yellow is a ghost story from multiple interesting perspectives. A Bannockburn Night shows us an encounter between a ship in 1948 and a supposed ghost ship that disappeared in 1902. To Each His Niche and Task portrays a serial killer who believes he’s protecting people from demons–and frankly, I still don’t know if he was right. The Mixture is a piece of flash fiction introducing us to a hundred-year-old woman with the second sight. In some ways Calling Forth the King could be a non-genre story. But it has a girl who’s supposedly the illegitimate daughter of Elvis, who decides to summon his ghost. I absolutely love how this one ends; again, the relationships within it are fantastic.

If you enjoy genre fiction but also really, truly love good characters, then this is a fabulous collection to read.

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