Pros: Nifty thrillers
Cons: Thematic issues
Rating: 4 out of 5
Editor Allyson Longueira brings us the collection, Fiction River Presents: Racing the Clock (Volume 4). It’s an anthology themed around racing-the-clock thrillers. As with most anthologies, the editor’s particular tastes might not entirely line up with the reader’s. Also, I’ve noticed that Fiction River tends to like to push the boundaries a bit and include stories that might not traditionally line up with the theme. I can see this as a laudable goal, but since their anthologies are fairly hyper-focused, this works against that focus and dilutes the intensity of the result a bit.
JC Andrijeski’s The Chair introduces us to Devon, who has woken up in a warehouse, cuffed to a chair, bleeding out. We stick with her as she desperately tries to work her way free. I thought this one ended a bit too early, with a little too much left unsaid. Other than that, however, it’s great. It definitely serves as a nice introduction to the theme.
Thomas K. Carpenter’s Tower One brings us back to the events of 9/11 through the eyes of a time traveler working out something very personal. Samantha, the time traveler, is more complicated than at first she seems, which is what makes this story good.
Brendan DuBois’s The Good Brother plays around with the good brother/evil brother trope a bit, in delicious ways. John’s older brother Luke, a perennial trouble-maker, knifed someone, and comes to John for help. John, accustomed to cleaning up his brother’s messes, takes this one on as well. This was a particularly good story.
Scott William Carter’s The Elevator in the Cornfield is just… bizarre. The title pretty much sums up the whole thing. Farmer Hank and his teenaged son Timmy discover an elevator just sitting in their cornfield one day–and it goes up. What it leads to forever alters the relationship between father and son. I would have liked a little more about the places the elevator leads to, and I really don’t see how this is a ‘racing against the clock’ story at all.
The Red-Stained Wishing Tree, by Eric Stocklassa, introduces us to Sam, who’s about to make his one-thousandth kill. Something, however, makes this one different, and sends him on a journey to the place where his current life began. This is a really neat paranormal story about a not-entirely-human assassin, but again, there isn’t really a clock being raced against.
Play the Man by Dan C. Duval opens in the middle of a kidnapping with the purpose of robbing a bank. Our protagonist must outplay his opponent if he wants to keep his pregnant wife alive. I really liked this story–it has some great tension to it.
Eyes on My Cards, by Dean Wesley Smith, is another story that has little clock-racing to recommend it. It’s an intriguing story of a professional poker player who’s asked to help figure out how a player is cheating a casino. I enjoyed it, but I failed to see how it fit the theme of the book.
H-Hour, by Steven Mohan, Jr., is a story I read in another Fiction River anthology. Master Sergeant Shane McCullum must keep his unit’s morale intact while they prepare to jump into Mars’s atmosphere in aid of an invasion. Each person ends up examining why they’ve gone to war. This is a nice thought-piece.
Kristine Kathryn Rusch’s Sole Survivor is a sci-fi story in which a woman, Takara Hamasaki, must escape a station that’s being invaded by mysterious forces. Will she make it to her ship in time? This is a delightful escape story.
I understand the effort to push the boundaries a bit, but I think if you’re going to promise the reader a bunch of racing-the-clock stories, then you should actually deliver them–and this book only partially does that. As long as you don’t mind that, however, most of these stories are quite good.