Pros: Intriguing worldbuilding
Cons: Tone and pacing are stiff; confusing worldbuilding
Rating: 3 out of 5
Z.S. Adani’s The Last Outpost and Other Tales is a collection of sci-fi short stories. They’re original and creative, but I ran into a few problems.
There are good and bad aspects to throwing the reader head-first into the worldbuilding without any real explanation. It can provide a very deep sense of being in the world. However, in the case of most of these stories it felt like they were deliberately written to obscure information as a stylistic choice. I frequently felt as though I was missing something or failing to understand something properly. Perhaps this is partially because some of these stories take place in pre-existing worlds the author has written in. Maybe I’d find that although they don’t stand well alone, they make sense after reading those books.
The style and pacing of the writing is a bit stiff and one-note. The real problem with this is that it doesn’t convey emotion well. There were stories in which clearly we’re supposed to empathize with the characters and care about their troubles, and there were times we were supposed to be tense with the action, and yet I usually couldn’t feel it. There were two exceptions to this. In “Mirror of My Mind,” in which a woman purchases a “Mother Fragment” (essentially, a clone) to watch over her son while she’s busy, I was able to get into the emotional content as the woman starts to wonder whether the MF is degrading. “Beneath the Alien Shield” starts off with enough no-context worldbuilding that it seemed a bit like gibberish, but it managed to become very tense as Kestra, a Special Ops agent of Defense and Intelligence, has to single-handedly take out a very dangerous and nasty alien.
If there were more detail, I think the worldbuilding would be less opaque and the tone less clinical. Everything is just very plainly laid out, and it robs the writing of emotion. There are some very creative ideas in here–some of the societies and aliens are quite fascinating–but with those problems in mind, this anthology doesn’t make for very interesting reading.
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