You can’t be involved in the milieu of writing and reading speculative fiction short stories without coming across Cat Rambo. I haven’t had the pleasure of sharing a ToC with Cat (yet – my first will be Dagan Books’ FISH anthology, due out later this year), but I’ve read many of her short stories in various magazines and anthologies. Yes, I want to write like Cat Rambo when I grow up.
My review is based on the electronic review copy that Cat kindly forwarded to me, but I can’t help but mention the paperback. “Near + Far” comprises two distinct collections of stories compiled into one volume. Each volume has its own cover, and upon completion of one volume, you flip the book over to read the other. It’s a quirky little bonus for treebook aficionados, and reading about it in the book’s foreword makes me ever-so-slightly envious.
As mentioned, the two halves of the collection are separated into near future and far future stories, although on my first read-through I thought the “near” and “far” referred to geographical distance, with most of the far future stories being set on planets other than Earth. And how to describe the contents of “Near + Far”? I’d like to say simply “Kick-ass”, but two words (or is it one, with the hyphen?) don’t really count as a review, so I’ll cover off the rest of the word count by mentioning my favourites. There was only one story that I didn’t like, and I could write at length about why I didn’t like it, but even then, the quality of the prose is faultless.
One of the things that I admire most about this collection is the way that Rambo explores similar themes throughout, yet each story is distinct, imaginative and original; it never feels like the “same old, same old”. “Therapy Buddha” is a sad and chilling story that deals with a recurring theme within the collection, of social isolation and disconnection from one’s fellow human beings, causing characters to bond with non-humans and inanimate objects. Further excellent examples of this theme can be found in “RealFur”, “Surrogates” and “Vocobox”. The marriage in the latter story might be dysfunctional, but the match between characters and concept is one made in heaven.
One of the themes in “Ms. Liberty Gets a Haircut” has been a fascination of mine since I was thirteen years old – what if you are a being who is created for a specific purpose, but you want to be something else? The same theme recurs in “Long Enough and Just So Long”.
“Five Ways to Fall in Love on Planet Porcelain” is an allegorical tale of love and betrayal, and I won’t spoil it by saying any more about it.
I know you’ve probably heard this a million times before about a million different books, but this time it’s true; if you’re a fan of exquisitely crafted speculative fiction short stories of dazzling scope and imagination, then this collection is a “must have”.
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Want to know more about Cat Rambo and her work? Here are a few handy links: