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Outcasts
Vonda N. McIntyre
Book View Café

Outcasts
Vonda N. McIntyre
Vonda N. McIntyre's short story, "Of Mist, and Grass, and Sand" (Fireflood & Other Stories) won a Nebula Award when she was only in her twenties. The story was the basis for her novel, Dreamsnake, which went on to capture another Nebula as well as a Hugo award. She has written Star Wars: The Crystal Star which continues the adventures of George Lucas' Star Wars characters Luke Skywalker, Leia Organa, Han Solo, and Chewbacca. Her Starfarers Series is a quartet of novels telling the tale of an alien contact specialist, J.C. Sauvage, and her colleagues in rebellion aboard the starship Starfarer.

Vonda N. McIntyre Website
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: The Moon and The Sun
SF Site Review: The Moon and the Sun

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Trent Walters

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Vonda N. McIntyre has won multiple awards from the Hugo and Nebula to the Locus award. Outcasts is her latest ebook collection -- a novella grouped with two shorter stories -- which encompasses characters trapped in miserable circumstances: sometimes without choice, sometimes by their own devising. "Screwtop" is the prison labor camp located on Redsun, surrounded by volcanoes and marshes, making escape so impossible that the guards seem unworried when prisoners try to escape.

Kylis, Gryf, and Jason have bonded in friendship to help each other make it through to the end of their term. Kylis had been caught for stowing away on space stations since she was ten, sporting the tattoo that makes her admired among other stowaways. Gryf, a tetraparental (having four parents), had refused his duty back home, so he was sent here until he cooperated. Jason, finally, was simply working off passage to another planet, but if the labor camp found out how important a political figure he was, they'd never let him go.

Kylis tries to confide in the strong Miria and talk her into joining their group; however, Miria appears to have turned in Kylis's confidences. Worse, Lizard, the cruelest of the guards, proposes to Kylis that she have his child and give the child solely to Lizard. If she doesn't, he will make life difficult for their group or take away their lives all together.

While the gripping "Screwtop" is evocative of place and pressure-cooks its characters, "Steel Collar Worker" provides a fascinating contrast: workers who plunk themselves into their own pressure cooker.

Janine and Neko are friends and coworkers where they manipulate elementals in virtual reality in order to build vaccines. Janine tries to remain unnoticed, not to stand out. She purposefully takes tests that lands her in the middle of the crowd; while athletic, she downplays it; and finally she's a bit oblivious: following the vaccine blueprints without thought, not listening to friends as they speak, and not reading the instruction manual. Then one day she receives a third notice to take a test for her job. She'd already feigned sickness and taken a day off work. Thinking she'll just act like she forgot, she bumps into one of the executives who takes her to the test himself. But it turns out not to be what she'd thought.

Although "Steel Collar Worker" takes an unusual yet thoughtful approach to SF, "Genius Freaks" pulls from its sleeve one of the more powerful tropes of the field: the unusual genetic talent.

Genetically, Lais is a freak. She recalls her life's evolution -- a literal event rather than a metaphor -- growing up from a tadpole through primate to her current form. Because she's about to die fifteen years early and because the Institute isn't interested in saving her life but in experimenting to find out how to improve the lives of other genetic freaks, she's on the run -- in a world where if the people knew what creature she was, they'd hate her. She hopes to beg enough money for a ticket off planet. A kindly, older gentleman gives her a place to stay, but in the news videos plaster her image everywhere, forcing her to hack into the city's computer to find an escape route or a way to wreck vengeance. Instead, she finds another way out.

"Genius Freaks" shines in places where it anticipates the genre's later fascination with genetics and cyberpunk. While not as focused as the first two stories in the Outcasts collection, this still displays McIntyre's love of humanity. Even cruel guards want a child to love; bosses can care about employees; and strangers sometimes help. Together they might comprise half of a regular paperback and worth investigating. The author sells many of her novels and short stories through Book View Café [www.bookviewcafe.com], where the author presumably sees more of a profit than through a third party. Other authors also sell their works there as well. Check it out.

Copyright © 2012 Trent Walters

Trent Walters teaches science; lives in Honduras; edited poetry at Abyss & Apex; blogs science, SF, education, and literature, etc. at APB; co-instigated Mundane SF (with Geoff Ryman and Julian Todd) culminating in an issue for Interzone; studied SF writing with dozens of major writers and and editors in the field; and has published works in Daily Cabal, Electric Velocipede, Fantasy, Hadley Rille anthologies, LCRW, among others.


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