Karen Heuler’s collection of short stories, “The Inner City“, published by ChiZine, is a wonderfully bizarre set of stories. Reading the author’s biography, I learned that her dog is named Philip K. Dick, and I can see a Dickian obsession with a world out of joint, a phantom reality that hides something sinister in these stories.
The lead story, “FishWish”, is a great opening piece. Originally published in Weird Tales in 2011, it takes the standard three wishes tale in an unexpected direction, plumbing the depths of unfulfilled desires.
Also rather Dickian is “The Inner City”, from which the collection derives its name. A hidden power of distrust and chaos lies just beneath the surface of reality, directing the lives of others. Kind of reminiscent of The Adjustment Bureau, only with a much darker spin.
“Down on the Farm” touches on genetic manipulation, with a dark undercurrent. It’s a rather uncomfortable story, dipping into several unsavoury topics.
“The Escape Artist” explores the relationship with fear. Does one run from fear, or confront it? And if we face our fear, is it to overcome, or to welcome the cold embrace?
Perhaps less disturbing than some of the other stories, “The Large People” is a story with ecological concerns. Ecology tends to take a longer view on things.
“Creating Cow” has clear parallels with Frankenstein, but in this case, the creature has far fewer redeeming characteristics. I wouldn’t recommend reading this one right before lunch.
“The Difficulties of Evolution” is another little gem, which looks to our sense of humanity. The ending was quite appropriate.
There aren’t any duds in this collection, although some didn’t challenge my sense of reality as much as others. It’s a well constructed collection which follows a common theme. If you’re familiar with ChiZine, this should match your expectations.
Disclaimer: I received an advance eBook copy for review from ChiZine Publications.