As a short story writer, I really should pay more attention to collections. I tend to read individual stories from authors who have caught my attention rather than whole collections, unless they’ve actually published me.
Walden Planet reminded me why I need to revise my reading choices; it’s an object lesson in how a collection can build stories around a range of different but related thoughts and package them in bite-sized chunks. Comparing a collection to a novel is rather like comparing a packet of crisps to a baked potato. The crisps look like a lights snack but contain more substance than you notice until after you know you’re not going to stop until you’ve finished the whole packet.
Richard Zwicker offers up a range of flavours in his value pack of a collection, which reminded me of the works of Philip K Dick and Ray Bradbury. Like Dick and Bradbury, Zwicker uses science fiction a sa vehicle to explore logic problems and the vagaries of human nature.
Thus in the opening story, That Was So Funny I Forgot to Laugh, the tale of humans being expelled to Mars to make way for a robot utopia is really a device to explore a society that loses its capacity to respond to humour and nuance. In the final story, Dig the Slowness, the characters invent a weapon that slowly but inexorably closes in on its victim not because it would be a particularly useful weapon, but because when they can’t resist fiddling with it, mortality ceases to be the abstract concept that most of us live with and forces them to face it directly.
Every story presents themes that could spark hours of over-a-pint discussion, and does it with humour that kept me reading and a lack of judgement that left me to make up my own mind.
Full disclosure: Rich Zwicker is a friend and critique partner, although I only critiqued one of the stories in this collection. Nevertheless, I only review things I like, with no exceptions for friends. Walden Planet allowed me to follow my policy with no second thoughts.