“The Shifts” by Mike Nees

Genre:           Literary Speculative FictionMike's story
Publisher:    Typehouse Literary Magazine
Pub. Date:    February 2019

I want to start this review by sharing that the author, Mike Nees, is my son.  I promise you that will not influence my critique.   Mike has critiqued much of my own writing and he is fond of telling me not to heap praise on an author just because I know him, as this may harm his growth in the long run.  He likes to tell me that my reviews often need to show more teeth.  With that said, I will share that I am not always fond of Mike’s stories or even his novel.  He writes in a genre I have never been able to put my finger on—A bit of magical realism in a dystopian setting with a strong dash of speculative fiction.  Or, what he simply calls, “Mike’s crazy stuff.”  Often his work is over the head of my non-speculative thinking brain.  But just because I am not of fan of his preferred genres doesn’t mean I do not appreciate good storytelling.  As a book reviewer, I simply consume too much literature not to be aware of when I am reading good writing.  This short story is written with a skilled hand.  Glad to know the English Lit degree paid off.

“The Shifts” is an entertaining short that carries a moral message.  The title’s name is referring to factory work.  The jobs are “a miracle” for the poor.  Everyone fit will have work (…) twelve hours of pay, twelve minutes of work.  The tale reads like a black-and-white (think “The Twilight Zone,”) mix of sci-fi, supernatural fantasy, and horror.  There is also a strong dose of family drama, asking the question: Just what would you do for your child?  For me, this is the real catch in the story.  It touched my mother’s heart.  The characters are unnamed, living in a village in an unmentioned location.  (The author does write of a Boujaad rug, if that is a hint, I am not sure).  This all gives the feel that you are somewhere in the Fourth Dimension.  The author does let the reader know that his male protagonist is narrating his life story to his son.  Sadly, even living in another dimension no one can afford their medical bills.  Mike does a great job in showing corporate greed. Does “Shifts” read as good as Rod Serling’s best?  The answer is no.  Sterling’s episode “It’s a Good Life” is based on the 1953 short story written by Jerome  Bixby.  That short is so wonderful because it cleverly explains more on why those in power often have no moral compass.  Still, “Shifts” is a merciless-creepy-good short that explores the tensions of society.  Due to the author’s mixing of the genres, I recommend this story to those who enjoy speculative fiction, and to those who do not.   The tale even has an ending with a twist that this reviewer didn’t guess.

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About the author:

Mike Nees is a case manager for people living with HIV in Atlantic City. He hosts the city’s Story Slam series and has a BA in Creative Writing from Stockton University. His work has appeared in Matchbook Literary Magazine and HazMat Literary Review.

I received this Advance Review Copy (ARC) short story from the author at no cost in exchange for an honest review.

Find all my book reviews at:

https://www.goodreads.com/review/list/4793025
https://books6259.wordpress.com/
https://twitter.com/NeesRecord
https://www.facebook.com/martie.neesrecord
https://www.amazon.com/gp/profile/amzn1.account.AG62PSO4DKIDR23WFXRPYGSYK65Q

“The Dreamers” by Karen Thompson Walker

Genre:           Literary Speculative Fictionthe dreamers
Publisher:    Random House
Pub. Date:    January 15, 2019

This hard to put down, apocalyptic thriller reads like a science-fiction fairy tale.  In Karen Thompson Walker’s first novel, “The Age of Miracles” she tapped into our fears about the melting of the Polar Regions.  Once again, global warming is a component in her newest novel, “The Dreamers.”  The book is set in a small college town experiencing a drought. As the nearby lake evaporates, students are struck with a mysterious illness that puts them into a sleep that they cannot be aroused from.   They are the first dreamers—victims of a contagious sleeping epidemic.  Before the college is quarantined, a few dreamers (as they have come to be called) turns into a few hundred.   All need medical attention to stay alive as they sleep. Soon the entire town is quarantined and panic sets in, causing a chain reaction of distrust similar to the AIDS epidemic.  Some residents rise to the occasion and attempt to aid the sick, while others take the attitude of remaining uninfected at all costs.

Walker’s hypnotic tale is reminiscent of a Stanley Kubrick movie: Intelligent, strange, terrifying.  What might be the most interesting parts of the novel is when the author brings the reader inside the minds of those sleeping.  They experience heightened dreams that tap into unused powers of the human brain that only scientists suspect might be there.  The author has clearly done her research homework.  The novel is peppered with statements from the British neurologist, naturalist, and historian of science, Oliver Sacks.  All in all, hidden inside this page-turner, Walker asks provocative questions:  What is the nature of consciousness?   What is the nature of a health epidemic caused by global warming?  Why are some ordinary people inclined to help, while others will not?  “Dreamers” may not answer these questions but it does leave the reader thinking, which is the highest form of praise an author can receive.

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I received this Advance Review Copy (ARC) novel from the publisher at no cost in exchange for an honest review.

Find all my book reviews at:

https://www.goodreads.com/review/list/4793025
https://books6259.wordpress.com/
https://twitter.com/NeesRecord
https://www.facebook.com/martie.neesrecord
https://www.amazon.com/gp/profile/amzn1.account.AG62PSO4DKIDR23WFXRPYGSYK65Q