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Much as with the crime short stories, this selection of sci-fi stories is part of the Sharp Shades series, and features four really short stories, totalling 60 pages, and all with a sci-fi theme. The crime selection was, on the whole, rather disappointing, with not only the lack of pages restricting the development, but also the stories themselves not really niggling my interest.
The sci-fi stories don't really fare much better, although I would say they are marginally better than the crime stories. The first one is The Changeling, by Gillian Phillip, and is actually quite an appealing tale. Set in what appears to be the future in many ways, it shows two schoolkids, DiMarco (we don't get a first name) and Kit Castleman, in a lesson where it appears aliens and capital punishment are very much the norm. It is here that we meet the Changeling of the title, as the vicious and hated Dr Balthazar, their teacher, punishes them as well as the Changeling, a small 'blob' that doesn't really do much. The writing is quite intriguing, and I thought that Phillip's tale left much to our imaginations without actually asking us to do anything with them. A decent tale that did everything it needed to. No anticlimax or anything, just a solid pace throughout and a good conclusion. I liked it.
The second tale, however, is a bit.....pointless? Perhaps that's the right word to use. Called Space Junk, it features two garbage men, who go around space picking up floating objects to dispose of them in the right manner. However, when they pick up an object about a metre long, they are more than surprised to find out what's inside. The characterisation here is a bit lacklustre, choosing instead to focus on a few specifics of the tale and not really allowing us to get involved in the story. In fact, there is no real depth to the plot, and I found myself finishing it and wondering why I had bothered. I was quite surprised by this, as I had previously read one of the author's (David Orme) short stories and had quite enjoyed it.
The third tale is rather chilling, and could possibly be drawn out a bit more and expanded upon to make a rather good lengthier tale, I thought. It launches straight into a girl, Alice, who stops off at a house for a cool drink, or ice cream, on the invitation of another girl, a stranger. However, almost like a time warp, she soon discovers that the inside of the house is in the future, 30 years or more from now, and that people are cloned. It's not the most complicated of tales, but the way that Mary Chapman writes it leaves you with a bit of a chilling feeling. I thought she did very well with this one, as she did with her short story Wrong Exit. I liked it.
The book finishes off with Alan Durant's The Neronian Box. Sadly, I didn't enjoy it. I felt it went too in depth into trying to describe the conflict between two warring races. Agon lives on Mundus, and constantly asks his grandfather why the Neronians want to fight. It gives you a very futuristic feel, just through the names, really, but the whole tale itself manages to miss the mark by cluttering with too much detail. I didn't think too much of the characters, and the attempted poignancy at the end of the book, while not completely lost on me, felt a little weakly delivered. The writing was decent enough, but the detail was far too much, really, for so few pages.
Overall, I suppose this book had me split. Two tales I liked, two I really didn't. Sort of torn between 2 stars and 3 stars, I feel like reverting to the lower, with the decider going to the publication of the book. I know that the aims of this and other books in the Sharp Shades series are to encourage people to read, those who wouldn't normally bother with books at all. I think it's a great idea, but what surprises me is that you get no preamble or anything after the stories. You just get the copyright details, a list of the titles, and the stories. I feel they've missed not just an opportunity to promote the authors' other work, but also a chance to explain, perhaps on one page, what the Sharp Shades series is about. There is literally nothing, and had I not known about it already, I may have been even more disappointed, and without explanation.
So, as it stands, this gets a 2 star rating from me. It's available for £2.99 or £3.99 or thereabouts, although it's not really something I can recommend.