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Jigsaw Nation, edited by Edward J. McFadden III, E. Sedia Book Review | SFReader.com
Jigsaw Nation, edited by Edward J. McFadden III, E. Sedia Genre: Science Fiction Anthology Publisher: Wilder Publications Published: 2006 Review Posted: 10/31/2006 Reviewer Rating:
Reader Rating: 9 out of 10
Jigsaw Nation, edited by Edward J. McFadden III, E. Sedia
Book Review by Paul Abbamondi
Have you read this book?
The editors of Jigsaw Nation, Edward J. McFadden III and E. Sedia, pose an apt question: What would the United States be like if there was a secession? As in a split nation, blue states versus red states, the right versus the wrong, faith versus truth. After the 2004 Presidential election, it seemed quite possible for such a future to exist, that the United States might not be as united as some might believe. The contributing authors in Jigsaw Nation present many different visions of a future superpower country, some more science fiction than others and some reverting back to the old ways.
Paul Di Filippo's "Escape from New Austin" starts the collection of nineteen tales, following the rebellious youth Amy Gertslin as she decides to defect from Agnostica and journey to Faithland where she hopes to fulfill her dreams of musical stardom in Nashville. It's set in the near future, and filled with lush cultural references and Southern charm. Her father even muses why kids these days can't just listen to the classics. You know, as in Eminem and Linkin Park. The world is surprisingly well-thought out with social and political boundaries splitting the nation. Amy's plight is engaging, and I only wished it was longer so that Di Filippo's vision could be explored more fully.
"The Idaho Zephyr" by Douglas Lain, while well-written and full of vivid descriptions, just didn't seem to have a focus. There's an interesting subplot involving a train set that is reinforced by the main character's love for everything historical, but the story loses itself in a quasi-emotional relationship with a confused, lost-in-the-world girl. The ending alluded to a happier time, but I'm just not sure if it was clear enough.
"Waking Waco" by Cody Goodfellow is pure, demented fun. Rydell "Waco" Peabody, a man with a violent and deadly history, is finally being thawed out. He'd been frozen for thirty-five years, as per the Supreme Court's orders. Peabody wakes up-angry. And then he discovers some organs of his are missing; now he's really angry. What ensues next is Peabody's unending rampage to discover what happened to him. Goodfellow rarely pauses, but if there is one thing he does without fear is push the limits of his characters. Horrible things happen within-dreadful, make-you-twitch-in-discomfort sort of things-and yet, I couldn't look away.
One of Jigsaw Nation's most profound pieces, "Return to Nowhere" by Ruth Nestvold and Jay Lake, is the story of the journey one man will take to win his daughter's freedom. Clevis "Wrong-Way" Blackburn is an idolized hero though he doesn't know it yet. All he knows is the dusty road and the direction to go. He's being pursued, but racist cops and swooping helicopters won't stop him, especially since he budded up with that Sam Edmo, a passerby who certainly knows more than he's letting on. The writing, when backed by such a strong collaboration of authors, is excellent. The speculative aspect is nigh, but that does not matter. This is a strong story, with mystery and action and suspense and everything else you can imagine, all culminating with an ending that is sure to surprise just as much as it satisfies.
"The Man from Missouri" by Patrick Thomas shares a similar plotline with the previous story, a man on a mission to save someone dear from the drudgery of slavery. It's fairly straightforward, but with just enough mystery to guide you along on the whim of faith. Some of the violence in the piece felt unnecessary, but the dialogue more than makes up for it.
There's this constant atmosphere of bleakness in "The Switch" by Darby Harn that I found fascinating. Our nameless narrator is trying to get across the river to Elizabeth to attend his mother's funeral. To do so, he'll need outside assistance. I enjoyed how Harn was able to come up with a functional trick to get the main character where he needed to be and it was handled with precise skill.
"Down in the Corridor" by Robert Lopresti takes on a controversial topic with subtleness. Joe Vargas, the consul of four former states of the U.S.A. know as the San Diego Corridor, is awoken early with claims that one of his citizens had been caught smuggling drugs across the border. This isn't heroine though. It's called AB87, a sort of "morning after" pill. Worse, the citizen caught is Cindy Weisbeck, daughter of the governor of southern California. It's going to be a long day. Lopresti crafts an intriguing story, but one thing bothered me. There seemed to be this subplot involving a cell phone building in the background-and while it was later revealed its importance-it seemed a bit anticlimactic. Still, powerful and entertaining.
In "Homecoming in the Borderlands Café" by Carole McDonnell, religion is outlawed in most of the liberal states, forcing many to lead rather elusive lives. Mike and his family are relaxing in the Borderlands Café in Wommack when he notices a man and woman arguing outside across the street. It's clear that they're the type not welcome around these parts. Shoulders tense and faces sneer when the couple enters the café. McDonnell is able to balance both stances on the religion aspect, not ever actually giving into one of them. That's the reader's job, and even though I'm still contemplating the actions of Mike, it's a good sign that I'm still thinking about the story.
"Places of Color" by David Bartell, ultimately, is a relationship story. Major politics are displaced to the background while Delicia and James grow to love one another, help each other cope with the drudge of daily life. Delicia's son, Daniel, has recently been sent to prison. As the weeks go on, Delicia and James love wobbles on shaky ground, but there is one person she'd never give up on-Daniel. I wished Bartell would have given the reader more information on Daniel and his actions; I found myself wondering too many times just what it was that kept Delicia's hope high for her son's life. I'm not sure if it was ever answered. Still, at this point in the anthology, this type of story provides a nice break from such heavy-handed issues of slavery and war.
In "Juneteenth" by K.M. Praschak, Bill Reynolds is hurrying home to celebrate both his birthday and the holiday of the story's namesake. The holiday, while mostly ignored by white people, grew from post-Civil War Texas and Bill always made sure to celebrate it. It was a right. He's looking forward to seeing his sons and daughter too. His neighbor's out preparing to celebrate as well, but tension rises when Chief Rait shows up demanding to see proper documentation for their being there. Praschak presents similar characteristics found in previous stories: enforced curfews, the oppressive eye of both governmental and police figures, and the separation of people based on color. Less focus on the action, more on the matters of personal belief and the strength of family, but overall an intriguing read.
In "The Patriot" by Erin Fitzgerald, Mark Bloom's father locks himself in the basement for a month. He wanted to truly know what imprisonment was like, and with the help of Mark, they recreated a makeshift prison in the basement. While all this is going on, Mark must deal with the judgment of neighbors and the attraction he's feeling toward Brianne, a girl with strong opinions and a sexual appetite. But will Mark's infatuation with Brianne lead him astray and his father's plan off target? Very interesting piece though some of its conclusions I felt were a bit typical.
I was confused by "Seconds" by Seth Lindberg. The story alternates between two worlds, one where Marshall dreams about the other when he sleeps, sometimes even seeing the same person in each one. One world is gritty war; the other is married life with a day job. Even Marshall's not sure which world is the real one; Lindberg presents some interesting images and characters-especially Jackson, both of him-but I still felt unsure of the point of "Seconds."
The next four stories-"Mission Control" by Tara Kolden, "The State of Blues" by Gene Stewart, "Victory without Honor" by C.J. Henderson, "Fieldwork" by J. Stern-all felt subpar to the rest of the Jigsaw Nation stories. "Mission Control" felt out of place, and not just for the fact that the setting was outer space; the tone and plot seemed off when compared to such heavy-hitters like "Return to Nowhere" and "Juneteenth." The others blurred together unfortunately, "Fieldwork" being the one hardest to comprehend.
"This Divided Land" by Michael Jasper tells the dangerous journey two lovers will take to be with one another. Zack and Alan have only ever corresponded over computer screens, but they've finally decided to face their fears, face the harsh government controlling the roads and borders, face their parents' disappointment, and go in search of true love. From the start, both know it's not going to be an easy task. Jasper handles both Zack's and Alan's viewpoint well, telling each boy's story and giving just enough reason for sympathy votes. Of all the stories in Jigsaw Nation, this was the one that felt the realest, and maybe that's why it had such a strong impact on this reader. Well recommended.
With any anthology (or magazine or e-zine or chapbook or collection of napkin scribbles), it always worries me to see an editor including his or her own work in the project they're editing. One can only sense the power tingling in those hands. "Abraham Lincoln for High Exulted Mystic Ruler of the Galaxy" by Edward J. McFadden III is one of those parallel world trips, this one involving a morbidly defunct robotic Abraham Lincoln, one of the greatest presidents to ever grace the United States. A bit quirky, but dark enough to please this reader. Abraham Lincoln never seemed so scary as he does within McFadden III's story.
"Rhymes with Jew" by Paul G. Tremblay is a powerful closer to Jigsaw Nation. Diane, a social service worker with a strange love for words that rhyme with Jew, recounts her previous work with a young woman named Sandra and her little baby boy Drew. The split of the nation has spawned many problems amongst the people. Hunger, suffering, and survival are the themes here and Tremblay adds the perfect touch to his characters. A great ending to the anthology, but I'd even suggest reading it before others. Trust me-it'll be worth flipping to the back of the book.
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