First, I must tell you that I am not a fan of science fiction or fantasy. However, I do like the original Star Trek, but only because Lucille Ball, as President of Desilu Studios, gave Gene Roddenberry the green light to produce the series. Do you know they never once said “Beam me up Scotty” on the show? Then again, James Cagney never said, “You dirty rat.” But, I digress.
When I decided I would read Phoenix Tales – Stories of Death and Life by Gregory Bernard Banks, I thought for a moment that I might not be the right person to review this book, but once I started reading his anthology, I could not stop.
The book jacket says, “These dark, thought-provoking, and sometimes humorous tales masterfully blend elements of science fiction, fantasy, and horror to delve into humanity’s never-ending struggle to master Death and achieve eternal life.”
Banks’ short story, “Avatar,” which is included in the anthology is an L. Ron Hubbard’s Writers of the Future Semi-finalist. Each story is written in just the right length to allow one to escape during a lunch break or while riding on a bus or train. While I liked all the stories in the anthology, the ones I enjoyed the most were:-
1. “Escape Velocity,” which is about a man who lives in a nursing facility and thanks to modern science is not allowed to die. His only hope is an escape, so he can finally die in peace.
2. “The Sacrifice,” which is about a man who must “suck the youth out of people” to stay alive.
3. “Touched,” which is about a genetically engineered little boy who is treated like a freak, but who with his mother finally finds happiness.
4. “Living with Mrs. Klase,” which is about a woman with dementia who thinks she is Mrs. Clause and every day is Christmas.
However, my absolute favorite story was “A Cup of Time,” which tells the story of a man who is robbed of his youth and must travel with a Death Agent to recapture his youth before his time expires. This story has a great twist in the end that I will not reveal.
The stories are vivid, and the reader will stay engaged and never be bored. All of the characters come alive through Banks’s descriptions and dialogue. One will notice that all the women in the book are tall dark and handsome, and so are most of the men. Banks, through his writing, assures us that there are few if any unattractive people in the future. My guess is this is his way of giving us hope in a future where one is never allowed to die, children are programmed to know the answer to everything, and old men are allowed to steal your remaining years with a magic powder or spell.
There is only one criticism of the book. Some of the mathematics does not add up. For instance, in “Touched” the man whose genetic material was used to create the little boy died in 2052, yet later in the story, it is stated that the action takes place in 2024. For people like me, who like to add and subtract in order to figure out the ages of characters and the time span of events, this was frustrating.
If you liked the last 15 minutes of the final episode of Six Feet Under, you will love this anthology.