As per usual, I've made short comments on each individual story (not so much the poems which intersperse them). See below.
I have to admit, I wasn't that big a fan of the way Parrish arranged the stories within the anthology. Similar stories were more likely to be next to each other than spread out. This made me compare some stories unfavourably to the similar ones that preceded them more so than if they'd been spaced out. It also introduced a feeling of sameness when the same themes or ideas were explored sequentially. On the other hand, I did like how the poems were spaced out. They alternated with some stories near the start, then the middle was just stories and then alternating poems came back towards the end. I think that worked nicely.
My favourite stories were "Quantum Therapy" by David Sklar, "Tide Pools" by Kevin J Anderson, "Next Placement" by Stephen Lickman — which also had a nice LGBT element — and "Arpeggio" by Gabrielle Harbowy. The first three are distinctly science fictional, which I think is why they appealed. "Arpeggio" is, as the title suggests, music-themed and the only story in the collection set significantly in the past. I liked it because it was about overcoming adversity post life-changing cancer, rather than during, which made it stand out. So did the music.
What I felt a bit leery of were the stories with cancer bestowing magical powers and/or cancer is an alien. Maybe people with cancer or who've had people close to them suffer from it (the latter strikes me as most likely). I haven't been strongly affected by cancer in my life, but as a sufferer of a chronic illness, I don't like being told that my disease gives me superpowers when in reality it makes my life harder. It's like telling blind people they have super hearing (like Daredevil). It rubs me the wrong way. But then cancer isn't quite the same as a chronic illness or a disability — although it can lead to one — so maybe others feel differently.
Anyway, if you want to read a lot of different takes on cancer narratives, then this is definitely the anthology for you. You should probably be aware, going in, that many of the stories aren't cheery, although several are hopeful or have the character coming to terms with their situation. Speculative fiction fans wanting to see a speculative treatment of cancer stories should also check this out. Because, let's face it, I can't think of (m)any cancer-centric stories that aren't straight contemporary fiction. (Although, remember, not all the stories are speculative.)
- The Cancer Catechism – Jay Lake: Not speculative fiction and not so much a story as a fairly vivid description of what cancer and its associated rigamarole of treatment feels like to go through. For those that skip the author bios, it should be noted that Lake has experienced these things (and continues to do so).
- Cancer: A Fairy Tale – Marge Simon: A poem, short and bittersweet.
- Oil and Water – Michael Kellar: An interesting idea that, for me fell down a bit in the execution. The whole story is told in dialogue which feels a bit stilted. the cancer aspect is both tacked onto the end and the reason for the conversation. I think the concept could have made a better story explored in prose and possibly at a different point in time.
- The Light Box – Barbara Daniels: Poem, liked it.
- Time is the School in Which We Learn, Time is the Fire in Which We Burn – Candas Jane Dorsey: Quite poetically written but in dire need of better editing. A lot of typos and missing words. A good, philosophical story despite that. It has aspects of stream-of-consciousness, which I usually dislike, but it works here. Ultimately, I interpreted it as being about psychological battle. Also, I like the title.
- Hunter – Beth Cato: Poem. Quite liked it.
- Quantum Therapy – David Sklar: The first science fictional story. Details of future tech and climate (eg flooded New York) are sprinkled throughout. It’s also set in a future where most cancers have treatments but the main character has a particularly unusual one requiring a particularly unusual treatment. The author gets around some aspects of future society by making the main character a 20th Century fan, but I didn’t find that to be overly contrived. One of my favourite stories.
- Alchemical Warfare – Sandi Leibowitz: Magic and dragons in the battle against cancer. Can’t say much more without spoilers. Ultimately not sure how I felt about the resolution of this one.
- The Gypsy Cure – Bill Ratner: A sort of magic “Fantastic Voyage” story. Well written and I liked it.
- Tide Pools – Kevin J Anderson: Not about cancer per se, but about a disease so rare it's not profitable to find a cure. Also about travel to parallel universes. An enjoyable read.
- Next Placement – Stephen Lickman: An interplanetary soldier gets cancer from a radiation leak in transit. The steps she takes to try to fix it in the middle of an alien war zone lead to something unexpected. Good story, I liked it.
- The Cure – Scott Lee Williams: An odd story, but not a bad one. Something unexpected happens when a man decides to stop chemo.
- Painter X – Joely Black: Another alien-as-cancer (sort of) story. Honestly, I'm surprised at how popular this theme is. A pretty good read, although I can't decide if it was a happy or sad ending.
- A Murder of Crows – Rie Sheridan Rose: Poem.
- The Lady in the Doorway – T. Fox Dunham: Ghosts in the cancer ward. Not technically bad, but not one of my favourites. The reveal was pretty obvious once ghosts were mentioned.
- The Dead Rise for Me – Morgen Knight: Another story with cancer bestowing magic powers. Not sure how I feel about that theme. This one didn't really do it for me.
- A Brief Description of the Five Stages of Puppet Cancer – Dr. David McLain, EBS, DDF: I was expecting this story to be particularly depressing, from the title. Perhaps featuring a dying child. Instead it's a humorous description of a fictional cancer that turns people into puppets. Meh.
- Cancer Maximized – Mary Ellen Maynard: a strange future in which cancer patients are celebrities; the more cancers they've had the better. It was a perplexing setting, but not a bad read. Wouldn't've minded reading more (or a longer story) in the world.
- Hold that Blade – Beth Cato: Poem. Kind of pairs with her earlier poem (see above).
- Missing – BD Wilson: Not really about cancer, although the main character is suffering from it. It's more about missing runaway children and the character's personal mission.
- A Hunter Reflects Upon the Properties of Sunlight and Also of Ashes – Sara Cleto: Poem.
- Unchanged – Michael S Pack: Honestly I thought this story was too short to do its central idea justice. There is a new cancer cure but it has some unpleasant side-effects quite different to anything in the present. I would have liked to read more about it.
- Sylvia and the Gynandromorph Sea – Brenda Stokes Barron: a more literary story about butterflies. And cancer, of course.
- Arpeggio – Gabrielle Harbowy: A good story. I think it's the only one eat in the past, too. A harpist who lost her arm to cancer, loses herself in dreams of playing two-handed again. I think it worked quite well as a story.
- Folklore of Lunenburg Country – Robert Dawson: Folklore and a search for a miracle cure. Not a bad yarn.
- Like Sunlit Honey – Cat Jenkins: A flash piece. Nicely written and not overlay morbid for all that it isn't a cheery story. A good ending to the anthology.
3.5 / 5 stars
First published: October 2013, Wolfsinger Publications
Format read: ePub
Source: Review copy courtesy of the editor