Stranger Worlds Than These by L.J. Cohen

Stranger Worlds Than These by L.J. CohenCombining fluid language with solid structure, Cohen creates a series of speculative tales that raise questions without ever confusing the reader.

The collection contains seven short stories of science-fiction and fantasy:

Diversity: an alien, raised on Earth after her parents fled their planet, joins the human diplomatic mission to her people’s home.

The Plague Doctor’s Lament: the Angel of Death takes on human form to experience life.

Thou Shalt Not: troubled by his reaction to creation, YHVH enters psychotherapy.

Persistence of Memory: one of the creators of human memory expansion struggles with degenerative memory loss.

Water Bourne: a selkie uses her ability to appear desirable to work as an escort.

The Last Time I Saw Richard: after saving a fairy from a crime, a young woman is gifted a new life.

Vestigial: growing up in an underground society that provides only the necessities of life, a young woman finds a single vial of refined sugar.

Cohen bases each story on a single change to the “real” world, a what-if allowed to unfold logically. This focus on the consequences of one difference – rather than entire new worlds created from whole cloth – makes the issues instantly relevant, and creates a firmer contrast for the significant differences.

This choice also removes much of the pressure common to short stories for explaining all the differences. While there are moments where the narrators explain meanings or state facts, most of each story is presented as the narrator’s perceptions and reactions. Thos absence of exposition added especially to those stories where the plot contains mystery or confusion.

While there is a certain consistency of style, Cohen uses a range of voices. Each narrator is both distinct and consistent, without drifting into pastiche or affectation. In addition to the greater depth of character this creates, the transition between stories is very clear, preventing the events of one story blurring into another.

Overall, I enjoyed this collection immensely. I recommend it to readers looking for speculative fiction that is both entertaining and thought-provoking.

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