The Power of Six by Nicholas C. Rossis

The Power of Six by Nicholas C. RossisUnafraid to place questions of ethics and perception at the heart of the story, Rossis creates a collection that is more than weird aliens and heroic fights.

Several of the stories have a surprise ending: while I have attempted to avoid details, there might be accidental spoilers contained within.

The collection contains six short stories by Rossis; along with one by Amos M. Carpenter, selected for its complementary tone and themes.

  • ‘Simulation Over’: after an earthquake damages an underground research base, a small group of survivors attempt to avoid both the horrors within and the stringent requirements of the base AI.

  • ‘For the Last Time’: Still reeling from the arrival of his future self, a young man is horrified when a second future self appears and attacks the first.

  • ‘The Hand of God’: In an interstellar conflict where the invaders are superior in both numbers and capabilities, one veteran earns free beer relating his tale of a victory that should have been impossible.

  • ‘I Come in Peace’: Lonely and depressed, one man is offered the chance to both save someone’s life and never be alone again.

  • ‘A Fresh Start’: Stumbling through a hole in reality, an engineer finds his way to a pre-industrial world where his knowledge gives him power and wealth beyond his wildest dreams.

  • ‘The Sentry’: once a week the sacrifice taken by the great beast. But one inhabitant has had enough. This time the beast will die.

  • ‘Big Bang’ by Amos M. Carpenter: hoping to prank his friends, a teenager trains his younger sister to play their favourite virtual reality computer game. But on the day her strategy is nothing like he planned.

While both Rossis and Carpenter display good characterisation and description, two threads define this collection: philosophical questions and twist endings.

Both the depth and extent of the questions differs between stories, but each has one of the big issues of philosophy at its core: what is reality? Is the future fixed? Is a long unexceptional life better than a brief but meaningful one? While Rossis is careful not to verge into preaching or concept-dropping, this does in places counteract the more emotive, action-adventure aspects of the stories, placing them into the spiritual equivalent of hard sci-fi.

Where Rossis’ clear interest in the thought-provoking might leave some readers feeling slightly disengaged, his liking for twist endings is likely to provoke a much stronger reaction. Although not all the stories have a sting in the tail, those that do often have a strong shift combined with only light foreshadowing. Therefore, readers who do not like the ending to be based on information they couldn’t have known might feel cheated.

As it is hard to properly discuss the how and why of surprise endings without rendering them ineffective, each potential reader will have to make their own estimation of whether they dislike unexpected enough to forego the entire collection for a few examples.

Overall, I enjoyed the collection; even with the reveal of the endings spent, I would read it again. I recommend it to readers who enjoy the more intellectual aspects of speculative fiction while not hating gotcha denouements.

I received a free copy from the author in exchange for a fair review.

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