The Far Side of Promise by Matthew S. Cox

The Far Side of Promise by Matthew S. CoxCombining fast-paced action with depth of character and moral ambivalence, Cox provides a series of tales that transcend narrow subgenre limits.

This collection contains nine short stories, in a spectrum of speculative fiction genres:

‘Ouroboros’: Eric spends his days as a wage-slave and his nights as a leet hacker. With the final piece in place, he’s ready to leave corporate servitude behind; but have the drugs he took to keep him sharp without sleep, actually pushed him over the edge?

‘The Tower’: Most people get rid of an annoying partner by divorcing them. However, that’s not enough for Alex Grant, so he arranges to frame his wife for drug smuggling. Until a car crash leaves him questioning every part of his life. But, is it too late to stop the plan?

‘Daughter of Mars’: The tepid war between Earth governments has turned the Martian colonists into second class citizens on their own planet, and killed Risa Black’s childhood. The Martian Liberation Front have given her a way to strike back, and the technological enhancements to do it; but is she a freedom fighter guided by an angel, or an assassin who hears voices? A slightly revised version of this story forms the opening of Cox’s novel of the same name.

‘The Roommate’: Roy’s new relationship is going very well. But before he can take it to the next level he needs to reveal his darkest secret: the skeleton in his closet is real.

‘Into the Beneath’: Kirsten Wren sees dead people. Trapped between a mother who is more than ready to burn the evil from her, and spirits who will happily make a larger and larger nuisance of themselves until Kirsten pays them attention, Kirsten dreams of the day her father will save her; but knows he won’t.

‘A Queen’s Lament’: Myrana married for love. But, after the defiant prince became the duty-bound king, she found herself alone in a castle full of deferential subjects. So, when a dark elf wizard visiting the castle library showed her a moment of affection, she ignored the rumours of demon worship and fell into his arms. But now, after a pregnancy that has lasted months longer than it should, she fears her child will be born evil.

‘The Far Side of Promise’: With the offer of good pay and all living expenses covered, planetoid mining seemed a great way to fill a bank account. But Jek discovered months ago that not having anything to tempt you into spending your wages means there’s nothing to do. So, when the company offers a supply of food to supplement the free nutrition bars to the unit that produces the most, a risky rescue mission for a missing team seems like a great way to get the reward and escape the tedium.

‘Innocent Deception’: Society is divided between those rich enough to live in comfortable complexes, and those too poor to escape the ruins of World War III. Maya Oman, the daughter of a bioengineering magnate, is kidnapped by terrorists seeking a cure for the latest plague. But is she really who she seems or one of the many duplicates rumoured to exist? This story is included at the start of Cox’s novel, Heir Ascendant.

‘One More Run’: After the zombie plague drove people from the cities of North America, society collapsed. Now, the only law is that no one – no matter how despicable – violates the sanctuary offered by a Roadhouse. For years, Kevin has transported packages between Roadhouses and saved as much of his pay as he can. Finally, he’s only a few hundred coins short of buying a Roadhouse of his own. And that final job just staggered through the door. This story is included at the start of Cox’s novel of the same name.

‘A Ghost Among Fireflies’: Mind filling with ever-more-frequent and ever-more-vivid images of a shattered world, a space pirate heads into the depths, unsure whether she seeks answers or an escape from the visions.

Several of the stories in this collection demonstrate Cox’s firm grasp of cyberpunk tropes: from the drug-raddled decker to the wired killer with a conscience, these are characters scrawled in neon; however, Cox is inspired, rather than constrained, by paeans to the electric now, layering philosophy and metaphysics beneath the veneer of style.

This sense of added depth is equally present in the other stories. While each story is very definitely a complete arc, they are each also merely a part of a complex and plausible world.

While readers familiar with Cox’s work might already have read one or more of the novels that open with one of these stories, these three stories are complete and engaging narratives rather than samples or rough drafts. So, are likely to be equally enjoyable for those who are already familiar with the plot.

Nevertheless, there is an amount of duplication with the novels, so readers familiar with all three novels might get slightly less than those who come to the collection fresh. This is, however, a minor thing to be the most serious issue.

Overall, I greatly enjoyed this collection. I recommend it to readers not seeking a more tedious day.

I received a free copy from the author with a request for a fair review.

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