(Disclaimer: English is my second language, so I want to apologize in advance for there may be mistakes in the text below. If you find any, please let me know so that I can correct it. I'd really appreciate it. Thanks.)
Review Soundtrack: I suggest reading this review while listening to Dead Man's Hand, by Motörhead (Spotify, YouTube).
Lately, I've been binge-reading novellas and short stories, especially those published by Tor.com. Thus, I've decided to divide my reviews in several different posts, each one devoted to three or four books. To start with, today I will be talking about Patchwerk, by David Tallerman, The Ballad of Black Tom, by Victor LaValle, and Pieces of Hate, by Tim Lebbon.
Patchwerk is a science fiction story about a machine that makes it possible to travel through universes, visiting alternative Earths. You may think that you have already read this kind of story a hundred times, but what is new in Tallerman's approach is the literary technique that he has chosen to convey the idea of changing realities. In Patchwerk, the multiverse machine begins to malfunction and thus the characters are moved from one dimension to another without previous warning. These displacements happen, most times, in the middle of a scene, and the reader finds that, suddenly, the names of the protagonists and the setting have abruptly changed from paragraph to another.
This approach is certainly original and surprising, but I don't know if I'm completely convinced by the results. The sudden changes are confusing (an intended effect, undoubtedly), but after a couple of them you get used to them and you see them as a kind of game in which you need to work out which elements have been transformed into what others. More problematic is the fact that other than this interesting narrative form there is little else to Patchwerk. Little characterization. Little plot. To me it was more a curiosity than a real, complete story, but your mileage may vary.
In The Ballad of Black Tom, Victor LaValle tries something very bold: an interrogation of racism through the work of none other than H.P. Lovecraft. The novella is certainly intelligent and well-written, but it didn't catch at all my interest and after the first half of it I really didn't care much about how it was going to end, maybe because I'm not into Lovecraft (or Lovecraftian pastiches for that matter). I'm probably wrong, though, because almost everybody seems to love the novella, so you might want to try it anyway.
Pieces of Hate, by Tim Lebbon, was the book that I've enjoyed the most out of the three. In fact, it includes two stories: Dead Man's Hand and Pieces of Hate. Although they are separated by several centuries, they share characters: an immortal assassin and the also immortal protagonist, who seeks vengeance for the murder of his family. Dead Man's Hand is set in the Wild West and intelligently revolves around a well-known historial event. The setting of Pieces of Hate, on the other hand, is a Carribean sea full of pirates. In both, Lebbon does a fantastic job of recreating a fascinating atmosphere. The prose is excellent and with just a couple of sentences the author manages to evoke the feeling of being in a pirate ship or in a frontier town. The plot is a bit thin, but I expect more things to happen in A Whisper of Southern Lights, the next installment of the series, that I am already looking forward to reading. I applaud the decision of reprinting these stories, which I have really enjoyed.
All in all, two novellas (Patchwerk and The Ballad of Black Tom) with interesting elements, that I failed to appreciate completely but that you might like better than me, and another one, Pieces of Hate, that I recommend for its prose and setting. And soon, more reviews of novellas published by Tor.com. Stay tuned!