Review: The Inner City

The Inner City by Karen Heuler

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The Inner City is a collection of speculative fiction by Karen Heuler. I mean truly speculative—it’s been a while since I have read such interesting stories. The point of view changes, the characters all have vastly different voices and the stories range from a single page to several, meaning when you start each one, you’re really not sure what to expect. Which is pretty much how Heuler’s characters must feel.

The anthology is named for the second entry, ‘The Inner City’. Like many of the stories, this one is a slice of life, an explored moment. Or, in this case a few days in the life of Lena. While following a lead to a possible job opening, she discovers the Inner City, a city below the real one where the staff meddle with the life of those above. Think Matrix, only a bit less sinister, or The Adjustment Bureau, with a less divine intent. It’s an interesting concept I’d love to see expanded into a longer story (I say that about a lot of short stories).

‘Down on the Farm’ is extremely topical and thought-provoking. Tercepia is a hybrid; part woman, part dog. She’s not very intelligent, but possesses all the best traits of a dog: energy and obedience, an eagerness to please. The man who purchases her seems less interested in her friendly nature and more in her willingness to obey. What no one takes into account, however, is her bond with her litter-mates. The story is slightly creepy, but I do love the boldness of the author’s imagination in this one. The pigs used to grow eyes and noses (for transplant, I suppose?), the multiple arms on the cows, cows serving as incubators and the whole splicing of genes. Heuler’s comment on the morality of it all is veiled.

One of the longer stories is ‘How Lightly He Stepped in the Air’. Sam begins to float one day. Every day he floats a little more until he can’t keep himself on the ground. The aspect of the tale I liked the most was the examination of how this interfered with his life, a normal life. Navigating usual spaces like office buildings, desks, environments. His fear at the end, of leaving earth completely, compounds the growing feeling he is not in control of his gift.

I didn’t really understand ‘The Large People’, but I liked it, nonetheless. I enjoyed the observational style in which it was written. A woman discovers a hat in a field one day. She picks it up and finds there is a head beneath it. The first of the large people is revealed. A dozen or so of them grow in the field, slowly emerging from the earth, day by day, until they can step free. They are dressed in business attire and carry papers, coffee cups and brief cases. Then the story gets really weird (people growing out of fields is less weird, all right?); the large people walk to town and initiate a corporate takeover, planting pieces of themselves here and there. Hats, briefcases, newspapers. One plants himself in a building. At the end of the day they return to the tip and compost themselves. Yep, weird.

There are several more notable stories in this collection. ‘The Great Spin’—an examination of ‘the rapture’ and how it might (or might not) work. The friendship between the two boys is endearing. ‘Thick Water’—a visit to an alien planet inhabited (maybe) by a substance that resembles thick water. The remaining explorer’s struggle to remain detached and human is very real. You’ll have to read the story to find out what happened to the others. ‘Ordinary’ is a fascinating story of twins exploring what makes them the same, what separates them.

Karen Heuler is an award-winning author of three novels and this collection of short stories. Her stories have appeared in over sixty publications. More information regarding her other projects can be found at her website: http://www.karenheuler.com/

Review written for and originally published at: SFcrowsnest.

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