Saturday, October 4, 2014

Surfing the Human Wave: Brad Torgersen's Racers of the Night

If there's one thing that Brad Torgersen's latest anthology reveals, it's Brad's versatility. You know those "working actors" who take what roles they can get and don't put on airs about their ahhhht? Brad is that kind of author; if you challenge him - and, of course, offer to pay him for the effort - he seems to be up for almost anything. Consequently, the stories in Racers of the Night run the gamut from traditional space opera to Lovecraftian sci-fi horror and feature self-aware sexbots, futuristic furries, time travel, sub-light interstellar space craft, and many other concepts in between.

If there's another thing Racers of the Night reveals, it's the absolute folly of pinning Brad to one particular ideological "team" -- and then dismissing him because that team is not yours. On the one hand, "The Hideki Line" expresses a firm distrust of social engineers and nudgers seeking to manipulate their neighbors for their own so-called noble purposes. On the other hand, "The Flamingo Girl" evinces a genuine sympathy for sexual minority groups, and "The Curse of Sally Tincakes" accepts as admirable its protagonist's desire to shatter a gender-based glass ceiling. Brad may be on record favoring a more traditional and less faux-literary style in science fiction - i.e., a style focused on entertaining the audience first - but that doesn't mean the content of his stories is rigidly traditional. The open-minded of all stripes will find much to like here -- if they dare to look.

Of course, in my opinion, the true highlight of this volume is the concluding novella, Life Flight. As I remarked in an earlier review:
In Life Flight, Torgersen takes a page from Daniel Keyes' book and records his point-of-view character's thoughts and feelings in journal form -- and in my judgment, I think he does a masterful job. Like Keyes, it seems Torgersen knows exactly how to adjust his style and tone to reflect his main character's gradual evolution. The early journal entries are simple and perfectly convey the concerns of a pre-teen child; the later entries grow steadily more mature and reflective. And it all works
Throughout, the main character's emotional arc is profoundly interesting -- and, thankfully, morally grounded.
Life Flight, I feel, is a real contender for my 2015 Hugo nomination ballot -- but, of course, it's not the only strong selection in the bunch (even if it is by far the best). I also enjoyed the stories I mentioned above -- even if I didn't find them quite as striking. And Reardon's Law? Yes -- that needs to be expanded into Brad's next novel for Baen!

I was a little disappointed that Racers of the Night didn't feature any of Brad's commentary on the current state of science fiction; I rather liked the essays that were included in Lights in the Deep and was hoping to see a few more. But regardless of that particular glaring omission, this book is still a "must-have" for any Brad Torgersen fan -- and for any seekers of up-and-coming talent in the field.

Final Verdict: Recommended.

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