I’ve known of Christopher Ruz through mutual writer friends, but this was the first time I properly sat down and read his work. And let me tell you, I cannot recommend this collection highly enough. (In fact, when I put Past the Borders side-by-side with my own collection Hungry For You, I confess to a tingle of envy.)
Past the Borders is an unsettling speculative fiction collection of six short stories plus a novella. While the length varies widely from story to story, the crisp, sharp writing and almost naked honesty of emotion remain consistent throughout, creating a truly escapist read.
The collection starts off with a bang—the first story, Black Rain, is a stunning, nail-biting piece with subtle imagery and a quiet horror. A couple is trapped in a house by ceaseless black rain that plunges them into despair. How much of the darkness is real? How much of it is paranoia?
Then there’s Unknown Hunger. What begins as a straight up detective story strays off the beaten path and into the paranormal. An alcoholic man witnesses a mysterious death and is suspected of murder. The cops are sure of his guilt, but he can barely remember his own past… and at the heart of his memory loss lies a dangerous secret.
The collection continues from strength to strength with the cyberpunk They Trade In Eyes, which is my favourite piece (tied in first place with Black Rain). Here, Ruz explores a world where people upgrade their eyes to mechanical alternatives, depicting a bleak vision of the future (pun intended!). Choice excerpt: “People aren’t buying eyes to see. They’re buying eyes to know.”
Occupied is a strange, quietly sad story with excellent characters. A boy finds a note in a bathroom and decides to reply, striking up a lifelong correspondence with an unusual man. No Exit is a newspaper article set in the year 2094 in a post-apocalyptic Australia. The Aliens Came Alphabetically is a cleverly written ABC story about first contact.
The collection closes nicely with the longest piece, The Ant Tower, in which a magician leads a group of mercenary soldiers through the desert to recover a forgotten relic. I loved the world-building of this story, and the ending left me hungry for more.
What I most enjoyed about this dark collection was that each story offers a fresh take on the speculative. Christopher Ruz explores some highly original ideas whilst creating evocative settings and very believable characters.
If I had to nitpick, this collection is lacking in female perspectives, as the majority of protagonists are male. But why complain when what is on offer is so good?
What are you waiting for? Grab Past the Borders. You won’t regret it.
About The Reviewer
A.M. Harte is a London-based speculative fiction enthusiast and chocolate addict whose work includes the dark fantasy novel “Above Ground” and the zombie love collection “Hungry For You”. She is excellent at missing deadlines, has long forgotten what ‘free time’ means, and enjoys procrastinating at http://amharte.com