By now most of the New Pulp and PulpRev folk must have been exposed to the advertising for the crossover event of the year. Yes, I’m talking about the TechNoir special editions of Switchblade and Pulp Modern. Maybe Matt or I will cover the Pulp Modern issue next week, but today I’m going to focus on Switchblade.
First off, the covers for Switchblade are amazing. Editor Scotch Rutherford and I had a brief Twitter exchange this past week discussing good art–prompted by A.B. Patterson‘s tweet about putting together a collection of his stories. I said something about needing to pay good money for good art, and Scotch replied that good covers don’t always have to cost a lot. While that may be true for those with strong visual arts skills, I don’t think either Matt or I have the artistic eye to capture photographs quite the way Scotch can. He may not have to pay an artist, but that’s because he himself is one. And if you like the cover of the TechNoir special, wait until you get a load of the cover photo for Switchblade Issue 11, which is a bit racier than we’d be comfortable publishing on our own covers, but damn what a picture…
Anyway, you didn’t stop by to read a love-fest post from one indie pub to another. You wanted to know if this issue is for you. Well, if you’re here, then TechNoir is clearly for you.
The issue starts off, like many publications do, with an editorial note. If you’d read this note 20 years ago, you’d think Scotch was describing a fictional dystopian cyber-hell from the fevered mind of Sterling or Gibson. But he isn’t. This is a straight-up cataloging of our present, and if that doesn’t set your alarm bells ringing about the direction the world seems to be headed, then the stories that make up this collection damn well ought to.
First up is Eric Beetner’s “Killer App.” This is a tight little morality tale of some sleazy memory pushers who hatch an overly ambitious plan to rob superstars of their memories to sell to junkies on the street, only everything goes wrong. There are elements of this story that wouldn’t be out of place in a Coen Brothers movie, specifically the heist that goes catastrophically belly up upon first contact with reality, sort of the overall theme for this whole issue. While we aren’t yet technologically advanced enough to actually capture and replay memories, if you think humanity won’t find a way to turn memories into narcotic salves to paper over our collective ennui, our existential dread, then you haven’t been paying attention.
“Baby on Board” by Callum McSorley traces a future where Oink, a failed narcotics officer, has taken on a job as an inside man for a burglary ring. The job goes sideways when it’s revealed the group could simply kidnap the mark’s young child for an even bigger payday, something Oink objects to as one of his duties as inside man is caring for the child during late night drives to soothe the baby’s crying.
Up next is John Moralee’s “Bad Score.” The story starts with a woman waking up in a body that clearly isn’t her own. Without giving away too much, the body is a rental as the main character, Maggie, has been killed after getting doublecrossed in a score gone wrong. It seems that messing with the Rebel Preachers and their stash of money is probably not a good choice for a career, especially if your consciousness can be moved about through bodies simply if you have the right insurance coverage.
“Folie a Deux” by Mandi Jourdan reads a bit like the 90’s flick Grosse Point Blank crossed with a bit of Blade Runner. The assassin Drew is cautioned against taking on two jobs back to back and lives to regret ignoring that advice. His mark is more than she seems, and Drew will be forced to pick sides in an underground battle between androids, who can be bought and sold for upwards of $50,000, and a covert human group known as The Division.
“Muscle Memory” by Hugh Lessig is about Custer Barnes, a retired vice president with a failing memory and a war veteran daughter living on the streets who shows up just in time to die in his arms. Custer is something a living legend, with multiple arrests for assaults and murders, and is left to decode a corporate/government health scam that is leading to a rash of apparent suicides among first-generation veterans with electro-mechanical prosthetics.
We’ve already reviewed Nick Kolakowski’s Maxine Unleashes Doomsday, and the story “Night Mayor” is an excerpt from that novel. We really liked that book, and this story is one of the chapters that stood out most for me. The story follows Maxine, a convoy escort driver for a transportation company that maintains some semblance of order in the broken down post-apocalyptic landscape. She encounters a highwayman who calls himself the Night Mayor and is forced to make some tough choices.
“Post-Biological-Stress-Disorder” by Alec Cizak is a rather depressing look at what could be a future devoid of human emotions, particularly from the ruling class that has enough cash to upload their consciousnesses into artificial android bodies. It’s hard to empathize with Deanna Hanson, the main character, as she ultimately chooses to abandon her only connection with humanity, a prostitute named Polly, when their sexual encounters slide off-kilter caused by Deanna’s inability to actually understand emotional connections.
Broadswords and Blasters co-editor Matthew X. Gomez also has a story here: “Galatea in the Garden of Eden.” Being a beta reader for my partner
-in-crime here means I frequently get early looks at some stories I’d have paid to read later (many of which I have paid to read later, because you have to support your friends when you’re able). You lucky readers finally get to read a story I first clapped eyes on back in February. The story follows private investigator Tremblay and his paid muscle T’Anna as they are hired by a rich suit-type to trace a woman’s location, only they wind up in a brothel–and in deep over their heads, at least for the moment.
Next up is “Torna Nails, Mindbender” by James Edward O’Brien. A woman is being interrogated but refuses at first to break. Turns out maybe she isn’t the one who is really being questioned, because she is Torna Nails, a mindbender, and that comes with it some real danger for everyone else around. You don’t want this woman mucking about in your head. Come to think of it, how can you even be sure whether she is or isn’t?
And finally, the last story in this issue is “Sundown” by Rob D. Smith. Manny, a former grunt, has tired of his job protecting a stuck-up snob son of a bit-coin magnate, and goes out in style, but that leaves him short on cash and in need of another occupation. And who should walk into a bar while he’s drinking through his troubles but the head of a corporate security firm? If you think the new job is going to go any direction except sideways, have you read anything I’ve written?