Scott Kaelen’s short story collection, “From Grains to Galaxies” is a mixed genre as well as mixed form booklet of stories and poems that revolve around a few central themes, which the author is kind enough to explain in a handy notes section at the front of the book. These themes include religion, death and social decline, but the short stories contained in the collection focus on more than just the thematic principals; they also show off several of Kaelen’s fully realized worlds. Interwoven about the other short stories and poems are a group of interrelated stories that feature a man known as Caiaphas Dace (an amazing scifi name if I ever heard one!), who is also known as the ‘Forever Stranger’. Four stories in total take Caiaphas from his childhood through several of his many existences, not all of which end well for him. A great set of tales that feel like pieces of a longer work (that’s a tiny hint, Mr. Kaelen!).
Also included in the collection is a fine, tense story about the consequences faced by the perpetrator of abuse called ‘Bleak ’93’. ‘The Lingering Remains’ is a thrilling zombiesque story that takes a different look at the problem of what actually happens during a zombie apocalypse. A very interesting dialogue occurs in a satirical story between a time-weary creator god and his latest creations in ‘When Gods Awaken’.
But, by far, the stellar stand out in the collection is Kaelen’s super impressive ‘Moses Garrett’, which is a straightforward scifi story set in a very believable and somewhat dystopian future. The main character is worth the price of admission and his story is possibly Kaelen’s strongest tale, yet. It is my fondest hope that there will be more coming for ‘Moses Garrett’ in the very near future, as he would do well with his own full length novel.
Alongside the short stories are several sets of poems that relate both causally and directly to the themes of the collection. I looked at them more as interesting interludes between the stories that may or may not have added depth to the work as a whole. Kaelen also includes his own sketches as chapter vignettes.
Outside of the poetry, which I won’t address here, since this is not a poetry review site, this is an incredibly solid collection of short stories by a very gifted writer in that field. Believe it or not, short stories are much harder to write convincingly than novel length fiction. The author must make a huge impact with a very limited amount of words. It takes real talent to get across character, setting and plot using the same word count that most fantasy writers allot to their prologues. Scott Kaelen’s characters jump out of their stories, grab the reader’s attention and make a lasting impression. I was fortunate to have read his creationist satire ‘When Gods Awaken’ when it was in its beginning stages. I very much appreciate the craftsmanship that went into turning it from its infancy to a well thought-out parody. There is nothing more fun for a creator god than a willful creation—except maybe two willful creations.
For reasons that have to do with more than just his incredible name, the stories of the ‘Forever Stranger’ Caiaphas Dace, really seem to be where Kaelen hits his sweet spot of clever dystopian fiction-slash-spiritual skepticism. The main character’s very existence is discussed in a lengthy debate with a being who may or may not be his creator-observer. Interesting above the level of your usual scifi fare.
Even though I’ve mentioned it in my quick summary, I’d just like to give one more bit of praise for the story “Moses Garrett” which really just hits it out of the ballpark. This story is worth the price of the entire collection and although it’s the strongest story of the bunch, this is not to imply that any of the other stories are slouches when it comes to entertainment value and thought-provokingness.
I wholeheartedly recommend this collection to anyone who wants to read great shorts and also for writers who are looking for some very fine examples of the style.
Short Story & Poetry Collection in Mixed Genre Milieu –Highly Recommended
3 Random Author Questions:
spewed out by Jasmine’s random question generator and graciously answered by this week’s author
- What made you decide to write in your current genre?
I write across several genres, and I merge them too, sometimes in subtle ways, sometimes not. I suppose my decision to write epic fantasy, horror and science fiction, was because I’ve always had a big affinity with those three genres. I like my epic fantasy to be a bit dark, gritty, not afraid to go to places the genre doesn’t usually tread, but also sharp, and not lacking in wit or humour. As for horror, I’ve always had a bit of a fascination with zombies, old places, underground places, and monstrous creatures that tear the face off cliché. My favourite types of science fiction are space opera and hard SF. I also like SF that tackles difficult subjects. I lean more towards dystopian than utopian, mainly because of the nature of man. Oh! I’ve also written comic fantasy, contemporary fiction, and a bit of what can arguably be called metaphysical or slipstream. So I guess the short answer to the question is: what made me decide to write in these genres is how much each of them has affected and influenced my life, although my biggest affinity is undoubtedly with epic fantasy.
- What is the most unusual inspiration (place, book, person, etc.) that you can credit for your novel?
My current work-in-progress is an epic fantasy novel entitled The Blighted City. It’s the first novel in the Verragos Tapestry series, with several planned and already partially-written future instalments. The Blighted City is set in the land of Himaera, which is loosely based on the British Isles in the Medieval times, but since a pivotal event in the land’s history, Himaera went from a place of multiple kingdoms to being an unlawful yet arguably freer and more peaceful land (admittedly with a huge period of bloodshed between the two eras,) so it’s also peppered with a touch of the American Wild West, minus the horses (because there are mostly just inbred mules on Himaera.) The novel is also almost entirely set in an isolated corner of the land, where myth has kept people from approaching for centuries (except now, with our intrepid sell-swords who will end up deeply regretting being so stupidly intrepid.) I don’t like the word ‘zombie’ when it comes to fantasy, especially since the restless dead in The Blighted City are not merely dead people that got up, started wandering around, and developed a taste for brains. My corpses are attached to a legend, but their real truth is much more complex than any legend could claim credit for. And so, since the novel is a dark epic fantasy walking corpse-infested horror (along with the aforementioned world elements, plus some I haven’t mentioned for spoilers!) I can safely say the inspirations for it were: myriad zombie movies throughout the decades; Brisco County Jr. (with Bruce Campbell); Brian Lumley (author of the Necroscope series); epic fantasy authors such as RA Salvatore, Raymond E. Feist, George RR Martin, Tom Lloyd and Joe Abercrombie; Raiders of the Lost Ark; and my love of sprawling landscapes such as the Yorkshire Dales and the North York Moors. Oh, and that reeeaaally huge graveyard somewhere in Asia.
- Here is a chance to SUPER PROMOTE your next project. What is it and why should we be interested?
I won’t tell you about my current project, because you’ve just heard about it! But I will tell you about the next novel in the Verragos Tapestry series after The Blighted City. It will be the first of a trilogy, but whereas The Blighted City is a linear story-line, with few characters, and set mostly in a small corner of a land, the follow-up novel is rife with interesting characters, spans entire continents, and contains multiple interweaving plot-threads (‘Verragos Tapestry’ isn’t just a pretty name!) The planned trilogy will take the reader to a plethora of jaw-dropping locales, it will introduce them to myriad individuals who they will grow to love, pity or despise, and it will at times take what everyone thinks they know about epic fantasy and give it a damn good shake. Characters from The Blighted City will be returning to reprise their roles, and one of them will even be one of the main point-of-view characters throughout. The events and locales in my short Verragos Tapestry tale Night of the Taking will also be echoed in the trilogy, and the characters from that short story will play very important roles in this much bigger and much more intricate continuation. I’m really looking forward to getting The Blighted City finished and resuming work on the other Verragos Tapestry projects. There is some fantastic stuff on the way. But first, watch out for The Blighted City later in 2015. I’m working hard this year, and anyone who’s read my short stories ought to expect that same high level of prose, only this time in a novel.
Up Coming for Scott Kaelen: Flogging a World of Dead Horses (due 2015)
The Verragos Tapestry (2015)
The Blighted City (2015)
An Emperor’s Ire (2015)
Author Links for Scott Kaelen
Buy on Amazon here! From Grains To Galaxies
Scott Kaelen’s Author Website here! Taleweaver