Extremities

Kathe Koja, Author
Kathe Koja, Author Four Walls Eight Windows $20 (232p) ISBN 978-1-56858-122-4
Paperback - 208 pages - 978-1-56858-150-7
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In this daring but unsatisfying collection, Koja (The Cipher; Bad Brains) creates characters on and over the edges of madness, self-destruction and sexual obsession. Of these 17 stories (many first published in leading SF venues), the best are reminiscent of Poe or Calvino, unsettling fables in which supernatural elements illuminate complex human relations and psychological states. In ""Bird Superior,"" a stunned plane crash survivor becomes able to fly ""between the glide of the clouds beneath him, and the bite of windy stars."" In ""Jubilee,"" a lonely woman in a lackluster marriage turns into a disembodied voice in her husband's head after her erotic encounter with a whispering ghost. In these stories, Koja uses her considerable gift for sensory description to real purpose. Far too often, however, the visceral, self-consciously dark tales of the ugly and macabre seem designed merely to shock. In the opening story, ""Arrangement for Invisible Voices,"" a man who confides his troubles to a headless Barbie doll loses his sexual potency after attending a barbecue; he is haunted by the sound of dying pigs, the ""unbearable tender wail of their murdered cries, scaling like the scream of high opera."" In ""Teratisms,"" the weakest piece, a baby-eating monster-boy obsessively recites the names of cities in Louisiana and horrifies his troubled siblings by coughing up human blood and fingers at McDonald's. Such gratuitous grotesquerie is disturbing without being provocative and generates, at times, an unintentional comic effect. (Oct.)
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