cover image We Monks and Soldiers

We Monks and Soldiers

Lutz Bassmann, trans. from the French by Jordan Stump. Univ. of Nebraska, $19.95 trade paper (200p) ISBN 978-0-8032-3991-3

Written in a tersely descriptive prose appropriate for its grim context, this interconnected series of stories by Bassmann (a pseudonym for the French writer Antoine Volodine), is set in an indeterminate future when the human race is dying out, and the Organization—run by remnants of the Communist Party—is sending out trained monks and soldiers to assist anyone about to cross the threshold between life and death. Despite this intriguing premise, a leaden monotony quickly sets in and rarely abates, though Bassmann manages to conjure both disarmingly tender and decidedly odd moments along the way. In “An Exorcism Beside the Sea,” a monk/soldier sent to exorcise the demons from a house finds his resolve is no match for his memories when he finally encounters what is hiding inside. A soldier, in “Crisis at the Tong Fong Hotel,” discovers that the little girl he tries to save from a burning building may actually be “a strange spider.” The post-human future is well-trod territory in speculative fiction, and the element of surprise is needed to keep it fresh. Unfortunately, there’s not enough of that to save Bassmann’s latest (after Minor Angels, as Volodine) from its own portentous and derivative devices. (Sept.)