Matthew Buscemi’s Beyond the Hedge: The Light and the Dark endeavors to exhibit works of speculative fiction that show that there’s more to thematic dualities than just black and white.
Note: This novel was provided to us by the publisher, Fuzzy Hedgehog Press, for review purposes.
The first edition of author Matthew Buscemi’s speculative fiction anthology Beyond the Hedge was intended to examine the spaces between light and dark, the areas between good and evil. As Buscemi points out in his introduction, humanity has never, and will likely never, successfully delineate the nature of the two primary dualities. Whether it’s truth or lies, Buscemi says, “Far from two sides of a coin, good and evil are multivalent and highly context-dependent.”
The authors he chose to include in his collection created a literary monochromatic rainbow, representing every shade of gray between the two sides of the coin. The collection had a very organic flow from one story to the next, for the most part. Occasionally I would stumble across an error or discrepancy that pulled me out of my mental dialogue with the anthology, including small things like contextually incorrect pronouns or something as simple as that. Some of the stories within were staggeringly good, others, not so much. The inaugural issue of Beyond the Hedge: The Light and the Dark I believe expertly represented the theme, but not necessarily the best of the speculative fiction realm, nor the best editing.
“Philotet” by Piper Lewis
The first story, “Philotet” by Piper Lewis was an enthralling look into a modern society with its mindsets and beliefs rooted solidly in the myths of antiquity. Spaceships, cell phones, and other elements of a modern reality were sprinkled in amongst spirituality, magical rituals, amulets imbued with great power, and a dated regality to the dialogue. I wish that Lewis would write an entire book out of this story because the characters were so intriguing and it left me hungry for more. The theme was represented in the fuzzy morality of characters on both sides of the conflict. I loved the fact that Lewis took the theme of light/dark, truth/lies, good/evil and simplified it into the very human question of choice.
“Ruination” by Matt Sawyer & “Welcome to Ertth” by Alissa Berger
The second and third stories, “Ruination” by Matt Sawyer and “Welcome to Ertth” by Alissa Berger respectively, were the least captivating of the anthology, though both were good in their own way. “Ruination” is a post-apocalyptic story about scavengers who try and find still-functioning technology (like iPhones and such), and are forced to fight against living mutant creatures made primarily out of computer cords and screens and processors. The writing was cheesy and predictable, in a somewhat charming B-movie way, and illustrated the theme by comparing various states of life and death. It wasn’t as thought-provoking or challenging as the other stories in the collection, and so it was difficult to remain interested.
Berger’s story, “Welcome to Ertth” is about sentient rocks observing humanities destruction of the planet by drilling and whatnot for oil and metal. It’s very short, and essentially tried to represent the theme through another examination of the essence of life, and if evil is evil if it is done unconsciously. I enjoyed the thematic concept but wasn’t thrilled by the story itself.
As many thrifty readers may know, Amazon is a treasure trove of free or very cheap e-books available to read on your phone, Kindle, or online. However, due to the ease of self-publication, the treasure trove doubles as a garbage barge, piled high with bad alien porn and Twilight fan-fiction disguised as real books. It’s taken me years of being a poor college student to set my dignity aside and search desperately for free e-books that don’t suck, because sometimes as a book-addict, you gotta choose between another value-pack of Top Ramen or a full-priced [Click here to read more…]
“The Charge of Nynlothe” by Elizabeth Guizzetti
The fourth story, “The Charge of Nynlothe” by Elizabeth Guizzetti was a very interesting story about gods and sacrifice in quasi-modern times and represented the theme in a highly accessible and neatly spelled out way. In essence, there are multiple religious sects that worship and sacrifice young people to their gods, who in turn protect them and bless their harvests. Each sect has a god that represents an element; the god of the main character’s sect is a water god, Nynlothe.
In an attempt to escape her god, the young priestess runs inland (to get away from the ocean) but stumbles across another religious sect that worships an earth god also called Nynlothe. The theme of duality was represented by Nynlothe, because it turns out each different god is just another facet of the same god, and so the priestesses god and the evil god are the same, decimating any distinction between good and bad, earth and water, light and dark.
Though predictable, the writing was compelling, despite a couple typos. Nynlothe, in true god fashion, is genderless and thus represented by Hir (him/her) and Ze (he/she). On page 56, Guizzetti overlooked the genderless pronouns and slipped into male pronouns for the first time. This distracting error had me rereading the last couple pages to see if I missed something, with subsequently ruined the immersion experience for me.
“Where Do All the Accountants Come From?” by Robert Bagnall
“Where Do All the Accountants Come From?” by Robert Bagnall was a funny story about a bad man running into a boring god-figure. It tells the story of a man named Telford who began a life of crime in his childhood and ended up robbing banks and stealing up until his late seventies when he dies of a snapped neck in a car crash. Telford is then transported into another place where he meets a god I thought of as Loki’s evil twin; a boring, gray-loving anti-mischief god who aspires to make the world a less interesting place.
The god offers Telford a do-over, so that he can live a happier life and the world will be a little less interesting because there’s one less unpredictable criminal out there spicing things up. Telford then reawakens as an accountant. I believe Bagnall uses this god character to illustrate that there is no distinction between good and evil, or black and white; there is only color and colorless. Color can be made up of bank robbers or child prodigies who invent a cure for cancer, but it is the essence of what makes life worth living, so the rest falls to the wayside. Though it wasn’t my favorite story of the collection, I thought it had the most original take on the theme.
“Rain at the Intersection of Tomorrow” by B.J. Neblett
B.J. Neblett, author of the story “Rain at the Intersection of Tomorrow” was my favorite story-teller of the anthology. Neblett crafted the most beautiful scenes and imagery, in my opinion, and wrote with a gritty, city style, not unlike PKD or Palahniuk. Some of my favorite phrases: “a rain-soaked kaleidoscope of desperation,” and “a single brown leaf tumbled in the air, a final dance before death.” (There’s many more, but I’d prefer to encourage you to go read his writing yourself.)
In this story, the theme was also very clearly represented by literal light and literal dark, in conjunction with the lightness and heaviness of peoples’ souls. I will admit, however, I felt the end of the story was too easy, and allowed Neblett to tie it up with a neat bow. In the simplest way possible, the main character, Bennie, let go of his dark past and stepped into a brighter world (literally), and then the story ends.
There are many cases where the first line of a novel tells you a lot about the book, but few accomplish it better than Schrödinger’s City:
The novel is a whirlwind of changes, both expected and unexpected, with unpredictable characters and places. It takes place in City, a type of metaphysical purgatory that obeys no known laws, where people appear and disappear completely [Click here to read more…]
“New One” by Albert Nothlit
The final story of the collection, “New One” was a chilling head-trip about artificial intelligence approaching god-status. (A curious similarity between most of the stories: most have a god figure, and in most stories, the main character is subjected to the worst pain they’ve ever experienced. Wonder what that says about Buscemi’s literary taste? [Just kidding.]) Nothlit created a peculiar world that is frighteningly realistic and offers another unique take on the theme, juxtaposing a few different kinds of life with death. I also thought it was interesting that the evil in this story was represented by light (the blinding light of a computer screen) and that there was no strong instance of pure goodness.
I believe Buscemi placed this story last in the collection so that the reader will go about their day contemplating what it means to have life, and what death truly represents to the god-like AI and the scared and weak main character.
Final thoughts on Beyond the Hedge: The Light and the Dark
In Buscemi’s introduction for Beyond the Hedge: The Light and the Dark, he describes the challenge of choosing only a few stories from an “overwhelming” amount. I can’t help but wonder which stories I would have chosen instead, but I know that is the charm of the anthology; that it is Buscemi’s anthology. It represents what he wanted it to represent, and entertained me throughout (for the most part). The anthology functions as a sort of “found poem”- using other people’s creativity and literary genius to channel his own concepts and ideas, resulting in a beautiful story that is unique for the editor as well as every individual who experiences it.
If I had to give an overall rating to the collection, I would give it a 3 out of 5. Again, for the most part, this edition of Beyond the Hedge achieved its goal of exploring the nature of light vs. dark vs. light & dark, and was an entertaining read that introduced me to a couple new authors I will definitely read more of, but in my opinion could have been better. It could have had more variety in its stories and their interpretations of the theme and could have used a couple go-overs by another editor, but regardless I look forward to reading the second edition and further, to watch this little anthology evolve and grow into something greater than the sum of its parts.