Sarah O'Connor

Writer – Playwright – Cannot Save You From The Robot Apocalypse

I received this book from The Next Best Book Club in exchange for an honest review.

When going into Those Fantastic Lives: and Other Strange Stories, it’s important to focus on the strange part of the title. I mean that in the best way possible, I’ve long been a lover of strange stories but have never read an anthology comprised of only strange stories. Fantasy and sci-fi, yes, horror sure but never strange. I ignored the “strange” when I began this collection, focusing instead on the “fantastic lives” bit, and while the characters in these stories definitely have some fantastic lives, I found myself thrown off my the strange. So know that this collection of stories is strange and heavily rooted in magical realism and you’ll be fine!

That being said, they’re beautiful stories. They’re quite short so I breezed through this collection much faster than I thought I would, if anything I enjoyed some of these stories so much that the brevity of them just made me want some of these plots to be a little more stretched out. The stories are all so unique and wonderful to get lost in, ranging from love to heartache, Sides knows how to get his reader’s emotional. The main theme of the collection seems to be love, it’s so powerfully felt in many of the stories, it’s easy to feel how deeply Sides cares for these stories and it was wonderful to feel as a reader. Those Fantastic Lives: and Other Strange Stories is a fantastic collection with stories that stick, that make the reader’s feel and really care for the characters even though their stories are small.

You can read my thoughts on each of the stories in the collection below:

Those Fantastic Lives – 4 stars

Sam wants to be a real psychic just like his grandmother Nellie, not like the fakie Psychic Sisters on TV. I enjoyed seeing Sam’s growth in this story but would have liked it a bit longer to know the characters aside from being/wanting to be psychic.

Losing Light – 4 stars

The narrators brother is drawn to fireflies, they fill him and make him glow, unnerving their neighbours. I really enjoyed the imagery in this one, the ache of loss to it, I just wanted more!

Back in Crowville – 3 stars

  1. Crowville is a strange town and it’s gotten even stranger since the dead have come back, in more ghost than zombie though.
  2. This story is written as a list which was unique.
  3. The ending kind of lost me but I liked the feel of it.
  4. While I enjoyed the list format a more traditional way of telling may have gotten more plot across.

The Mooneaters – 4 stars

Many years ago the Mooneaters came and ate the stars and anything else with light, now a mother and her son must escape them again. Creepy and tragic, this story felt dreamy but also like the beginnings of a nightmare.

Commencement – 5 stars

Told in a collective voice, students prepare for their graducation and commencement where one of them will be announced as the valedictorian, an esteemed honour their parents and teachers assure them. This was a great and creepy sci-fi tale about the expectations of parents and higher education.

Dolls for the End of the World – 1 star

Patrick’s dad doesn’t respect him because of his dolls, and then the end of the world comes. Not my favourite in the collection, fairly simple but an interesting look at comfort in times of adversity.

The Creator – 3 stars

The shortest story in the collection, an aching look at creation and loss.

The Galactic Healers – 4 stars

A young, sick boy prays for a miracle and aliens come. This one had strong colonization tones to it, taking for our own benefit without wanting to understand those it belongs to or understand it.

Restored – 5 stars

Every family in town is allotted one vial from Miss Simone’s Cleansing Fountain but Marcus has already planned how to get another for his mother, his brother Ben disagrees with him. This story was tragic and made me teary, which was appropriate.

A Complicated Correspondence – 5 stars

After his dad confiscates his phone, werewolf Wiley emails his bruh Maverick to complain about it. This story is told through a series of emails and I feel like the format really worked for the story. It was a fun read, one of my favourites in the collection.

From Hiemslandia – 4 stars

Vida adopts a small ice boy named Miki, originally from Hiemslandia who remembers the day the giants came. This story had me gasp out loud at it’s ending and was wonderful, my biggest criticism is that I wanted more from it.

The Comet Seekers – 3 stars

The comet has returned which means Oliver and Henry must chase after it and find their father. This story was very aching, but the ending confused me. I still haven’t quite figured it out.

The Merpod – 5 stars

Alice has just joined Herman’s pod and befriends the other mermaids Elaine and Olga, but Annie has a secret. I’m a sucker for a good mermaid story and this was it, I really enjoyed the feel of it and all the characters.

The Trapper – 3 stars

Chase is a trapper like his father, and he has been called to trap another traveler. I really liked the setting of this story but it left me confused, a little more clarity would have been helpful.

In the Hollow – 5 stars

After the death of his wife, Joseph and his young son Walt leave their hallowed ground for a new home in the hollow, with consequences. I loved the setting and atmosphere of this one, it felt a bit like a campfire story. My only criticism is that the idea of “hallowed” ground and moving to a “hollow” was a bit too close, I had to read it twice to understand the setting.

The Hunt – 5 stars

Zoey loves sasquatches and her parents, Claire and Eric, have encouraged her obsession and they often go spelunking on their hunt for sasquatches. Zoey is such a charming character, I’m glad this story was longer and I was able to enjoy her adventure. This was a great commentary on growing up, holding onto childhood, and making your own path.

What They Left Behind – 5 stars

One night a father and mother find that their son Ash has grown wings. I don’t want to say more than that because this story was so steeped in love and longing it’s one to be experienced. I loved how much the parents cared for Ash and was rooting for all of them to the story’s end.

57137266._SY475_Publication: October 1st 2021
Publisher: Blacklight Press
Pages: 148 pages (PDF)
Source: The Next Best Book Club (Thanks Lori!)
Genre: Fiction, Short Stories, Magical Realism, Science Fiction
My Rating: ⛤⛤⛤⛤

“Prepare to be transported to the edge of the world in Bradley Sides’ affecting and haunting debut collection of magical realism short stories, Those Fantastic Lives and Other Strange Stories. In Sides’ tender, brilliantly-imagined collection, a young boy dreams of being a psychic like his grandmother, a desperate man turns to paper for a miracle, a swarm of fireflies attempts the impossible, scarecrows and ghosts collide, a mother and child navigate a forest plagued by light-craving monsters, a boy’s talking dolls aid him in conquering a burning world, and a father and mother deal with the sudden emergence of wings on their son’s back. Brimming with our deepest fears and desires, Sides’ dazzling stories examine the complexities of masculinity, home, transformation, and loss. Bradley Sides is an exciting new voice in fiction, and Those Fantastic Lives, which glows with the light of hope and possibility amidst dark uncertainties, will ignite imaginations.

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