Anthologies

The Brass Man and Other Stories

By

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A science-fiction collection featuring original storytelling and fun twists that ends with a brilliantly fleshed-out novella.

Synopsis

"A Brass Man sat on the shore polishing himself to perfection." Thus begins the titular novella of an innocent people living on a small island surrounded by a world destroying itself through global war and religious fanaticism -- and the brass men created to help protect them.

"The Brass Man and Other Stories" is a collection of tales which include science fiction , classic fantasy, contemporary fantasy and a cozy mystery with a fantastical twist including;

"Elwin's House"- A very short classic fantasy tale of a human and non-human sharing a pipe over a war they fought as opposing soldiers. This story won an honorable mention in the 2005 Year's Best Fantasy and Horror.

"The Long Dark Hallway of Desire"- Science Fiction Noir. We are given the final paragraphs of an implied larger story of a detective on Mars and his femme fatale. This story was the Editor's pick in Flashquake magazine.

"Backhoe Vultures" - Contemporary fantasy about age, deterioration, and destruction. Does one really ever lose one's past?

"Eggs Benedict" - Cozy mystery with a serendipitous twist. A modern “detective” who is the figurative descendant of the Three Princes of Serendib.

The Brass Man and Other Stories by John Borneman contains nine separate short stories that follow the thread of different science-fiction themes and world-building. But rather than relying on science-fiction to tell the stories, Borneman provides the futuristic details nonchalantly, which for me works well in grounding each of the stories well within reach of human conflicts.


The collection is divided into two: the first eight stories are presented in the first half with the final story or novella taking up the second. From the first eight, my favorite reads were “Dr. Susan Research Notes” and “My Yesterdays, Your Tomorrows” because of their unique storytelling approaches. In the former, a list of “humanity’s less successful inventions” from a professor of ancient (2010-2300 CE) engineering is presented. Each short vignette is humorously light-hearted but presents science-fiction limitations with reverence. For instance, what might be the outcome if a scientist created a pet robotic dog that recorded all the comings and goings of a nuclear family? In the latter short story, an interesting time-bending structure is employed that handles a non-linear paradox with relative ease while maintaining the tension of the plot and emotions of the characters.


The six remaining stories either fail to exist long enough to provide lasting resonance (“Elwin’s House” and “The Long Dark Hallway of Desire”), appear to be juvenilely written (“The Man Who Lived Forever” and “That Tears Shall Drown the Wind”), or end without a strong denouement (“Backhoe Vultures” and “Eggs Benedict”).


The namesake of the collection and entire second half is brilliantly commanded by “The Brass Man,” a multi-generational, Foundation-like septpartite story following a brass-enclosed, robot named Sini during the multiple crises of a small island town. Brass is here used as more than just an all-purpose copper-zinc alloy: Sini is a brazen product used at the whim of his human engineers. Although self-assure in its programming and original functions (and most of all his impeccable self-polishing discipline), the story tracks the progress of Sini over several hundred years as the humans vie between the dangerous sisters, Creation and Destruction. For me, the story worked well in capturing my attention and left me wanting to further explore the world that Borneman penned.


I would recommend this collection of short stories to those readers interested in science-fiction vignettes commonly found in periodicals and anthologies (where several of these stories were initially published).

Reviewed by

I've been writing for my personal multimedia blog for years now, which started as and continues to be a passion project. Occasionally I use Goodreads to post reviews and check out what others are saying.

Synopsis

"A Brass Man sat on the shore polishing himself to perfection." Thus begins the titular novella of an innocent people living on a small island surrounded by a world destroying itself through global war and religious fanaticism -- and the brass men created to help protect them.

"The Brass Man and Other Stories" is a collection of tales which include science fiction , classic fantasy, contemporary fantasy and a cozy mystery with a fantastical twist including;

"Elwin's House"- A very short classic fantasy tale of a human and non-human sharing a pipe over a war they fought as opposing soldiers. This story won an honorable mention in the 2005 Year's Best Fantasy and Horror.

"The Long Dark Hallway of Desire"- Science Fiction Noir. We are given the final paragraphs of an implied larger story of a detective on Mars and his femme fatale. This story was the Editor's pick in Flashquake magazine.

"Backhoe Vultures" - Contemporary fantasy about age, deterioration, and destruction. Does one really ever lose one's past?

"Eggs Benedict" - Cozy mystery with a serendipitous twist. A modern “detective” who is the figurative descendant of the Three Princes of Serendib.

Elwin's House

I sat in Elwin’s house and sighed. Elwin studied me with a sad smile. "Why are you here?" he asked. "Memory," I replied. He nodded as if to say, 'Ahh. That.' "It’s unfair--" I began, but Elwin, with a slim finger at his mouth shushed me and I knew that if I let him he would say something like, 'even humans have learned that not much is fair, for them, or for us.'

Elwin uncrossed his legs, grabbed the poker, and adjusted the fire. Smoke and glowing ashes erupted and raced up the chimney flue. Twilight peeked through uncovered windowpanes. I sighed and spoke. "Sometimes I can’t even remember my breakfast."

Elwin grunted--a mixture of scoff and laugh. He replaced the poker in its rack on the hearth, then spoke. "Nine hundred and forty three years ago, I ate scrowl eggs--raw, with a hard biscuit--it was the morning before the First Human War. One of the eggs was rotten."

"Ah." I replied. "I read about that war. But I never remember the key rivers captured and lost, or which general surrendered to whom."

Elwin nodded. "Those rivers have shifted and been renamed. The generals are dead. It no longer matters."

We sat. I, sipping cold creah tea, Elwin puffing and struggling to light his briar pipe--an award of some kind, for service of some type.

"I can't remember her face."

I couldn’t believe I’d said it aloud, to him of all people. My eyes filled with tears. Elwin pointedly ignored me and puffed, his ears twitching slightly. We sat that way, until all light from the window failed. In the flickers of the firelight, our shadows leapt at each other, grappling on the wall behind our chairs.

Elwin took the pipe from his mouth. "Ten years is as a heartbeat. Her face never leaves me." He reached inside his tunic, pulled out a spare pipe, and thrust it at me. My hand twitched, but I took the pipe and applied myself to the lighting process. A few puffs and several applications of the cinder resulted in success. The smoke from my pipe reflected my mood, wrapping itself in and around Elwin’s clouds then blending and rising to his well-blackened ceiling. 

I broke the silence. "But, I loved her. If only I could see her again, in my mind, like you do."

He stopped smoking and leaned forward in the chair, pipe pointed at my chest. "She was blonde. A shade of honey, the kind made by bees fed, not on clover, but on pumpkin flower. It was a shade unique to her. Her throat was pale and long, her arms thin, but strong--like her mother's. Her legs, the legs of a dancer. Her voice, the voice of legend--of myth. A voice that both our gods would covet."

Elwin sat back in his seat. He clenched his pipe between his teeth and reached for his tea from the tiny table next to his chair. My tears dried, and my emotion began to fade like my frail, human memory. 

"But her eyes. Tell me about her eyes. How they sparkled in the dawn-light. How they could change from green to deep blue without warning."

I leaned forward on my seat and pleaded. "Her eyes are leaving me. Before long, she will be completely gone."

Elwin frowned and grumbled into his teacup. I knew what he was thinking. That he remembers her eyes all too well. He remembers how they snapped from love to fear as he entered our bedchamber, armored, a foot soldier in the Last Human War.

He remembers how her eyes flashed confusion, how they asked him why, how they pleaded and wept and opened wider than he had ever seen.

He remembers that he knew I was away--playing my own part in that stupid war.

He remembers how she squeezed our two-month old child against her breast and how her voice keened in discordant harmony with the baby’s screams.

He remembers how he unsheathed his sword; thrust it through his half-breed grandson, out the other side, and into his daughter.

We puffed at each other in the dying firelight and for the millionth time I considered killing him.

Elwin studied me with a sad smile.

We sat in Elwin’s house and sighed.

About the author

John Borneman writes poetry and short fiction that covers an eclectic range of topics from "home town" to "science fiction and fantasy". He has been published in several genre magazines. John's work has been honorably mentioned in The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror. view profile

Published on June 04, 2020

Published by

50000 words

Genre: Anthologies

Reviewed by

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