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Zippered Flesh is an anthology with 20 short stories. Each story involves the same plot element, body enhancements gone bad, but the similarities end there (though there are a lot of stories where cancer takes a loved ones life). Characters vary from scientists determined to advance their experiments regardless of morality, unconventional supernatural creatures, a detective, an alcoholic druggie, and much more. Some stories are in the present time, others go back as far as the 17th century, and there are even one or two stories in alternate worlds or the future. Though I enjoyed some stories more than others, they were all well-written and creative.
Nine stories really stood out to me, with seven getting two stars and two getting one star (I use two stars to mark the stories that blew me away and one star to mark stories that I really liked). In Comfort by Charles Colyott, watching William’s life fall apart due to his unhealthy devotion to his obese mom is both incredibly sad and incredibly scary. The stalker in Equilibrium by John Shirley has an obsession with balance and ‘jokes,’ and his theories and explanations are all mind screws. Though I’m usually not a fan of detective stories, Whirling Machine Man by Aaron J. French grabbed me in with its creepy, mystical fantastical elements and held on. Sex Object by Graham Masterton startled me with the woman’s willingness to make her body little more than a set of vaginas for her sick husband, while Locks of Loathe by Jezzy Wolfe – a story about how far a person would go just to have ‘perfect’ hair – is a story that was full of surprises.
However, I think it’s only fitting that the first story and the last story stuck with me the most.
Bootstrap – The Binds of Lasolastica by Michael Bailey is a futuristic sci-fi story that takes on the following questions: How large is the mind of man? Can a mind be successfully cloned? Victor is the scientist attempting to push the limits of the human mind by digitally storing the entirety of Bill Chevsky’s mind. Bill Chevsky is willing to be the first man to undergo this experiment because he has lasolastica, an incurable cancer. If the experiment goes well, he can simply transfer the digital data of Bill’s mind to another mind and another body. That way, he can live in spite of the disease. However, the focus of this anthology is ‘body enhancements gone bad,’ so you know that something has to go wrong.
Inititally, I was afraid this story would just confuse me due to all the scientific terms, but halfway through I realized the scientific terms didn’t make the story complicating at all. You could still understand the story without understanding anything whatsoever about the terms. Plus, it just made it all that much more realistic. I loved the characters, the discussions, and, most of all, I loved the ending. I feel sad for both Victor and Bill every time I think about how it ended.
While Bootstrap was a great way to start this anthology, Hearing Mildred by Weldon Burge was also a marvelous way to end it. Mildred Mayfield, Harold’s wife, died of a raptured aortic aneurysm, leaving an 80-year-old Harold to live on his own in spite of his son William’s insistence that he should move to a retirement home. One day, Harold starts hearing his wife through his hearing aids. At first it’s comforting to hear her again, but she’s so attached to the house that she endlessly talks about nothing else. No other story was as lighthearted and funny as this one.
Starting Zippered Flesh with a sinking feeling of sadness and fear and ending it with a smile is the best way to go. I LOVED this anthology. Reading through it was like riding a roller coaster in a haunted house, and anybody who knows me knows that I can’t get enough of wild roller coasters and haunted houses.