"Custom Reproductions TM," written by Angelle Haney Gullett, is the first story I've read from Kaleidotrope. It sits in the murky region of fictiondom that isn't long enough to properly distinguish as a specific one of the speculative genres. Sci-fi, fantasy, or magic realism? That is too tough to call. And like genre, the quality of this short story is hard to pin down. "Average" is perhaps the best way to put it.
I liked both of the main characters, but neither struck me as spectacular. Julienne is a bit blank-slate. Grigory has more depth, yet we never get to see him do something he's really competent at, which hurt him as a character. His sympathy and proactivity sliders were decently high, though never affected me quite as they should have.
I've seen this plot before. Someone is making babies through artificial means. The only new element this story brings to the table is the conflict with the protagonist about the babies not having souls. There wouldn't be a story at all if that bit hadn't been included, as without it the story would've fizzled out without a proper ending. As it was, the final paragraphs felt forced. Up until the very end of the third scene the story was paced nicely. After that it fell apart for me. I know it was supposed to have a snap to it, but it didn't work quite right.
Again, this is a trope story. A setting with artificial babies has been done before several times. There isn't a whole lot of "new" or "exciting" going on. The attempt to tie the building with Grigory emotionally fell flat and failed to redeem this aspect of the story.
This review may be a bit too harsh. Despite all of the little negatives, "Custom Reproductions TM" is far from being a bad story. I would recommend it to those who enjoy the speculative genres, but not to those who don't.
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