It's been a long time since I last posted a review here (over a year *gasp*). Truthfully, I haven't written many reviews in that time period, but I think I still have a sense of what I'm doing. Today I shall be reviewing "Overkill" by Rob Butler. This sci-fi flash fic comes out of the fifth issue of the Scottish magazine Shoreline of Infinity. You can purchase the issue here.
"Overkill" is written in 1st-person plural. It's a move I appreciate, and it gives a very eerie feeling to the piece. It feels like there's a cohesive protagonist, yet the viewpoint comes from a group. The members are simply so battered and lotless that they work as a collective just as well as any individual protagonist. I love how limited the group's development is. There's enough for a good glimpse into the members' lives, but not enough to disrupt the impact of the final few paragraphs of the story. One character is named, and he's given a small bit of personality. It's unclear whether he's part of the collective or not. Working in 1st-person plural, it's difficult to distinguish if a sentence like "Joe opened the door" (not from this story) implies that Joe is not part of the collective or if he is simply being named by the remainder of the collective. But I digress. The mouthpiece of this story, a nameless old man the collective encounters, has a basic mold to his character, yet he remains a gripping force. His manner of speaking is direct and descriptive, and unless one holds it under the light for too long, it's quite entertaining.
There's very little plot in the "present" of this story. The little that's there is intriguing and works well with the characters and setting. Most of the plot comes from the old man's recounting of past events. His tale is brief, but it is satisfying. It gives the setting a shape that carries the weight of the story and gives it value.
There's some level of tropiness to the setting of "Overkill." I can't say that I've never seen it, and I can't say that I haven't written something in a similar vein. In fact, I just wrote a story recently that shares some characteristics with this story. It's the execution of the setting that makes "Overkill" stand out. Perhaps after several read-throughs this story would lose its luster, but, being a man who rarely reads something more than twice, it works well for me. This story deals with some philosophical questions that are fun to think about, even if they are slightly grim.
It is the seamlessness to the characters, plot, and setting of this story, along with its general writing style, that makes it so enjoyable, I think. This is typically what I look for, especially in flash fiction, and "Overkill" definitely delivers, despite a short length. I recommend paying the few dollars to buy the fifth issue of Shoreline of Infinity to read this story and the several others contained in a high-quality Scottish bundle.