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Navigating In the New World, by Shaun Saunders

Those who are regulars at my other web site know I think highly of Saunders. He’s become a valued friend, despite us never having met in person. The reasons are numerous, but I can safely say that one of the things I like best about him is his brilliant fiction. His novel Mallcity 14 was a chilling revelation for me; and after that, I became a devoted reader of his speculative fiction at Antipodean SF. I think I am finally starting to relax with respect to his work, because every time he sends me something, it’s been very good.

I don’t think that means, however, that I am any easier on him than any other author; rather, quite the contrary. He has a reputation to uphold now. So far, for me, he has done so wonderfully, and his latest book, Navigating In the New World, is no different. Many, if not all of the stories therein are expansions upon the very short speculative fiction published at Antipodean SF; that does not mean, however, that encountering the “skeleton” there will somehow impede one’s enjoyment of the fully-fleshed body. In only a few cases did I recognize a glimmer of story.

Short stories and speculative fiction can be wonderful morsels, easily taken in during odd bits of leisure time. Because of their compressed nature, they often act as seeds in a reader’s mind, flowering as one contemplates all the possibilities underlying the story as told, and where it might lead from the conclusion. That is also why short stories are harder to craft than novels—the balance of explicit and implicit is much more challenging. I think this is part of the reason why many authors don’t write shorter fiction; and it may be partly why the genre is reported not to sell very well: few authors can scale the challenges consistently well. Saunders is one who does. Even in stories that address issues or themes not of great interest to me, I can appreciate how finely crafted they are. Saunders’ singular style evokes Ray Bradbury and George Orwell, with a generous dash of O. Henry; and it is that superb blend that keeps me reading, and re-reading Navigating In the New World.

Saunders addresses subjects ranging from consumerism to religion to freedom and beyond, and with nary a misstep along the way. While some Christians might find a few of his stories disturbing or objectionable, those would probably be the humorless sort who wouldn’t pick up a book of this type anyway. As long as the reader is prepared to have some cherished notion skewered, or to encounter some twist on the world as he sees it, there is really nothing overtly offensive in Saunders’ stories.

Containing 82 stories, Navigating In the New World offers a wide array of pleasurable reading. Some of my favorites include I Spy, Your Place Or Mind, The Luckpot, The Prison, Manna, Apollo’s Breath, Copyright, Resurrection, and Curtain Call. Some are amusing, others more somber, yet all of Shaun Saunders’ tales elicit a positive response within me. They also inspire thinking—about the world we live in, its possible directions, and our place and role in it, currently and future.

And that’s why I re-read them. When I first received a draft, I read the entire thing in one sitting—and was left wanting more when the tales ran out. Now, I’ll revisit a particular story or two, in order to ponder more deeply Saunders’ ideas and my thoughts in response. Even so, I still have a hard time stopping myself; these creative shorts show no signs of going stale for me. All are suitable for thinking adults; many will strike a chord with parents. Anyone who enjoys short stories with a futuristic bent is highly likely to find Navigating In the New World satisfying.

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