Girls & Aliens by Anne Michaud

I would like to thank the publisher for an advance copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review

Publisher – Fox Spirit

Published – Out Now

Price - £8.99 paperback £3.99 Kindle eBook

Five Girls, Five Aliens. Five Tales of courage and outer space. In this collection by Anne Michaud the lesson is clear, never underestimate the power and resolve of ordinary women in extraordinary circumstances

I love a short story collection and you may notice they’re slowly becoming a more regular part of the blog’s content. For me a short story is a different reading experience to a novel and I really appreciate the art of telling the tale of a character/situation in miniature as it requires a delicate mixture of pacing, conciseness and author voice. I was very fortunate to have a chance to read Anne Michaud’s recent collection from Fox Spirit (of which two will follow) that looks to place women in the centre of stories that for too long tend to have been the preserve of men.  They’re a great collection of loss, love, horror revenge and most of all empowerment.

Fix Six – Six is a member of a post human collective that is dying out her body runs on lithium; her skin is metallic, and her humanity is questionable. She ventures into the wasteland to find Marv a human who may be able to solve the mystery of why her new civilisation is dying.  But Mike and Six were once in love… This is an incredibly strong opening story and I loved the balance of the traditional SF argument of humanity versus enhanced lifespan here being enhanced with two former lovers meeting and seeing what has changed and stayed the same after many years. There are accusations, shared memories and each arguing their case to the other as to which worldview is best. The language in the argument is honest but so beautifully done.  I’m still thinking about the final outcome and what it meant for the characters afterward.

Stardust Motel – Nara and her team of three aliens arrive in the desert to review humanity and find out if they are ready for conquest and eating. I loved this as we have our unnamed narrator who is a young woman using her summer break to earn cash in a crumbling Las Vegas hotel (The Stardust) coming across as someone with low esteem and a lack of hope suddenly thrust in a deadly alien invasion.  In contrast we get the view of the competent Nara and her ongoing attempts to lead her small crew and succeed in the mission.  It’s a touch cat and mouse and despite the disparity in technology The Stardust Girl has some surprises up her sleeve when the pressure is on. In particular I was impressed Nara’s team has some real menace to them so you’re not too sure how this will end.

Battlefield Lost - Now this is a very different tale to those encountered so far. We are on an alien world where there is war against an invader know as They, Them or It. Young recruits are being trained to fight. On one training mission we meet the rebellious and grieving Suze. She takes a chance to try and get revenge on Them and it goes horribly wrong. This is the most action focused of the stories in the collection – lots of fighting, explosions and importantly all of this serves the characters’ development. Suze’s life is unpeeled and gives you an insight into how these people live plus she gets to understand consequences of her actions for others.  Another story I wasn’t too sure where it would land but the ride and choice of destination really works.

Snakes and Ladders – Another favourite. This is an interesting mix of tense horror and also a commentary on how women who get abused are treated. Julka awakens in an underground lab with no memory of who she is or why she is here. Slowly her work colleagues explain the situation she has signed herself up to and she finds out there are lots of agendas and threats in hiding.  There is a lot of body horror here as the threat becomes more evident, but I also loved how Julka’s treatment by the male supervisor of the lab underlines how sexual abuse in the workplace is so often dismissed. You both applaud Julka’s spirit against the threats she encounters, recoil in horror at what is really going on and there is an ending you will feel slowly chilling your spine.

Mercy’s Morgue – Despite the gruesome title on a far-off planet at war with an alien menace Mercy patches up soldiers in the war.  Often using robotic protheses to replace limbs. Grif ends up working for her (as an Angel) and Grif’s desire to leave the planet could end up placing her whole world in danger. I love how Michaud wins our trust in Grif by the tale being told in first person and she’s an engaging honest character trying to survive in a world where people like to bully the weak.  But sometimes good people make mistakes. The tale morphs from science fiction to horror and the later third is creepy and chilling as we see people change in fear at what is coming plus Grif’s changing view of the world is very unsettling too.

This was my first exposure to Michaud’s work, and I am incredibly impressed at the standard of their writing.  The tales all have a great level of variety and none feel to be treading the same old paths – each was a delightful surprise in its approach conclusion.  I loved that the effort in each story was not just on one character but several, so we got some interesting contrasts in opinions and ideas which makes the tension of each situation and its unpredictability really work.  An author I strongly recommend you check out.