I never know what to expect from author Brian Niemeier. His works always seem to subvert my expectations while exceeding them. Strange Matter, his collection of short stories is no different. All the stories are just weird and different, and they range from fantasy to sci-fi to weird fusions of genres. In short, it’s awesome. Here are my thoughts on each story.
Beta Geminorum – 4.5/5
Boy this is one weird story. A driver in a rush experiences a startling event: a human body drops from the sky and crashes onto his car. This is but the beginning of a peculiar though apocalyptic event. I really like this story. It only takes a couple paragraphs to really get going and continues in a very unexpected direction. My only nitpick is that this feels like less of a story and more of a summary of an historic event. Top points for the imagination on display.
Reign of Terror – 5/5
You need to experience this story with as little background information as possible. I won’t spoil a single thing other than to say that it’s a fantastic story in every way and exemplifies why I love reading Mr. Niemeier’s fiction. No matter how much I expect the unexpected, Mr. Niemeier always manages to pleasantly surprise. Just read this story.
Strange Matter – 4/5
A regular joe is trapped in a sort of apocalyptic ground-hog day scenario. He does what he can to prevent the apocalypse only to find something different. This story starts out a little slow, but Mr. Neimeier slowly ramps up the weirdness. It’s a good story, just not one of my favorites. I’m not sure I can put my finger on it. It could be that I really didn’t that the story was written in present tense. I get why the author wrote the story that way, but it still made reading it a bit of a chore.
Izcacus – 4/5
Here we have a different vampire story. A group of people decide to go on a hike in the Caucasus Mountains. They find something worse than they bargained for. What I like about this story is that there is much more going on that you’d think. Mr. Niemeier has a knack for writing stories with much more going on behind the scenes. It makes rereading them so much more rewarding. That said, I’m really not a fan of stories made up of journal entries. It makes sense why Mr. Niemeier chose the style for this story, but it just isn’t my cup of tea.
Anacylcosis – 5/5
Anacyclosis is a nifty little story set in Mr. Niemeier’s Combat Frame setting. It’s a great sci-fi setting, and this story expands the setting in very interesting ways. The story itself works well enough on its own, but it also adds more… complexities to the Combat Frame setting. The story involves a man who seeks immortality by dying in a blaze of glory; however, his plans are disrupted when he crash lands on an ancient and very secret colony of Catholic monks. I will not say much more other than I greatly enjoyed this story.
Elegy For the Locust – 5/5
What’s that? A short story set in the Soul Cycle universe? Hell yeah! The Soul Cycle series is one of my favorite sci-fi/fantasy series of all time. So a short story set in that universe is the best thing since sliced bread. The I especially love that you can enjoy the story on its own terms. Yes, Mr. Neiemeier graciously includes many nods to the Soul Cycle universe, but the story would have been just as good in a different setting. There are slight problems with the story, mainly that it takes some time to get rolling as the summary of the main character history overstays its welcome a bit. That said, It’s still a great story with a neat little ending.
Robber Council – 5/5
As much as loved most of the stories in this collection, if someone held a gun to my head and forced me to pick the best one, it’d probably be Robber Council. After being released from prison (what is basically a hole in the ground) an infamous mercenary is hired by a noble family as protection while they make a pilgrimage to a sacred (yet seedy) city. The characters are well-drawn, the story moves along quickly with plenty of action and tension. I have to applaud Mr. Niemeier for the setting. I’ve yet to read any kind of fantasy setting modeled after the Late Antiquity/ Early Christian period in history. I would gladly read more stories and novels set in this kind of world. A great story in a fantastic setting.
Good Friday – 4.5/5
Reilly is the only person in the world with long-term memory, a consequence of The Revolution. He is also an assassin out to get those responsible for the revolution, and he’s got one more target before his mission is complete. As usual, the story doesn’t quite go in the direction you’d expect. A great story that moves as brisk pace with a little something to say about the contemporary world order.
I’m not sure what my expectations were going into this anthology. Mr. Niemeier has managed to somehow exceed and subvert my expectations with these short stories. Each one of them brings something new to the table, and not a single one of them bored me. A fantastic collection of sci-fi, fantasy, and horror stories by a great author.
4.5 stars out of 5