Schemers is a collection of short stories by an excellent list of authors: Jesse Bullington, Tobias Buckell, Ekaterina Sedia, Jonathan L. Howard, Nick Mamatas, Elizabeth A. Vaughan, Tania Hershman, Kyla Lee Ward, Robyn Seale, Laura Lush, Molly Tanzer, John Helfers, Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan, and Kathryn Kuitenbrouwer. These are stories of complex plans and gut wrenching betrayals. It is a great theme for a collection of short stories. I’ve been struggling to find time to read for fun, and my commute to work is too short to really enjoy an audiobook. I needed to be able to sit down and take in a nugget of intrigue now and then, and Schemers was perfect for the task. I read Schemers over the course of a few weeks, and thoroughly enjoyed consuming it in that manner.
Short story collections are often difficult to review since there are so many variables. One story may not light your fire, but another may send you searching FanLit and/or Amazon to find more of that author’s material. I’ve personally discovered some great authors in short story collections, and it’s also a great way to see your favorite authors try something new. Schemers provided both an introduction to new authors and seemed to stretch the creative muscles of the more established writers.
The collection started out with a well-researched introduction by the editor, Robin D. Laws. The intro did an exceptional job of setting up the book’s premise and teasing me with the stories within, though it sent me to the dictionary more times than I’d care to admit, and had me a little bit intimidated. But don’t let me being intimidated by big words bother you. They often lurk in the pages of my reading like thugs in an alley, waiting to catch me unawares and then bludgeon me into reality with multi-syllable clubs. I am also usually guilty of skipping the introductory parts of books, but I didn’t do that with Schemers. I actually read and enjoyed Laws’ entire introduction, despite it being a bit of a linguistic beat-down.
The first couple of stories made for a very strong start to the collection with pieces provided by Jesse Bullington and Tobias Buckell. Buckell’s “A Pressure of Shadows” is a very entertaining Sci-Fi spy story with plenty of twists and turns. There are shades of Phillip K. Dick in the way Buckell writes the morally ambiguous characters. I liked it a great deal, and it was a great choice to start the book with.
Jesse Bullington’s “The Devil’s Tontine” is a complex web of scheming that plays out like a Victorian whodunit. It was a fun read, but the atmosphere of the story is what I liked best. Jesse’s ability to make the historical period as much a character as the actual people is uncanny. The ladies of the story are full of tedious etiquette and there is much clutching of chests in feigned offense at every possible social infraction.
I’d like to mention a couple more of my favorite stories in Schemers: “The Plan or You Must Remember This” by Tania Hershman and “Pipping Day” by Robyn Seale. Hershman’s is a short piece about a lab doing tests on a man with an exceptional memory. The style and tone in which she unfolds her tale reminds me a bit of Ray Bradbury. I actually read through the story twice in order to see how the events changed in my head after learning how everything occurred. Seale’s “Pipping Day”also gave me the classical SF vibe. It was an interesting take on the common SF trope of sentient robots being persecuted by humans.
All the stories in Schemers were well done, and the ones I mentioned are just a few that particularly stuck out to me. As with any short story collection, I did not deeply connect with all the stories, but I certainly found them all entertaining. A few, such as the ones I mentioned, will be stories I am not likely to forget. If you like speculative mysteries with twisty endings, give Schemers a try.