Book Review: Birdsnatch by C.J. Cummings and Mark Ryan

Birdsnatch by C.J. Cummings and Mark Ryan

Birdsnatch by C.J. Cummings and Mark Ryan

Birdsnatch (also available at Amazon.co.ukis apparently the first in a planned series called “A Tale Told Twice.” The idea behind the series is that two authors take the same title and build separate stories around only the title. This is the first result of that experiment.

In C.J. Cummings’s novella, an irreversible computer error is causing a nuke launch that will result in the destruction of the whole world. The story follows Melon, a loser who creates a supervillain persona called Birdsnatch to wander the destroyed world, and Trinket, a young girl who decides not to follow her father into his bomb shelter before the nukes launch.

Cummings has a talent for creating some vivid images. For example, you can practically smell the nasty apartment that Melon lives in.

The apartment was a total shithole. Apart from the putrid smell and the numerous splashes of vomit on the walls and floors, it was piled high with numerous decade’s worth of hoardings and trash. In one corner, near the window on the back wall, piled up to the ceiling, were thousands of notebooks, notebooks that contained detailed plans, sketches, concepts and ideas for the hero Melon wanted to become.

Despite that, the story is dragged down by hackneyed elements such as the explanation for the coming end of the world, which seems like it would be better if it was more vague, and the twist ending. A quirky apocalypse story, but the weaker of the two Birdsnatch stories.

I found Mark Ryan’s epistolary biopunk story the better one. The unnamed protagonist is a police officer who is recruited into a specialist team dedicated to fighting mutants created by plastic surgery gone wrong, dubbed Plastic Surgery Induced Super Villainy. His skills are put to the test when an especially dangerous mutant called The Bird seizes a skyscraper and takes the people inside hostage.

The Marshal had already put together a team and I was on it. I ran to front of the crow and shook his hand, so hard I nearly pulled it off, I had forgotten about his wooden arm. He had lost the flesh one during a manufacturing accident and back then they didn’t have the organic sensor equipped phantom-limbs we used today. He was fitted with a basic wooden thing shaped like an arm, well how a child would draw an arm anyway.

This story is shorter, but it’s tight, fast-paced and fun to read. Ryan also manages to create a pretty interesting futuristic world without distracting from the plot.

The book also includes a bonus story from each author, each from their forthcoming collections. I actually enjoyed these stories more than the Birdsnatch stories.

Ryan’s story is called “Origins.” A man driving home at night keeps running into mannequin parts on the road.

I would be home soon and I could have a nice hot shower and some painkillers, just have to get there. I clicked on the radio and left it on in the background, some discussion about foreign fish levels, perfect grey noise.

An odd but fascinating scenario with a nice twist at the ending.

Cummings’s knack for imagery really comes through in “The Light.” A young boy and his father experience the end of the world while out on a fishing trip.

The world had ended. The sky had fallen and the trees had crumbled at their roots. The earth had found itself at the end of it’s(sic) day, and in a distant fishing hut in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by hardly anything, a father and his son were the only two people left.

It reads more like a prose poem than a story, but it’s a more solid piece than his Birdsnatch story.

Overall, Birdsnatch has is flaws, but it’s a promising start. Both for “A Tale Told Twice” as a concept and C.J. Cummings and Mark Ryan as writers. I’ll be keeping an eye out for both of their forthcoming short story collections.

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4c4iIXqDBen Arzate lives in Des Moines, Iowa. His fiction and poetry has appeared in Ugly Babies, Bizarro Central, Spoilage, The Mustache Factor, Twenty Something Press, and Keep This Bag Away From Children. He blogs at http://dripdropdripdropdripdrop.blogspot.com/

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