Fall by J.P. Ashman
John Wick meets Altered Carbon/Deus Ex Machina in this savagely surreal short-story from J.P. Ashman. Senfel, a soldier-type who survived ‘the fall’, leaving her with survivor’s guilt, PTSD and the type of scars that you can see, is desperate for work. Desperate to prove that she can still work. So desperate, in fact, that she is willing to take on any work that she can get.
But, in a dystopian world of cybernetically-enhanced (read: manufactured) humans versus ‘naturals’, a ‘Select Target’ isn’t just any old work.
For a short story, FALL covers a lot of ground, both in terms of characterisation and world building. Much of the narrative is told through third-person limited from Senfel’s perspective, as she sets out on a ‘Select Target’ mission. Senfel is a welcome change as a leading lady, taking on the role of the familiar ‘jerk-merc’ in that she’s, well…a bit of a jerk who is also a mercenary, but it’s neither her gender or her profession that defines her. Nor is it the mental traumas that she suffers. Senfel is defined by her own true grit and gut.
And talking of grit and guts, the world building is full of it – not to labour the comparisons, but there’s a whole host of ‘x meets y’ on hand. Beyond my first comparison in the opening line, I’d liken FALL to Sin City meets Repo-Men in the world of Halo ODST, with a healthy dose of Black Mirror. FALL raises a grimdark mirror up to the face of our current reality and the state of the world we will pass on to the future if we continue down a path of self-assured destruction. A world in which the poor and rich divide widens, a world in which technological developments become technological dependencies, and a world in which life is taken – not given.
The sci-fi short has all the hallmarks of great heroic fantasy; hurt, hardship and heart(ache), with a grimdark helping of ‘the heresy of heroism’ namely in that one person’s heroine is another’s hellspawn.
With FALL, J.P. Ashman proves once again (off the back of his previous short ‘Dragonship’, which I loved!) that he is a master of constructing complex and comprehensive characters, stories, and entire worlds, all within the space of a few pages.