Friday, September 16, 2011

Iodine by C.L. Hilbert

TITLE: Iodine
AUTHOR: C.L. Hilbert
PUBLISHER: Drollerie Press
LENGTH: Short story/novella
GENRE: Futuristic fantasy
COST: $2.99

Wolf has one mission in life – to find Red. In a world gone wrong, where humans have been driven underground, where mutations are common and life is dark, it’s the only thing that keeps him going. Even as he realizes, she’s hunting him in return…

Though I often start with a plot summary, it’s almost pointless in this case. This is a reworking of the fairy tale, Little Red Riding Hood, set in an apocalyptic future where humans are barely surviving underground. Wolf is a bounty hunter of sorts, and Red a technical genius, armed and dangerous. He’s been on the hunt for her for years, but she eludes him at every pass. Things start turning around for him, though, until he realizes that she is deliberately leading him down an unknown path, one littered with the tortured memories of their mingled pasts. He could give it up, but what’s the point? She’s become the sole reason for his existence, and he’ll die before he lets her get away for real.

I can’t give an exact word count on this to help judge the length, but it’s not long, short-story length or at most, a short novella. But there is a lot crammed into so few words – an apocalyptic world that bleeds and glows with descriptions that I could practically taste, a broken protagonist more tortured and twisted than I’ve read in a long time. It paints a future both grim and terrifying, and does so with razor-like precision. In fact, it’s the prose that is really the biggest selling point of this short. Phrasing like, …the terminal cynicism carved in the lines of his face could crush cities, and ...the silk whispered over his skin like acid through rock, soothing and searing, catching sweet kisses on his calluses, stole my breath away, keeping me enraptured with what was going on even when I had absolutely no idea what was happening. Questions upon questions tumbled together, though not all of them got answered. I didn’t care. Even when I sat staring at the ending, wondering how I was going to interpret it, I didn’t care.

But that’s the story’s primary weakness. As interesting as this reworking is, there are so many loose ends left dangling that a reader who doesn’t like them will finish feeling unfulfilled. Even the ending has the problem, because I could see it being interpreted in more than one way. This lack of definitive answers was annoying, that’s for sure, but I loved Wolf’s complexity and the author’s voice so much, I was willing to let it go. Do I wish this was longer and better explained? Oh, yes. At the same time, I wonder if I would have overloaded on the world’s darkness. It might have reached a saturation point that made it intolerable; it’s that grim. Lucky for me, the story is short enough not to outstay its welcome. This will be one I’m thinking about for a long time to come.


9/10 – Love this author’s gritty, visceral voice


8/10 – Wolf is utterly fascinating, broken and driven, though I have an abundance of questions by the end


7/10 – It’s a simplistic chase sequence, but with enough twists to keep me guessing all the way to the end

Entertainment value

9/10 – In spite of the holes in the world building and my multitude of questions, I was absorbed by this all the way to the end

World building

7/10 – The nihilism of this futuristic world is an excellent backdrop, aided by the fantastic prose, but there are too many aspects left unexplained to really satisfy me completely



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