I liked parts of this collection, but I feel like it never really went as far as I wanted it to go.
Uranians consists of 4 short stories and a novella, all of which in some way or another incorporate a speculative or science fiction element in them. “Six Hangings in the Land of Unlikable Women,” I think, is the most effective of the stories in exploring the possibilities of this element. It’s set in an early 1900s America where all women have, inexplicably, become impossible to kill–a fact that has evidently not stopped the men in their lives from attempting to kill them. I thought this premise and the way that McCombs executed it was just fascinating (if, perhaps, a little underdeveloped). Another story I loved was “Lacuna Heights,” which follows a lawyer as he slowly begins to realize that his brain implant is interfering with his memories (it reminded me a lot of the Black Mirror episode, “The Entire History of You”). Theodore McCombs works in environmental law, so it’s no surprise that this story was a compelling look at how law can intersect with memory, and the lengths to which we’re willing to go to efface–or try to efface–the things that feel too overwhelming for us to process.
Beyond these two stories, though, I felt largely indifferent to this collection. The first story, “Toward a Theory of Alternative Lifestyles,” was interesting, but I didn’t like “Talk to Your Children About Two-Tongued Jeremy”–its premise felt flimsy and overblown–and the titular novella, “Uranians,” I thought was convoluted and meandering. Here’s the thing: on a sentence-by-sentence basis, McCombs is an excellent writer, but structurally, a lot of his stories just try to do too much. The stories will make reference to obscure physics or musical theory and, sure, sometimes I like it when authors incorporate these kinds of elements into their stories, but here it just took up too much narrative space and was far too complicated for the average reader to understand (at least this average reader). I found this to be a major issue in “Uranians,” where there are pages and pages of the narrator talking about this opera and its music–all sections that I just completely glazed over because they felt so beyond me.
Overall, not bad, but not especially impressive. I’ll keep an eye out for more works from this author though.
Thank you to Astra House for providing me with an eARC of this via NetGalley!