The Light Side of Dark
by Voni Ryan
Belfire Press (2012)
Sometimes opening an e-book can be deceptive. For instance, when I opened up my review copy of The Light Side of Dark and saw there were over forty stories listed in the table of contents, I thought I had just set myself up for a marathon session. It turns out that, with the book clocking in at a hundred and seventy-six pages, many of those forty stories are actually flash fiction pieces. Consequently, the book was a bit of a breeze to get through.
The Light Side of Dark is a collection that definitely leans more towards lighter fare than truly dark subject matter. Oh, there's some twisted little tales scattered here and there, but for the most part the book carries itself with a bit of a tongue-in-cheek attitude towards the darker elements of genre fiction. The book is a collaboration of two authors actually under the pen name of Voni Ryan, though I'm unsure if the stories are all written as a dual effort or if that is saved for the longer works in the book.
One thing I noticed with a lot of the stories is that the authors enjoy finding new twists on old tropes, whether it's in the scifi genre or the fairyland sort of fantasy. Then there were stories that had these big, blatant twists that make The Twilight Zone seem subtle. Stories like "Contract Time" and "Transporter Malfunction" had instances of real-life figures and characters from pop culture bleeding into the story, either through allusion or outright starring roles. Interesting tidbits, but the stories were so brief, they felt like drive-by cameos more than anything.
"The Wish Factor" was one of the bright spots in the collection, in my opinion. The title says it all, as the story revolves around a genie in a lamp yearning to be free--though there is another story in the collection actually titled "The Gene in the Lamp"--and finds his best chance with the woman who discovers the lamp and finds herself being used as much as she uses the genie. I also liked "The Gold Watch and Other Timepieces" for its western setting and time-travel element. It ended too early for my tastes, but what was there was definitely entertaining. "The Galactic Adventures of Shanda Neary" was another standout with its story of intergalactic law enforcement and an act of betrayal between two allies.
While I found quite a few of the stories to be engaging and entertaining, those tended to be the longer short stories among the collection, while I found a lot of the flash fiction to be very abrupt and tended to fluster me more often than not, almost like the stories were holding back something pivotal. Leave 'em wanting more, I suppose.
I think this collection would suit readers with a light-hearted appreciation for genres twists and turns, and go for the bite-sized story form. I think readers looking for a book with more meat on the bone than that might walk away disappointed, though. You definitely need an appetite and appreciation for flash fiction, and if you do then there are stories aplenty.