Scholar's Review #38: Rifts Anthology - Tales of the Chi-Town 'Burbs
Updated: Jan 21
Author: Identified at individual story reviews
Release Date: 2008
Stories strictly revolving around the ‘Burbs never initially attracted my attention, but after the successful production of Duty’s Edge, I decided to go back and give this product a shot. I’ve not heard much spoken about it and the concept intrigued me. Anthologies can sometimes be a hit-and-miss kind of product, where readers may gravitate towards one kind of story vice another, developing a fairly incoherent series of evaluations – my bias is no different. That said, there are 13 stories to peruse, which pretty much guarantees there is at least something in there a reader will appreciate, if not the overall whole.
Perspective (Kevin Siembieda: pp 7 – 13). An introductory story encompassing a discussion between a group of mercs that posit the ‘Burbs as a form of paradise, while others quote Erin Tarn’s assessment in opposition. Later moderated by Erin Tarn herself, the author develops a position that the Chi-town ‘Burbs may just become the tipping point, representing the one true hope for the future of North America. An interesting presentation that sets up the remainder of the book. (6/10)
A While Longer (Braden Campbell & Kevin Siembieda: pp 15 – 27). Allen reminisces on the time he and his brother first boarded at the bar and inn, the grind of waiting for their citizenship application, and the rough conditions of the ‘Burbs that eventually took his brother’s life. Coping with his loss by diving into work, Allen’s eventual rise to management of the inn places him in contact with the CS military’s oversight of the ‘Burbs. His six years waiting, and the six years dealing with Lt Milne, a CS officer that comes to view folks from the ‘Burbs as real people, changes both their perspectives. There were a few internal inconsistencies (is Milne CS Army or ISS?), but otherwise a very engaging character and storyline. (8/10)
Be Careful What You Wish For… (Jason Marker: pp 28 – 33). A Cyber-Doc’s patient comes out from general anesthesia, a set of cybernetics eyes surgically installed. Short but concisely presented, the concept of a story told through the eyes of the protagonist (no pun intended) living through the emotional and physiological impacts of this kind process was brilliantly executed. A very nicely done horror short story, with a dark shade to the narrative that I appreciated. (9/10)
Love and Remembrance (Kevin Siembieda and Josh Hilden: pp 34 – 56). A partial conversion veteran, expecting something lethal to happen in 13 hours, goes through the routine of his morning. Concerned on how these dire events will impact his friends, he reminisces about a long life of service to the Coalition States. Recalling and linking the salient points of his life to his current predicament provided an interesting perspective; participant experiences contrasted with the texts and myth of Chi-Town over the last 100 years. The first act is well written, which leads into a drawn out second act that does more telling than showing, but is soundly capped off in the third act with an unexpected tie-in to ‘A While Longer’ that I appreciated. Aside from some editing issues that could have easily cut a couple of pages in length, and Palladium Books’ long-suffering problems with fully-justified text, this was an engaging story. (7/10, with an easy bump to 8/10 if not for editing issues)
Peddler’s End (Jeffrey Scott Hansen and Kevin Siembieda: pp 57 – 69). Proprietor of a small grocery store in the Tranquility ‘Burb, Peddler provides several other ‘optional items’ for purchase. A regular supplier acquires a baseball, later discovered to have the unique capability of teleportation. Peddler befriends the ‘Angel of Tranquility,’ a cloaked figure making his mark in a series of vigilante strikes against criminal gangs and CS interference, offering the teleportation device in order to kill the Emperor. A very satisfying conclusion includes several twists and unexpected revelations that I quite enjoyed. Unfortunately, this was one story that fell into the trap of telling instead of showing, compounded by several editing errors. Overall, a good story with some detracting execution/editing issues. (6/10 with a bump to 7/10 if properly edited)
The Brothers Perez (John C. Philpott: pp 70 – 84). A D-Bee reminisces about his voyage from “the Bayou,” including a comical market encounter with a cure-all elixir salesman, leading them to form the comedy duo The Brothers Perez. Performance tours, with vignettes from some notable locations and genuinely groan-worthy (in a good way) one-liners, lead them to the only market left to tap, the ‘Burbs. Genuine hilarity continues until they are forced to flee a raid and the Coalition States blacklists them. The third act of the story develops the main character nicely, with a decent bit of world building and a very satisfactory conclusion. I found the idioms initially difficult, but once used to them they created great character development; it sometimes slipped into going overboard with vague expressions and terminology. There were minor editing issues, but overall a light-hearted and enjoyable piece. (8/10)
Truth and Consequences (Jason Richards: pp 86 – 91). Ryall, an ISS patrolman securing a crime scene involving D-Bees and human sympathizers, makes a startling discovery. Meeting his older brother Travis at ‘A While Longer,’ they recall their family’s off-world nightmare as slaves to an alien race, the disappearance of their younger brother Devan, and eventual escape through a random Rift back to Earth. With Devan now in custody as one of the human sympathizers from the crime scene, Ryall and Travis are forces to decide how to deal with this revelation, ultimately choosing different paths. A short story, it left me asking for more details on certain elements. There were several points where editing to shift from telling to showing would have greatly improved the narrative. (5/10 with a bump to 6/10 if properly edited)
Casualties of War (Mark Oberle: pp 92 – 109). Trigger Warning: This story involves scenes of alcohol and domestic abuse. William, a teenager growing up in a more established ‘Burb with his family, awaits their citizenship papers. A recruitment call finds his father joining the CS Army in time to get caught in the Campaign of Unity and Crusade for Humanity; 6 months on the Tolkeen front turned into a year, then three years, then a letter that his father is MIA after Sorceror’s Revenge. A CS veteran of Tolkeen suffering from PTSD at the hands of Tolkeen torture moves in; the boys nickname him ‘The Monster.’ Domestic disturbance develops until William stands up for his family. There were several fits of telling rather than showing in the first act, but the pace improved thereafter. From a position of admitted ignorance to the first-hand effects and suffering of domestic abuse, the narrative progressed well; in spite of the difficult subject matter, I found the conclusion wrapped up the story very well. (7/10)
Me and Mr Choke (Taylor White: pp 111 – 146). A much longer horror story set mostly in Chi-town, Herbert is a clerk suffering through the doldrums of life; his wife is cheating on him, he hates his job and his insufferable boss constantly railing at him. Herbert finds himself in the ‘Burbs bar ‘A While Longer,’ to discuss his grandfather’s death with the remainder of their Madhaven archaeological dig team. They take him at gunpoint to help find a mysterious treasure his grandfather hid in his old apartment. The sole artefact they find, a music box, only opens when Herbert sings a particular song his grandfather taught him (a nice touch). Mr Choke is revealed and saves Herbert from his grandfather’s crew; the same occurs to his manager while trying to fire Herbert, a gang of City Rats as they try to mug him, and his cuckolding wife and her lover. Starting slow, with some frustrating editing issues and scenes of telling vice showing, the second act moved along more quickly, and the third act kicked into high gear to a well-developed finale. Despite the macabre nature, there is a very worthwhile character arc and a well-rounded narrative. (9/10)
Going Home (Josh Sinsapaugh: pp 147-165). Told from the perspective of Castor Berb, this Bayou Ursine D-Bee has a knack for telling tall-tales and singing classic pre-Rifts songs (nod to Sweet Home Alabama and Stairway to Heaven, among others). He carries a lot of weight at the bar and leads their conversations, often about baseball, of all things. The narrative revolves around a series of well-developed stories and discussions, including a shocking CS shantytown purge. The quality of the presentation really is top-notch and exceptionally engaging; expressive without any telling. (a solid and easy 10/10)
Strangers in Paradise (Kevin Siembieda: pp 166 – 171). Nora, a girl of six years old, weaves through a CS sweep of neighbourhood, encountering an older woman in the crowded lane of her home. She guides the woman through a narrow alleyway to a hidden back yard where she and her mother had planted fruits, vegetables and flowers. Over a cup of tea and honey, the woman asks the child to deliver a book to the baker, with a nice link to Love and Remembrance; I loved the New Brunswick reference (thanks Kevin!). Nora’s mother later comes home with her groceries, clutching a pamphlet that leads to some mother-daughter banter and an amusing ending. Once again fully-justified text editing issues and a few instances of telling vice showing crop up, but otherwise a very pleasing, well done short story. (8/10)
A Juicer’s Tale (Carl Gleba: pp 172 – 216). Rex is a Juicer with a problem – his Bio-Comp was sabotaged by his Juicer protégé, Viper, with the assistance of Goliath, a Titan Juicer. A Cyber-Doc, victim to a raid by a cyber-snatcher gang, works out a barter payment for his repairs, which leads to a scene with a City Rat with unfortunate inspirations from Jar-Jar Binks, and a Hollywood-style raid and chase scene; there is a cute reference to the “K.S. is godly” graffiti from the Long image in the Rifts Main Book. Viper kidnaps Rex’s family, culminating in a battle scene in the ruins of Chicago where Rex and family escape, while Viper and Goliath are themselves at the mercy of a Blood Reaper looking to create Murder Wraiths for the upcoming Minion Wars. Longer than most and presented in chapters, there was a fairly heavy amount of telling vice showing with some unfortunate info dumps. That said, the plot line was enjoyable, and Rex’s character very likeable. (5/10 with a bump to 6/10 if properly edited)
Death, Friends & Life (Braden Campbell & Kevin Siembieda: pp 217 – 224). Allen attends the wake of Lt Milne, struggling with the loss of a man who he came to know as a friend. He also has a bitter-sweet conundrum of having to choose between his recently received citizenship papers, or staying in the ‘Burbs with the woman he married and her two children as they await their certification. It is a short, poignant story, with a ‘home is where the heart is’ moral. Contrasting Milne and Allen’s experiences, the former dead while awaiting promotion to a better life, the latter living and awaiting a complete life as citizen, it wraps up the whole of the anthology very effectively. (8/10)
In my opinion, an editor with an eye for speculative fiction and proper authority to execute the project could really provide Palladium Books with a new revenue stream; novelization for systems like AD&D and Warhammer 40k have significant appeal for their consumer base. I’m not privy to the figures, but I wonder how a solid series of novels and anthologies, properly distributed through brick-and-mortar stores, could develop a marketing campaign Palladium Books would do well to exploit. With such an expansive canvass of story potential, I would love to have both the chance to read and contribute to further publications.
Based purely on the individual scores, this anthology averages shy of 7.5 out of 10. The plethora of perspectives and topics addressed provides a unique glimpse and appreciation into an aspect of the game world, one I doubt we’ll ever see a World Book for. Quite frankly, the ‘Burbs provides a GM with an ‘anything goes’ kind of canvass. Despite resting in the shadow of Chi-Town, seat of that most monstrous of human governments, one could easily run a campaign here with pretty much any character class or race; this anthology demonstrates as much.
Given some tighter editing, this kind of product could easily be a fantastic addition to anyone looking to read in on Rifts. I found the whole to be greater than the sum of its parts that I feel justifies the 8/10.
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