The Death Artist by Alexander Jablokov
Between books I like to read short stories. And because I am about to dive into a thousand page book, I decided to read more than one. And one of these shorts is called The Death Artist pulled from the Eighth Edition of the Year’s Best Scifi. So here is my review of The Death Artist by Alexander Jablokov.
So what is it about? It is a strange tale set in the far flung future and focuses on Elam. He is a being who lives practically forever as he can just be reborn in any genetically engineered cloned body of his choosing when he dies. And he likes dying. He in fact likes to stage epic deaths and film himself in the final moments as a form of art. But he’s beginning to feel numb to it all. Death is even just as mundane as the rest of his empty feeling life. He wants something feel again. Then the story starts bouncing around multiple storylines.
So the good and bad? Let’s start with the bad. And to do so I have to discuss spoilers. So this is your warning. It just boils down to this story being absolutely aimless and random and it ends up ending on a twist involving transgenderism, split personalities, mental illness, and evil suppressed identities taking control for some reason. It’s so weird. The main character likes to film his deaths. Then he controls bumble bees telepathically. Then is attacked by a dragon. And out of nowhere he realizes he had a sister he never remembered until this point in his life for some reason. He’s demanding body that is more primitive Neanderthal like, so that he can feel more alive. Also the human race is being slaughtered by these beings for fun for some reason. And all it leads up to transgenderism? I am very confused how this story zig zagged though these scatter brain, non-related plot points, and this is where it ended? And what was the point? With the ending of this story, the characters who had sex changes in this story are haunted to the point that their old identities are like some demons from hell possessing them, or something like that. Also why would this be an issue in this world? For these beings it is established early on they can be whatever sex they want to be at any time. In fact they switch back and forth often. There is no such thing as man or woman for these beings. So how is this even a twist? I’m so confused. It’s like the author all of sudden wanted to make some kind of statement showing this almost schizophrenic messed up mental state of these transgender characters. But whatever this message is, it makes no sense in context of this story. Also I feel a lot people will read into this twist as insulting. It is 1980s scifi. It’s a product of its time. And sometimes you just have to look over racism, sexism, and a number of other issues to enjoy the good when it comes to older works. But I don't think I can with this one. Not only is it insulting to many readers with this crammed in weird personal opinion of the author; this strange direction it went in, destroys what little good there was to this story, because no sense in the context of the world.
The good? The beginning of this story begins as Elam has a drone filming his death. But this is unknown to the reader at first only showing an older man lost in the snowy woods with his dog. They are starving and trying to find their way as they try to survive the elements. And it’s beautiful. It’s tense suspenseful and is wonderfully told in vivid detail. And this prologue is more exciting than anything else in this story. And after reading this whole thing, I think I would have like this story of lot more of it was just about this man and his dog fighting to find their way home. Because everything else in the story is bad.
Overall, this is a bad story. It is just absolutely random ideas strung along loosely in a tale that is near incoherent. And the conclusion makes even less sense. I don’t recommend this to anyone. If you stumble across it, don’t waste your time.
1 smoothie out of Five.
Overall Rating: An Incoherent Tale of Random Nonsense and a Questionable Ending