Book Review: The Brass Man and Other Stories

The Brass Man and Other Stories by John Borneman contains nine separate short stories that follow the thread of different science-fiction themes and world-building. But rather than relying on science-fiction to tell the stories, Borneman provides the futuristic details nonchalantly, which for me works well in grounding each of the stories well within reach of human conflicts.

The collection is divided into two: the first eight stories are presented in the first half with the final story or novella taking up the second. From the first eight, my favorite reads were “Dr. Susan Research Notes” and “My Yesterdays, Your Tomorrows” because of their unique storytelling approaches. In the former, a list of “humanity’s less successful inventions” from a professor of ancient (2010-2300 CE) engineering is presented. Each short vignette is humorously light-hearted but presents science-fiction limitations with reverence. For instance, what might be the outcome if a scientist created a pet robotic dog that recorded all the comings and goings of a nuclear family? In the latter short story, an interesting time-bending structure is employed that handles a non-linear paradox with relative ease while maintaining the tension of the plot and emotions of the characters.

The six remaining stories either fail to exist long enough to provide lasting resonance (“Elwin’s House” and “The Long Dark Hallway of Desire”), appear to be juvenilely written (“The Man Who Lived Forever” and “That Tears Shall Drown the Wind”), or end without a strong denouement (“Backhoe Vultures” and “Eggs Benedict”).

The namesake of the collection and entire second half is brilliantly commanded by “The Brass Man,” a multi-generational, Foundation-like septpartite story following a brass-enclosed, robot named Sini during the multiple crises of a small island town. Brass is here used as more than just an all-purpose copper-zinc alloy: Sini is a brazen product used at the whim of his human engineers. Although self-assure in its programming and original functions (and most of all his impeccable self-polishing discipline), the story tracks the progress of Sini over several hundred years as the humans vie between the dangerous sisters, Creation and Destruction. For me, the story worked well in capturing my attention and left me wanting to further explore the world that Borneman penned.

I would recommend this collection of short stories to those readers interested in science-fiction vignettes commonly found in periodicals and anthologies (where several of these stories were initially published).

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