April has brought a shower of excellent short stories to the pages of the major print SF/F magazines, some of which I'll touch upon in the coming days. However, even with so many strong stories around, one tale stands far above the rest: "Five Thrillers" by Robert Reed in the April 2008 issue of Fantasy and Science Fiction.
"Five Thrillers" is the story of Joseph Carroway, an assistant engineer/secret agent/eventual world leader during a turbulent future period of human civilization. The major conflict of Joe's time is between ordinary humans and those practicing extreme genetic manipulation, who call themselves the Rebirth movement. But while Reed does an excellent job creating the fascinating universe in which this story exists, the tale itself belongs solely to Joe and his five different adventures across his lifetime (hence the story's title). Joe is one of the strongest and most startling characters to cross the short SF/F scene in years as he survives life through a sense of cunning and understanding of humanity that Machiavelli could only have agreed with. But just when readers begins to think that Joe might have gone too far with his power games, we are shown in stark terms how the future belongs to those who survive life--and how without people like Joe, humanity may not be long for this universe.
This novelette is a masterpiece of action, fast-paced narration, and insightful examination of the attributes which make humans so successful and potentially scary. Reed recently won a Hugo Award for his wonderful "A Billion Eves;" with this tale, he is in serious competition for a second award. In fact, if I don't see this story on the short list for the major awards (along with "Pump Six" by Paolo Bacigalupi, my previous story of the week), I will be extremely disappointed.
As a final note, artist Maurizio Manzieri should also be commended for his mind blowingly great cover art for "Five Thrillers." As Manzieri says, he decided to go all out with this piece of art because "when will I have another first-hand opportunity to paint the end of the world?" And boy did he ever create a sense of hell to match the hell found in both Reed's story and the amazing character of Joseph Carroway.