A rare Friday blog post this week. That is because this week I am participating in the #IndieBooksBeSeen challenge to post a review for an author that doesn’t have many reviews. So this week I’ve chosen to review ‘Forms of Love’ by Luca Rossi. This is a science fiction short story which can be found in Rossi’s short story collection, Galactic Energies. If that kind of thing interests you then head on over to Amazon and pick up a copy. While you’re there, you might also want to take a gander at his full length novel, The Branches of Time.
If you do follow that link to the Galactic Energies then you might be thinking, ‘hey, this already has a lot of reviews’ and that is true. The collection does have about seventy reviews but as far as I am aware there are no reviews for the individual stories, at least not for the English versions. Honestly, individual reviews for short stories can be a lot more telling than a review of an collection which can often end up as ‘I liked this one for x reason. I disliked this story for y reason.’ So, in the interest of being as helpful and thorough as possible, I’m just going to be reviewing this one short story.
‘Forms of Love’ is the story of the law enforcer chasing a criminal through space. The Captain of the ship has been chasing the rogue thief through space for years, aided by his second in command. But their target is no normal criminal; she is a shape-shifter and has used this ability to elude the police. However, by blocking off her means of refueling and replenishing supplies, they manage to capture her. This is where the short story begins. As a premise, it is sound. Short stories often need to established a lot in a small amount of words and this works. We know who to root for and who to keep an eye on.
What first struck me about ‘Forms of Love’ was the crisp, clean writing. Flourishes of prose is prevalent in science fiction and fantasy writing but Luca Rossi thankfully avoids being overly descriptive or making use of laboured metaphors to put his point across. Reading ‘Forms of Love’ comes very easy as the simple, unencumbered writing conveys information without complication. The dialogue too is tight and clear, lacking any attempt at vocal tics or regional dialect. Some readers might find that unrealistic but I prefer it this way. The use of these, while understandable, can usually end up being distracting and draw the reader away from the story. By not indulging in characterisation of the speech, Rossi keeps the focus squarely on the story and what is being said, rather than how it is being said.
The writing can come across as rather detached at times however. The main character, Captain Ian Bascos, relates events of his own life as if he were reading from a newspaper. There is little sense of fondness for his life and yet his life before he began tracking the mutant Ipsia was a successful one. This lack of emotion is most notable when Ian reminisces about his ex-girlfriend, Alessandra, who Ipsia takes the shape of once she had been captured. He describes her as being his only love but doesn’t give any information as what he loved about her or vice versa. It’s just “we loved each other, my career took off, she left me”. It is especially confusing because he later states that he wanted to be a police officer because his father was one, so Alessandra must have known of the career he was working towards. Unless he did hide it from her, in which case, was it really love?
Part of the problem is that much of the information is conveyed in passing. The old ‘show, don’t tell’ maxim is not an absolute; sometimes, especially in short stories, it is pertinent to tell the reader trivial information. Showing too much in one scene can come across as bloated and unfocused, regardless of the type of story. I understand why Rossi tells us information rather than show it, but in some aspects, it leaves the writing and the plot disjointed. For instance, Captain Bascos notices that his relationship with Eianus is becoming stilted and they aren’t communicating. This is a fine assessment but it lacks any real impact. Any conversation the reader sees between the two prior to Ipsia’s capture is mostly formal. The closest the two characters come to anything like friendship or companionship are Eianus’ last words to Bascos, urging him to the complete the mission. Just a couple more conversations between those two characters could have made the change of Ipsia’s presence all the more palatable to the reader.
At the end of the day though, I expect most people are reading this story for the relationship between Bascos and Ipsia. I’m sure that’s not a spoiler as Ipsia taking Alessandra’s form is an omen of where the story is going. Even there though, the story feels restrained and it doesn’t read as well as one might hope. The aforementioned lack of information about Bascos’ relationship with the real Ipsia, leaves the budding romance between the captain and Ipsia as completely carnal. Even then it’s described with statements such as ‘we live in our dream of love’ which actually tells me nothing about what the characters are doing.
Don’t get me wrong, I did like ‘Forms of Love’. I just feel that Rossi could maybe done a little more with it because the story had a lot of potential. I was expecting a twist of some kind, possibly involving the Federation of Worlds, but it just kind of ended. Maybe I’ve read too many mystery and thriller novels. At any rate, if you like cleanly written and tightly focused sci-fi romance stories, give ‘Forms of Love’ a chance and you might just find yourself enjoying it.