Thursday, March 12, 2015

Review:: Liminal States, by Zack Parsons

Title: Liminal States
Author: Zack Parsons
Format: eBook (epub)
Rating: ★★★★☆

What is the worst thing you can do to a grief-stricken windower who has a death wish? Grant him eternal life. The only problem is, when you mess with forces you don't truly understand, you almost always get unintended consequences.

Liminal States starts off as your basic love triangle (or should I say love angle? two men and a woman, but the men aren't interested in each other, at least in a romantic way...) but quickly becomes far more interesting. Warren's wife, who is Gideon's secret lover, dies. Gideon blames her death on Warren, and so forces him into the "Pool" Gideon found earlier when (sheriff)Warren nearly killed him due to being part of a terrible, fatality-ridden train robbery. Originally, Gideon was going to kill him, but Warren was so miserable with his wife's death, Gideon (rightly) thought that eternal life granted by the Pool would be a much worse punishment.

While that premise might sound kind of convoluted, the writing itself makes it seem pretty straight-forward. The pacing is slow, but it's exactly as slow as it needs to be. The story feels like it builds gradually, at the rate it should. Considering how intricate some of the stories get, this is definitely necessary.

The writing also works in the same way. It's not overly intricate, although there are some $5 words tossed here and there. Complex sentences are used when complex sentences will benefit the story, not for their own sake. I found myself noticing repeatedly how Zack Parsons was able to utilize short, choppy sentences to really convey the tone he needed for a section. Unfortunately, there were a few typos in the eBook I got. However, for the most part, they were not super distracting and are the type that are easy to miss.

What made me happiest about this book was the fact that it actually continually took a turn for the unexpected. It's been a while since I read a book where I literally did not see what was coming in the future. It also fulfilled my insatiable need for fiction with transience (I mean, the thing is named Liminal States), justifying the amoral or ambiguously moral, alternate thoughts about identity formation and death, and just some plain old weirdness.

As Liminal States does this, though, it's not shoving it super hard in your face. There are really no (or very few) moments where it sits down and goes, "Hello reader. I'm trying to tell you something, but I don't trust that you're smart enough to figure it out on your own. So let me spell it out for you in ways that insult your intelligence."

One thing to keep in mind if you pick this up, is that it starts in the 19th century and spends quite a bit of time in the 1950s. As such, it is full of period appropriate -isms. Primarily, this is racism, but there's definitely some sexism and homophobia in there as well. However, unlike with a lot of authors, I didn't feel like the author himself was espousing these beliefs, even though the middle section, set in 1951, is entirely written in the first person. Usually, I get annoyed at books written in the first person, however, in this case, it felt entirely appropriate for the story at hand.

Which leads me to my final thoughts. One thing I really liked about this book was how genre-bending it is. It's be easy to call it... science fantasy, maybe. Or straight up science fiction. Or new weird. It's definitely alt history, in some ways. But really, what it is, is a book that is able to borrow from a lot of speculative fiction tropes and assumptions without relying on them heavily enough for it to be easily typed.

Oh no, wait, one more thought: there were a few scenes that actually grossed me out. This makes me so happy. (It's uncommon, okay?)


  1. Hmmm, I'm intrigued. Thanks for reviewing it! Not that I'm likely to be able to get hold of it. *prods the library*

    1. Sometimes my library has the most random books... but then not things you'd expect. This was one of those random selections. I'm thinking one of the librarians in charge must be a fan of some of the small eBook presses out there. Which is awesome! But also means some of the stuff we get is not so great.