Title: Powdered Souls, A Short Story:
Author: Dixon Reuel
Publication Date: 2019
Genres: Science Fiction, Post-Apocalyptic, Romance
Length: 22 pages
Source: I received a free copy from Dixon
Rating: 3 Stars
Blurb: People together in close quarters – fraternization naturally follows.
A military VR trainer, wanting to keep her relationship with a fellow scientist hidden, must pass a security inspection in her lab by the vicious Atlas Crusade that has swept to power.
When the leader of the security team demands an unusual VR request in her lab, Prof. Meliss must decide between keeping her lover safe, or secretly undertaking a consciousness swap that could end the Crusade’s five-year long relentless rule. A rule that has co-opted all scientific research to aid their global expansion, rendering Prof. Meliss and Prof. Lauren expendable, as legions of other researches wait to step into their lab if either woman dishonors the great Crusade.
Science and the military aren’t always a good match for each other.
Virtual reality is one of those topics that always makes my ears perk up when I see it mentioned in a science fiction blurb. There are so many different ways to approach this idea that an author can do just about anything with it, and Ms. Reuel came up with a pretty creative take on why the military would be interested in developing a virtual world for their soldiers to explore. Their reason for paying for this research is something best discovered by readers for themselves.
The world building would have benefited from more development. I was confused by how the military seemed to simultaneously know everything that was happening in their research bases and yet also not know simple things about them like what sort of equipment they used or how their experiments were going. It’s totally possibly for a regime to act this way, but it would have been nice to know what the limits of their knowledge was.
Prof. Meliss, the main character, wasn’t given much opportunity to reveal her personality either. I’d struggle to tell you much about her as an individual or explain why she’d gotten into a relationship with her assistant, Dr. Lauren, knowing how dangerous that would be for both of them. A lot of this character development could be coming in future volumes, but it would have been helpful to have a better understanding of who she was and why they were willing to take such huge risks. I always like finding queer couples in science fiction, so I was disappointed with how their arc played out so far.
One of the few things I did learn about Prof. Meliss was that she could think quickly in a crisis. That’s the perfect skill to have when an army has descended onto your base and is breaking down the front door. The most interesting scenes in my opinion were the ones in the beginning that described how she reacted to this invasion.
Since this was both a short story and the first instalment in a series, I was definitely not expecting the character development or world building to be perfectly ironed out. But I would have liked to see at least a few sentences spent explaining how this militaristic society works, why relationships between scientists and their assistants were punished so harshly, and what the military was and wasn’t capable of. Getting thrown into a new world is amusing, but I needed more answers about what was happening before the final scene wrapped up.
With that being said, I saw a lot of promise in this tale. There were hints about how climate change had affected the lives of ordinary people in this futuristic world that I’m incredibly curious to learn more about.