Tales from the Gray Area
by Curtis Stephen Burdick
Gene-Freak Publishing

"Homeland Security will immediately begin drafting resettlement plans for our land, with food production the priority. Cities will be the last areas we will repopulate."

Ancient symbols from the Indus Valley culture appear on newborn babies' necks. An unknown species of highly destructive sea creatures arises to devour all in their path, and the devil must deal with the threat of a labor strike by his chief demons. These are just three scenarios of the seven short stories in this author's homage to The Twilight Zone television series that aired from the early to mid-sixties. With elements of science fiction, horror, and suspense combined by the writer into original stories, this is not simply a pastiche of Rod Serling's works or those of any other of the stable of writers for the show, which included such luminaries as Richard Matheson and Ray Bradbury. The author's settings are mostly contemporary, with computers, internet cable, and other technology appearing. There are also more black characters with leading roles than the sixties show, even if that show fearlessly dealt with racial issues, albeit sometimes very obliquely.

Most of the tales range from thirty to forty pages, with only one, "Sanctuary," coming in at over eighty. There is usually a villain or other source of danger, like the devouring sea creatures or aliens gathering to wage war on a drug-addicted alien "Emperor" seeking treatment on earth. But there are a few that deal with simply human conflicts, such as with small-town politics or a gypsy seer who must hide from her ancestor's superstitions, that have an emotional depth not dependent on the fantastic or impossible. Most of the stories are resolved with satisfying denouements, others with portents of greater struggles lying ahead. The author's characters are likable, often common folk thrust into challenging situations, like in the television show. Overall, Burdick has created narratives with enough intrigue and suspense to keep the reader interested in reading further.

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