If I had taken science past the required grade 11 in high school, I’m pretty sure I would have failed it. And reading books like this, books that reference physics and other sciency-things of a similar nature remind me of this sad fact. Good thing I stuck to what I knew-English literature. If I had focused on a more useful and concrete topic such as science, I wouldn’t have the pleasure of writing book reviews for free like I do now! For those of you who aren’t familiar with sarcasm, the previous sentence was a perfect example of it-enjoy.
Anyway, back to the book. Boundary Problems by Greg Bechtel is a collection of short stories, and the stories themselves are all inextricably linked by the notion of the unknown-not the supernatural, but the tiny little molecules and patterns that make up the world around us. In fact, one of the characters in “The Everett-Wheeler Hypothesis” becomes obsessed by the idea of trying to find patterns within the crazy circumstances he finds himself in, and the reader is torn between believing there is truly meaning behind all the strange coincidences, or if they are simply just coincidences.
One of my favorite stories in the collection is “The Smut Story”. It’s actually split into three different parts, all very different from each other, and distributed among the other stories in the book. There is a narrative told from three different perspectives and from three different points in time, all about a famous ‘smut story’ that has a mysterious effect on people. It’s a brilliant story, and although no character development really takes place, the unknowable once again rears its head much to the reader’s delight.
Bechtel is adept at creating an interesting and well-thought out plot line. However, his character development could use a bit of work. His female characters are all predictably damaged, and struggle with boundary issues in their sex life. The men all blur a bit together for me as well, even though they are typically the protagonists in each story, while women are usually the ones circling around the periphery. The imbalance of gender isn’t a detractor from the stories or the writing, but the strange behavior of all his female characters does lend itself to the question: has Bechtel been surrounded by hysterical women all his life? On behalf of women everywhere, I’d like him to know that we don’t all have wild mood swings, at least, not on a regular basis.
Despite the lack of character diversity, I’d still recommend this book because it’s a great example of how a collection of short stories can push the boundaries of a genre. Boundary Problems explores the limits of sci-fi, speculative fiction, and even fantasy, but all with a literary touch. Here’s another reason why you should read this book-Greg Bechtel is going to be making an appearance in Calgary on April 26 with Griffin Poetry Prize Winner, Christian Bök at the Spur Festival. Oh, and he’s an Alberta writer published by an Alberta publisher, so for that reason alone you should buy this book.