How would you react if you, in some future time and place, had lived 16 years in an off-brand commune and were told by the village elders that you were about to be taken away by a pure white hovercraft airship for "Education," which would last a few months, after which you would be transported back to the commune with all the knowledge that society deemed necessary? What would you feel as you saw the airship approaching directly overhead, ready to whisk you west to Sacramento? What if you saw "...the huge flight fans in the dark recesses beneath the craft where lurked all of its other enigmatic workings, hiding as evil would hide"? Would you meekly climb aboard?
Fortunately for us, the hero (or anti-hero?) of Ken Doggett's novella "The Villain" wants no part of this bleak future. Instead he opts to survive as an outlaw. Not that this is easy. Nor is it easily told. Doggett plops us into the middle of this story from the first line, then jumps back to the 5-year-old who grew into Villainy and forward in time to an older Villain. Yet, I enjoyed the time-travel and never worried about where we were going. Good science fiction is like a good ride in an amusement park. As long as the story is on track, you just hang on and try not to worry too much about what is happening around you.
Nor, after a while, did time itself seem to matter. Perhaps this feeling was a side-effect of the plot. One of the key "improvements" of this future society is the mastery of time as it relates to the human life span. But at what cost? And was the Villain right to make the choices he did? But this is no philosophical tract. Doggett's prose has just enough color and zest within just the right amount of structure to keep us wondering, engaged and caring about what happens to his main characters.
In "The Golden Apple," the other novella, Frank Madden, habitually unshaven and unkempt, longs to return to a lonely planet he's laid a claim on. Not out of nostalgia, but to get to work. For Frank is a miner by trade, and this story is more about gold than apples. Despite the old-school job of this old-school character, his problems are just as futuristic and compelling as those of the Villain. In fact, his predicament is larger, we might almost say cosmic. This requires that his solution be larger.
A sub-plot arises and leads to an enticing question: what are Martian women REALLY like? Frank finds out. As for solving his major problem, Frank's elegant solution will probably thrill engineers. I am about as far from being an engineer as Frank is from the planet Earth. Yet, Frank's solution sounds just plausible enough to ground this planetary yarn in logic, while allowing for the free rein and fresh perspective we expect from science fiction. The cover art is appropriately documentary yet mysterious (it is a close-up view of the dark center of a nebula in the constellation Orion made by the Hubble Space Telescope).
This small, modestly-priced collection was published in paperback and eBook as a tease for a much larger novel (Ship of Storms) featuring the Villain. It serves its purpose by showcasing Doggett's entertaining style while at the same time awakening a desire to know more about the Villain's methods of coping with his strange new world.