25 Perfect Days - Mark Tullius, Anthony Szpak Co-reviewed with MMOGC at The BiblioSanctum:

This is a collection of short stories bound together by the characters and events that become part of an ever more oppressive totalitarian state run by The Way (religion) and The Controllers (government). The controlling groups inflict more and more horrifying ways to control poverty, overpopulation and pollution.

I liked the way things gradually move into this dystopian future, rather than the usual way the reader is plopped into the chaos and has to learn as we go along. Here, we get to learn along with the characters as they are forced into ever worsening situations. The various forms of oppression presented are their own reasonably unique twists on many things we've seen before, such as the all powerful church combining with state. But some elements, like the weight requirements, are new to me. The chapter that introduces this is particularly shocking. It's frightening to consider the lengths people go to to remain under the ever decreasing weight cut off.

I like the entire concept of moving through these twenty-five days, spelling out this horrible world and the people within it. I like the way the chapters made you have to think and infer what the different situations meant in order to paint the overall picture of this society. I like the way the chapters intertwined with the ramifications of actions in the previous chapters weaving through the story, along with the various players.

Unfortunately, what I like about the book is also its major flaw. The brief chapters develop the world, but they don't strongly develop the story, and worse, it doesn't give me enough time with the characters. None of the characters really stick out for me enough to like their stories or the characters themselves because they aren't around long enough. There are characters that I wanted to like and know more about, like the Salazars, but because of the format of the book, we never get enough time with any of them and if we see them again, years have passed. Many of them have some really great moments, particularly the ones that sacrifice themselves to help others escape, but other than the obvious nature of their motivations, there just isn't enough depth to any of them. And since many show up in future chapters, it was a bit frustrating when other characters that I thought were important, didn't show up at all. By the end of the book, I was just confused with the names, feeling like I needed a spreadsheet on the wall to keep track of everyone. There is a character glossary in the back, but even that proved too confusing.

I also wasn't a fan of the ending, where we suddenly have new creatures to deal with. I didn't feel like this was as gradually developed as the other horrific aspects of this future and therefore when these creatures appeared, I had to check if I'd missed some pages. The end felt a bit rushed. It felt like it wanted to prepare for a sequel, but then changed its mind and decided to decimate the remaining characters to ensure an unhappy, reasonably hope-free ending.

I give this book a B for the effort, but the execution could use some more work to make it cleaner. The chapters could have used more fleshing out to, in turn, allow the characters to be more fleshed out. But I do love the concept and love that I was completely thrown off of my expectations with the very first chapter. I suppose I was expecting something a lot more pleasant from a book with the word "perfect" in the title!