Two for the price of one! Riding Fourth is actually the (very) short prequel to Taking the Highway, so it made sense to do them together.
Two disclaimers: I don’t read short stories often, so apologies if anything I don’t like shows my ignorance. I also don’t read much sci-fi, so ditto.
I had mixed feelings about this one, and gave it 3 stars on Goodreads after debating whether to give it 2 or 3.
Here we have Walter Glass (if you got that pun straight away, we pronounce things differently), a fourth who gets cheated out of his money and introduces us to both fourths and how the police feel about them.
It’s successful in introducing the world of the novel through the eyes of a Fourth, a type of character further explored in the novel.
The title puns, because who doesn’t like a pun. I won’t spoil them, but I count three.
It’s very short, definitely more of an introduction than a stand alone story. I can see why it worked as a magazine story, but it feels like more of an extended blurb or prologue to the novel – avoided by being a different character.
Puns need to be obvious. [SPOILER?] There’s a Walter = water joke that worked once I got it, but tripped me up while I had to think about it.
Overall, I did like it – perhaps part of my issue with it was my inexperience with short stories, it felt short and abrupt – but I think you need to expect to want the novel afterwards. Which is probably why it’s free.
Another 3 stars, again possibly generous. For one, I don’t see why the story main character wasn’t used again when there was a perfectly good opportunity to have him for more than one sentence.
This time we have cop/fourth Andre and a line-blurring case involving the murder of some fourths which is much more complicated than that.
What I liked:
It’s an interesting world. It’s the future and it’s sci-fi but it’s as much about the shunning of technology (and the risks of over-dependence on it) as it is about how things have changed.
Low on the sex and violence. They don’t fall in love at first sight or into bed every other page. There’s little to no violence, although it does get a little graphic at one point.
Sci-fi lite: I also have this below as a dislike, but I do like that it didn’t fall into the trap of having so much the story was impossible to follow.
What I disliked:
It felt slow. Yes, the climax should be exciting, but it shouldn’t be such a drastic change of pace you get whiplash.
The “when” was unclear; it reads like near future that wants to be distant future. Yes, the focus should be on advances in what’s relevant, but surely other things have changed too? (Unless it is only five minutes into the future.)
Lack of description in odd places. I got a better idea of the shooting range simulation (one scene) than I did what a datapad looks like – the new mobile phone, so the entire book.
Again, I liked it. I just wish it had been a little more ambitious and embraced its future setting. While no one wants pages and pages of description, there should be enough.
Personally I also would have liked it to be more about the fourthing and the future and less of a crime novel, but I can’t really complain when I knew it was a crime novel and that I don’t love them when I picked it up.