It’s a challenge to compress action and story into short fiction; but Downside Girls by Jaine Fenn has both in spades.
A collection of four stories, Downside Girls carries the narrative of four separate female protagonists living very different lives that are somehow intertwined by the Angels that soar above them all. Not Angels in the traditional sense – there are no feathered wings to be found, nor are they embodiments of peace. In Fenn’s Cyberpunk dystopia, Angels are young women enhanced with lethal weaponry used as a form of corruption control overseen by the citizens of the City for removing public figures when the public has had enough of their abuse.
The first three tales are heavily linked in their content and atmosphere. Each is concerned with the actions of the Angels and their relationship to the city, either primarily in the case of the Collateral Damage, or in a secondary capacity as with Death on Elsewhere Street and Angel Dust. Violence pervades these initial tales, each drop of blood spilt, a vital scratch of the pen in making this world whole. The other element that binds these first three pieces together is the feeling of survival; the characters are real in their emotions and their relationship to the world around them. This new Earth is as dangerous and cunning as the old one, and as a result the fight for survival is just as vicious.
The fourth tale is very different from the rest; which is odd in itself because it takes place in the same world, with the same
overall influences, but at the same time inhabits a completely different emotional state.
This fourth piece, The Three Temptations of Larnia Mier, is a haunting gaze into the mind of a woman placing faith above all aspects of a world that has already passed her by, even if that means giving up the one thing that she treasures.
Downside Girls is a great little book that can be read straight through in a couple of hours, or paced over one tale at a time. Whichever way it’s tackled, Fenn has produced a collection well worth picking up.
Jaine Fenn is a British science fiction author. Fenn studied Linguistics and Astronomy at the University of Hertfordshire, where she became the president of PSiFA from 1984-1985.