This is one of two short stories by Annie Bellet that I will review today. Both get a worthy rating. They're also both available (at least as of this review) for free on Barnes & Noble, iBooks, Kobo, and Smashwords, although I have to say Apple and Kobo seem much more interested in getting in your face than in getting you to your reads. This author has quite the oeuvre, and some of her other materials are free, too.
This short-story-for-free idea seems to me to be a good one. Yes, you can get a sneak preview of most books before you buy them these days, but all you get is the beginning, and while this does clue you in to how the author is going to approach a story (and happily allows you to reject stories which are first person voice as I habitually do!), this gives you no sense of how an author can carry a whole story, or bring it to a satisfactory conclusion, so it seems to me to be a valid approach for an author to put out short stories for free.
It's better yet if those stories are somehow tied to her main works, so you also get a sense of the entire world in which the main story takes place and might well be more willing to buy one of the other books in that world. I'm not a huge fan of short stories in general, but I've written one or two myself (contained in my Poem y Granite collection), and I've read and reviewed a few that were worth the time. These two are definitely worthy. I found it interesting that both of the stories told a similar tale: a young woman scavenging for a living, scarred, outcast, in danger, who ends up rescuing someone. Despite the underlying theme being the same, both stories were well-told and happily different.
This particular one is a sci-fi tale set in your standard dystopian future, where a young woman, Ryska (great name for one who takes risks!) who had evidently spent time in a research lab with many other children, being experimented upon, has escaped somehow and is now making her own way in the world. Why the kids were lab rats in the first place goes unexplained in this story. It seems the main character was purposefully blinded, and fitted with whiskers which feed her senses with sufficient information that she can get by without her eyes, and which supply her with sensory input that her eyes could not deliver. Why this was done is again unexplained.
On the one hand this seems stupid. Human cheeks are not cat or rat cheeks. Fitting whiskers to an area which is not rich with sensitive nerve endings will not give humans the same sensory capabilities that whiskered animals enjoy. Besides, animals have whiskers on their nose, not their cheeks, a fact of which far too many writers seem lamentably ignorant. I was willing to let that slide though, since my needs are simple. If you tell me this is the way it is in your story, I'm happy to go with you on that as long as I don't have to hike with you down the road to Dumbsville in the telling, and as long as you don't spend pages coming up with ridiculously lame "explanations" for why this is this way.
Talking of Dumbsville, this was yet another case of a publisher putting an inapplicable covers on books! Do cover designers never read the book they design for? This is yet another beef I have with Big Publishing™ or Big Publishing™ wannabes. This book has two covers that I know of, and neither shows a girl who looks like she's blind or who sports whiskers! The one cover shows a slightly steampunk-looking girl with goggles on her forehead. Why would a blind girl need goggles? LOL!
Perhaps that's why they changed the cover, but thee are still no whiskers on the new one, and this girl isn't dressed like she lives on the streets! In short, these covers are just plain stupid. This is why I don't review covers or wax about how great they are because the cover is window dressing only, and it has zero to do with the story inside. I'm sorry, but if you judge a book by its cover, then you're stupid. Had I done that, I never would have read either of these short stories.
The story (yes, I'm getting to it!) is that Ryska is scavenging and finds herself in a situation where violent men are searching for a young child. She doesn't want to get involved, but when she recalls the children at the lab, where she escaped and they did not, she feels compelled to counterbalance her failure there with a risky attempt at rescuing the boy here, which she does with inventiveness and courage. It turns out the boy has mob connections, so maybe Ryska's action will bring a reward or some favors? We never find out - not in this story. But that's fine. I really liked this, and I recommend it.