Cover Image: The Sum of Us

The Sum of Us

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Member Reviews

I received a free digital copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

This was such a consistently good short story anthology. I have been struggling with anthologies recently so much that I started to consider not reading any anymore. This one, however, was really mostly good. I struggle with reviewing anthologies in general and while I thought this was really worthwhile, there were no stories that became new favourites and that I want to gush about.

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This book took me completely by surprise - when I read the description that stated it was about caregiving, I expected stories closer to home however the authors have been very creative with the prompt and this has resulted in some truly imaginative works of fiction.

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23 tales of caregivers. There's a space welder apprentice, a seeing-eye dog with a power of speech, a companion to an ant-like alien queen, a hardened soldier in the frontier, a therapy cat serving the Goddess Bast, a monster hunter, there are so many marvelous POVs that are so engaging to read.

In his introduction, Dominik Parisien said that The Sum of Us asks 'Who cares for the caregivers?' The answer is the other caregivers....and us, the reader. We read this to show our care, our recognition of their personhood, inner lives, matter beyond the myriad of ways they can help us. Perhaps, we are caregivers too, most of us at some point in our lives, in some fashion.

Most of the authors are unknown to me except for a few like Caroline Yoachim and Juliet Marilier. I'll be sure looking forward to these new authors in the future, as well as the editors. Great job, kudos!

Thank you for the publisher, Laksa Media, for the review copy.

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Thank you for providing a copy of this book for review however I was unable to open the file for this document unfortunately! Apologies.

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A fantastic collection of stories by a brilliant group of writers! Each story is unique and well written. They all fit very well together making this collection cohesive and engaging.

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This was such a constistently good short story anthology. I have been struggling with anthologies recently so much that I started to consider not reading any anymore. This one, however, was really mostly good. I struggle with reviewing anthologies in general and while I thought this was really worthwhile, there were no stories that became new favourites and that I want to gush about.

The collection of speculative works looks at the concept of caregivers from many different angles; some of which I just adored. I loved the idea of a retirement home for former super villains and their henchmen (and henchwomen) and thought this story was executed wonderfully (The Dunschemin Retirement Home For Repentant Supervillains by Ian Creasey). Bottleneck by A. Am. Dellamonica was action-packed and interesting enough that I would love a whole book set in this world.

As always, there were some stories that did not quite work for me - I mean what is it with stories set in societies that closely resemble beehives? There were two of those here and while the first one did in fact prove to be charming after a while (The Mother's Keepers by Edward Willet), the second dragged and did not offer anything new I found (Am I Not A Proud Outlier? by Kate Story). Also, this is a premise I have no definitely have read enough of.

So overall, worthwhile but not groundbreaking. I even now struggle to recall most of the stories and I think this will prove to be even more the case in a few weeks time. But I enjoyed it while I read it, which sometimes is enough.

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This was quite a good collection, and honestly I mostly picked it up because Juliet Marillier is one of my favourite authors. However, I did have trouble connecting with the characters in a lot of the stories, despite being very interested in the over-arching themes and subject matter of the collection. A good read, not really one I will read again or recommend to friends.

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Something about this book just didn’t click with me, I loved the premise behind it, it’s such a strong message, maybe it was the fact it was an anthology, i almost felt as if I couldn’t get too emotionally invested in the stories as they would be over too soon, I’m not sure.
DNF at 43%

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I enjoyed reading each authors perspective on caregivers. Many of the stories were a delightful surprise. I'll definitely be looking up some of these authors.

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I knew I was going to love this collection from the introduction.This anthology is about caregivers and those who need care. It is about this tension between unsung heroes and recognizing our own vulnerability. The collection is touching because these authors, most who are personally motivated, allow us to probe the relationship between caregivers and those who are given care. It is a fascinating relationship that is reflected in brilliant colors of different types of stories in this collection.

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The Sum of Us is a collection of stories about caregivers in all the universes in our imaginations. Some of these stories were very hard to read, but they were all beautiful. I think my favorite story was "Number One Draft Pick" by Claire Humphrey. The stories flowed really well together, in my opinion. I think there will be something sad and stunning in this collection for any science fiction or fantasy reader.

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The Sum of Us: Tales of the Bonded and Bound edited by Lucas K. Law and Susan Forester starts with a fairly simple premise. We are all caregivers. Whether we're parents, children, elderly or young, hospital staff, soldiers, siblings, personal assistants or even pets, we all care for someone in some capacity and are cared for by others.

Released on the 8th September 2017, The Sum of Us is a brilliant, dynamic and diverse speculative fiction anthology which brings caregivers to the front stage and allows us to not only experience the vast variety of voices, experiences and stories of carers but does so in such a way which encourages us to reimagine care work and caregivers. Who are caregivers? What does it mean to care? How gendered, age and species related is caregiving? How do we define quality of life? Who can care (robots, humans, animals, aliens)? Where does the caregiver end and the non-caregiver begin?

As someone who has both been a caregiver and a receiver of care, I know that it can be easy for caregivers to fade away into the background so I was delighted to come across this anthology which seeks to look beyond caregivers as peripheral ghosts to recognise their personhood, with all of its nuances, complexities and emotions. With 23 different short stories in it, the Sum of Us does a wonderful job of bringing together so many different experiences and stories of carers who are LGBT, elderly, children, spouses, people of colour, disabled, non-human species and more.

In an anthology with so many stories, of course, there were a handful that I didn't gel with (5 to be exact) but on the whole found it to be a really enjoyable anthology, something which surprised me as I really don't read much short fiction. Despite dealing with topics which can be quite heavy going, I found that placing such topics in a speculative fiction setting reframed these stories in a way which made them much lighter, easier to read and more accessible. It did take me awhile to get through everything but found myself constantly immersed in these witty, complicated and heart-warming worlds whenever I returned.

Interestingly, reading through reviews from other readers, many appear to favour the same stories over others and there were many stories which I loved which other didn't seem to like as much (or enough to mention). So included below is a short list of my favourite short stories and a little summary of each.

Mother Azalea's Home for Forgotten Adults by James Van Pelt - Takes place in a home for forgotten adults where the ill are cared for by robotic carers who "measure" their quality of life and make decisions to terminate their life when it drops below a certain level. This story though focuses on 15-year-old Rocky and the home director Brandt, as Brandt, through Rocky, learns to see the ill as individuals once again. It raises questions such as how do we measure quality of life? Should people who are suffering be euthanised by robots? Or, as in Rocky's case, should we make the most of every second they have left and make their last hours hours of joy?

The Gatekeeper by Juliet Marillier - Follows Tariq, a former medical engineer in Afghanistan who immigrated to Australia where he now works at a home for people with dementia, and his relationship with a cat he rescued, Hamza. Hamza is no ordinary cat though, but a servant of the goddess Bast, who calls Hamza to the side of dying people at the home to keep them company as they join Bast to depart from this life. However, Hamza's job is threatened when an administrator turns up who wants to get rid of him and Tariq must work to convince her to keep Hamza as a therapy cat. A beautifully written story which raises important questions about whether caregiving is restricted to humans or whether we can also think of animals as caregivers.

A Mother's Milk by Heather Osborne - This was one of my favourite stories and is about two aliens who are orbiting earth, Dathas and her partner Cennil. Dathas is the equivalent of an alien anthropologist who is learning about human culture through a representative from Earth and is in the process of getting permission to visit. However, Cennil has other ideas and decides to get himself pregnant, which will effectively rob Dathas of her chance as she will need to stay on board the ship in water to nurse the babies who cling to her body. Yet, her human friend raises an interesting suggestion, why can Cennil not care for the children? Is there a physiological difference that prevents him from doing so? A Mother's Milk cleverly challenges the belief that women always have to be the caregivers when there is no reason that men cannot do the same job.

Goodbye is That Time Between Now and Forever by Matt Moore - Another one I really enjoyed, 'Goodbye' follows an older trans woman, Catalina, who is accompanying her father on a tram from Barcelona to Boston, across a ruined world, where he seeks euthanasia. It explores the caregiving responsibilities of both a parent, who had to make a terrible decision in order to save his child's life, and the caregiving responsibilities of an adult who is required to make a joint decision to help their parent die.

Number One Draft Pick by Claire Humphrey - Is another well-written story which focuses on dog handler Reshma and medical assistance dog Zuzu as they begin to work with a new client, young hockey star Ty Arthur. A running theme throughout the entire book, 'Number One' demonstrates the reciprocal nature of caregiving. Reshma and Zuzu do not just change Ty's life, where he needs to adjust to having a severe health condition and a medical assistance dog, but also shows how Reshma's life changes through the people she looks after (in this instance, finding out a new love for hockey). Yet, drawing on the name of the book, 'Number One' reminds us that caregiving is not the total Sum of Us but that we are allowed to have lives, aspirations, and loves outside of the person we care for.

Other favourites included The Dunschemin Retirement Home for Repentent Supervillains by Ian Creasey, Gone Flying by Liz Westbrook-Trenholm, and Blinders by Tyril Keevil.

Hopefully, this review has peaked your interest in the Sum of Us, and if it has I would really encourage you to read it. A huge thank you to Laksa Media Groups for letting me read this through NetGalley.

The beauty of an anthology, something I have only just discovered, is being able to just pop in and out of new worlds at a pace which suits you, and allows you to forego any stories you don't enjoy whilst not detracting from the book as a whole. I'm very excited to follow some of the authors mentioned above, whose work I would love to read more of, as well as look into purchasing a copy of the Sum of Us and another anthology edited by Forester and Law 'Strangers Among Us: Tales of the Underdog and Outcasts' which looks at mental health through a similarly speculative lens.

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3.5 stars

The Sum of Us is a new sci-fi/fantasy short story collection that brings together authors from all over the world. Each with their own unique voice, the stories all tie together in regards to the common theme- caregiving. Within each of us is a person who desires to be cared for as well as to offer care. For some it may be on a grander scale, such as a nurse or a police officer would feel. For others it's more simple and under the radar moments that we live for. Happy to care for and assist someone or something in need for no reason at all. It's this general theme of compassion and dedication that each of the stories in this anthology reflects on.

Personally I'm neither a huge fan of the sci-fi/fantasy genre nor of short stories. When I first came across this book though I knew I wanted to read it. In part because of the gorgeous, artsy cover and in part because the focus intrigued me. I'm glad I chose to go with my gut and take a chance here. Even with several of the stories doing little to nothing for me, more than not drew me in quickly and kept my attention to the last page. A few of my favorites include: Mother Azalea's Sad Home for Forgotten Adults, The Gift, The Healer's Touch, The Beautiful Gears of Dying, Blinders, and Dreams As Fragile As Glass.

Many thanks to the authors, publisher, and NetGalley for allowing me to review an advanced copy of this book. I think I must look for the others in this series.

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The Sum of Us, released September 8th, 2017, is an anthology of 23 short stories around the theme of carers and caregiving, edited by Canadian editors Lucas K. Law and Susan Forest. As someone who has spent significant parts of their life caring for loved ones to one degree or another as well as being cared for, I wasn’t sure how this collection was going to hit me. This is an emotional deep dive, bringing to the surface complex experiences and feelings around the nature of caring for others.

The collection starts you off chilled with ‘The Dunschemin Retirement Home for Repentant Supervillains’, a tongue-in-cheek story by Ian Creasey about a nursing home for elderly supervillains who are supposed to have given up their evil ways. Inside lives Anarcho, who’s not quite done with supervillainy despite his diminished ability, and his henchman Stafford, on whom Anarcho relies for the enactment of his dastardly plans. It’s a funny little piece that nevertheless surfaces the importance of Stafford’s continued choice to remain with Anarcho.

A choice is crucial in Hayden Trenholm’s ‘The Burdens We Bear’. Syvian, an old monk of an ancient order, is the sole caretaker onboard a ship carrying thousands of cryogenically-frozen humans to a new planet. Syvian’s relationship with Michael, the antagonistic ship’s AI, is spiky, but as we realise the nature of the choice that Syvian must make to ensure the survival of his invaluable cargo, Michael too softens. Syvian makes his choice in the end, and though it’s self-sacrifice, it was a free one.

Maybe unsurprisingly, there are a number of stories in this anthology featuring a robot, AI, or otherwise constructed being whose primary function is to give care. Especially in the global north, professional care is a growing industry as populations skew older. The question is whether the human tendency to turn to constructs to take on this labour is altruistic (looking for the best way to do it) or motivated by reluctance to take on the work ourselves for whatever reason.

‘Mother Azalea’s Sad Home for Forgotten Adults’ by James Van Pelt features a nursing home in which ‘resident assistants’ (human-like robots) monitor patients’ quality of life via a complicated formula, euthanising them as soon as it falls below a certain value. This reads hella sinister, as would any story where the power to decide one’s own life or death is in hands other than our own, but I think the effect is amplified because it’s with non-human intelligence that the power lies. In Van Pelt’s story, Dave, a human doctor, shows Tad, a resident assistant, a new aspect to quality of life previously unconsidered in the robot’s formula. It depicts a future in which robots—symbolising purely logic-driven care—miss the nuances of humanity necessary to give good care.

A totally different story, Amanda Sun’s ‘The Gardener’ implicitly examines whether it can even be ethical to make the entire purpose of a being to care for things it has no stake in. This wonderfully sinister story pulls an old twist but a good one. A gardening android, like Tad, misses the significance of human behaviour, but for this robot the point is moot: it must choose on its own whether to continue its duties.

Sandra Kasturi’s ‘The Beautiful Gears of Dying’ moves away from ethics to blur the lines between human and construct and thereby between life and death. A little piece exposing a desire for the undying, unliving machinery under a robot’s synthetic skin over the very human, messy, painful process of gradual death.

Another important theme throughout the book is that of grief, whether for yourself or others, and what you do with it. For me, the most striking of these stories is ‘Good-bye is That Time Between Now and Forever’ by Matt Moore, in which a trans woman, Catalina, accompanies her elderly father from Barcelona to Boston on his final journey in a cataclysmically changed world. The tension that comes with our not seeing the full picture adds to the certainty of approaching horror; the horror in the end being not only what’s happened to North America but that of bereavement—and then, in the end, the horror is eased by the acceptance of it.

Another beautiful, though heartbreaking, story about loss is Karina Sumner-Smith’s ‘The Oracle and the Warlord’, in which a warlord comes to seek a prophecy of an oracle who, despite the love and care of her attendant, is almost at the end of her life. It’s not only about death but also about the grief for the stepped losses of long-term illness—loss of mobility, loss of energy, loss of the things by which a person defines themselves, is defined by other people, for which they are loved. It is also about how, in the wake of loss, the world rolls on despite everything.

On the flip side of grief, though, this collection also hums with joy—the joy of living and loving. In Liz Westbrook-Trenholm’s ‘Gone Flying’, a grizzled old woman spends her twilight years caring for her brood of baby clones, as mandated by whatever government remains after an apocalyptic cataclysm. It started out so intensely harrowing I had to put the book down and walk away for a few hours. But when I came back, I discovered a story so full of love, even woven inextricably with sorrow, and in the end, joy at the weary old persistence of life, that I’m still thinking about it days after finishing the whole book.

Stories like Claire Humphrey’s ‘Number One Draft Pick’ and Charlotte Ashley’s ‘Orang Tua Adventure Home Academy’ are full of light and life in the face of ill health and death. Something in these speaks to me so fundamentally—being ill or disabled and being a carer aren’t your be all and end all most of the time, they’re just a manner in which you navigate the world.

The last story in the collection is an ode to joy. In ‘Dreams As Fragile As Glass’ by Caroline M. Yoachim, Hikaru moves with her husband Tsutomu and her daughter Masumi from Japan to Hawai’i, and not long after the family discovers that Masumi is developing symptoms of a genetic disease that turns her gradually into colourful glass. But Masumi only wants to learn to surf.

And surf she does, both strong and fragile at the same time, beautiful as she shines in the sun. Her parents watch her from the sand, caught up in this moment they’ve enabled, when their daughter is alive and happy.

Alongside the stories I’ve mentioned are many more I haven’t, but that’s down to space constraints rather than deservedness. The Sum of Us is a whole world’s worth of windows on the experience of caregiving, from the familiar to the totally alien, encompassing the range of human (and non-human) emotion. As Susan Forest mentions in her afterword, there are none of us who don’t care in some way or another; humanity is defined by its cooperative nature, so in a way caring is the ultimate expression of human nature.

This anthology is the second book published as part of Laksa Media’s mission ‘Read for a Cause, Write for a Cause, Help a Cause’, and as such, a donation of CAN$1,000 goes to support mental health programmes upon publication, plus a further portion of the revenue from sales. The first collection was Strangers Among Us, which tackled mental health, and which I’m looking forward to going back and reading!

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This book's premise sounded really intriguing and I was estatic when offered the opportunity to review it. However, once I started reading it, I had a really hard time finishing the book. A book filled with 25 stories should have been a really quick read, especially since I'm a sucker for hurt/comfort stories. However, this is not what these stories were about. There were some heart warming stories in there but I just never could connect to the characters. I just think the stories were too short for me to ever feel really invested in the stories, which led to a super long read for me.

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A truly intriguing collection of short stories based around the idea of caring for others; this is both thought-provoking and imaginative, with the various authors taking their stories in a wide array of different directions, including deep space, a bee hive, and more real-sounding care homes. The quality of the speculative fiction here is outstanding and the writing is rarely less than exquisite and inventive. I particularly enjoyed Dreams As Fragile As Glass by Caroline M. Yoachim, Number One Draft Pick by Claire Humphrey and Sunshine of Your Love by Nisi Shawl. There's an excellent mixture of the heartfelt and the weird in the collection, perfectly suited to an anthology of spec fic devoted to caring bonds. I was interested in this book from start to finish.
Full review to be published at in September.

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Sincere apologies -I was mistaken in requesting this book - I thought it would help me in caring for my father who is suffering from dementia. Sci fi is not my thing, sorry.

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This is a collection of short story based around the concept of care givers and the different types of carers found throughout society. Being fantasy fiction, the tales included range from robots to Gods and back again, and provides a unique perspective on the concept of care.

The tales in this, as would be expected in an anthology, were hit and miss for me. My favourite story was 'the gatekeeper' by Juliet Marillier. I loved the idea that cats, who are often perceived as aloof but all seeing, could be looking over us and protecting us - there in our final hours to give comfort and support. I'm a great believer that animals can help treat those in need - especially in illnesses such as dementia and depression. The story was great at exploring the roles of animals in a care setting, and debating if the human-animals relationship is essential to be well rounded individuals in life.

My other favourite story was 'Dreams as fragile as glass' by Caroline M. Yoachim. In this story, the author uses the concept of hereditary and congenital diseases in children to form an opinion about caregiving in those born with a disease that can effect their whole life, or act as a'ticking timebomb'. It covers the guilt seen in the parents of a girl, named Hikaru, who grows up knowing she will inherit the disability of literally turning into glass. We see Hikaru struggle with accepting her disability and trying to curb her desire to surf., as well as her mother's struggle to accept that she must let Hijaru live her life to the fullest.

The other stories, unfortunately, I was less interested in. Some of them were too short, and I couldn't really get a feel for the characters. I loved the concept for this collection of stories though, and think it's a brilliant idea in order to open up discussion about careers and caregiving.

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“The Sum of Us,” edited by Susan Forest and Lucas K. Law, is a very sci-fi heavy anthology focused on the theme of caregivers. That’s not to say it’s all science fiction. My favorite stories contained here fall into the fantasy spectrum: “the gatekeeper” by Juliet Marillier and “things that creep and bind” (what a glorious title!) by Christie Yant. The former, in my opinion, borders on magic realism. The anthology contains a wide range of worlds from a nursing home for supervillains to a spaceship carrying an alien couple who are considering landing on earth. Writing styles vary as much as settings vary. For example, Kate Story’s “am i not a proud outlier?” reads like poetry, despite being written in the form of a ship log, while Charlotte Ashley’s “orang tua” reads like a Peter Pan-esque fairy tale.

The most brilliant diversity of this anthology, though, is the staggering range of caregivers. A part of me expected a smattering of heroic nurses and mothers with romanticized experiences. Those roles are important in life, of course. It’s just that gushy repetitiveness is probably the most boring thing I could ever read. This anthology brings out the real over the romanticized and the strangely relatable over the repetitive. Some of these stories, such as “blinders” by Tyler Keevil and “sunshine of your love” by Nisi Shawl, dive right into the grittiness of existence. The former takes some time to explore how union-versus-company struggles can affect workers, while the latter examines the strange ways of genetics, sisterhood, attraction, and society.

I would recommend this anthology to nearly anyone, but particularly readers concerned with mental and physical health, with social issues, or with a general love for exploring writing styles. I think it would be a great addition to a classroom because it brings up so many important topics. As mentioned previously, the selection is diverse enough that there’s something in here for everyone. That said, it seems like one of those books that should be read at the right time. One reason for this is that it’s a very emotional anthology. If you read it all at once, like I did, you’re going to get one heck of a roller coaster. Where there’s a caregiver involved, there’s someone that needs care. Characters die or drift into dementia or senility. There’s more than one tearjerker in these pages. There’s also some warm fuzzy feelings that will make you appreciate everyone who has ever helped you (but not in a mushy way). If you’re looking to get in touch with your emotions, you’ve come to the right place.

Some final reasons to read this book have to do with its impact on the real world. Your dollar will be doing double, if not triple duty. First off, a portion of the net revenue goes to the Canadian Mental Health Association. Second, there’s a nifty index in the back of the book discussing and listing mental health, caregiver, and caregiving resources. The editors state (in multiple places) that they hope this can help get more discussion started. The afterword is also totally worth reading! So much so that I just used the word “totally.”

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It was hard for me personally to get into this. I guess I'm a fan of classic short stories, and that's a lot to live up to. Lots of good writers and interesting storylines. Great for advanced readers!

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