Cover Image: Take Us to a Better Place: Stories

Take Us to a Better Place: Stories

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One of the best anthologies stories. The writing style of different authors blend very properly. The stories are really good and the art is good too 
Recommend for all short stories fan
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I thought from the description of this collection that a lot of the stories would leave me feeling hopeful - unfortunately his definitely wasn't the case for me. I don't get on that well with dystopian stories for the most part, and this all felt a little to dystopian (and a little too close to the bone, too). I'll be the first to admit that I can be quite sensitive about things, but I know that about myself and so I stopped reading this for mental health reasons. Glad to see Yoon Ha Lee listed as an author on any collection, though, and everything seems well-written.
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Hopeful stories from some amazing literary talents. I had only read Martha Wells before, and enjoyed finding new voices.
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A wonderful collection of stories all unique all well written.A group of authors some well known some not a group of hopeful stories.The stories would mKe wonderful points for discussion..in a book club.A wonderful reading experience. .#netgalley#Take us to a better place,
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These are solid offerings (a series of stories contained within the work), if a bit uneven.  Per usual for short stories, some are better than others.  I'd recommend for anyone interested, and appreciate the opportunity to review this work.
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A decent anthology with a very talented line-up. The collection is supposed to inspire hope, optimism and a Culture of Health, and while that message is received, there is also the bigger giant flashing neon sign present in all the stories: the future looks very bleak without action against corporate greed, population growth and lack of sustainability. 

Recommended: a good commuting read.

Thank you to Netgalley and the publishers for the ARC.
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Take Us to a Better Place 

I’m not usually a fan of anthologies. The quality and tones of the stories can be highly variable, which I find personally jarring, and one story not to my taste can make me stop reading the whole volume. When I read short stories, I always prefer single authors collections. 

In addition, I’m often skeptical of corporate sponsored anthologies - the messaging can be heavy handed and the contributors sub-par. 

So why did I request a eARC of Take Us To A Better Place, a “culture of health”-themed short story collection by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation?  

Well, I get up in central New Jersey, so I have some childhood memories of emergency room visits to Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital in New Brunswick. 

More importantly, I saw the list of contributors to the collection and I decided to take a chance. There are new stories here by authors Madeline Ashby, Hannah Lillith Assadi, Calvin Baker, Frank Bill, Yoon Ha Lee, Mike McClelland, Karen Lord, Achy Obejas, David A. Robertson, Selena Goulding, and Martha Wells. 

Once saw that there was a new story by Martha Wells and Yoon Ha Lee I decided to take the plunge. After devouring the Macinieries of Empire series by Yoon Ha Lee and the Murderbot Diaries by Martha Wells (not to mention the Raksura books) I decided to give it a go. 

I was not disappointed. As promised, the stories in the collection deal with the extrapolation of where a culture of health could bring us in the future. 

In Yoon Ha Lee’s excellent “The Erasure Game” we see just how dystopian a future controlled by the gamification of health tracker data could be. 

In Martha Wells’s short story “Obsolescence”, a beleaguered station administrator on a space station full of children has to deal with a serial killer. Without spoiling anything, I can say that the story dealt interestingly with the issues of health care for an aging population, as well as touching on issues of childcare and prosthetic replacements.  

Did the stories in the collection lean a little heavily on their theme? Of course they did. Were they still well written and enjoyable? Yes!

You can learn more and request a free copy yourself from Robert Wood Johnson here:  https://www.rwjf.org/en/library/research/2019/11/take-us-to-a-better-place-stories-coming-january-2020.html.
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Usually, I am unable to give a breakup of individual reviews when I read books like this. Given that there are only ten stories and they vary very widely in the tone as well as the content I decided to try this one time. Hopefully, I will see my way through and not come back and delete this introduction I am typing. I will, however not rate them separately because that would be too hard.

Flotilla at Bird Island by Mike McClelland:

This set the tone for what I thought would be a collection of dystopian scenarios, but as I will end up explaining, that was not to be the case. This first tale, however, is a dystopia. I will not go into the finer details, but we see the world through the eyes of one man who meets an old friend and finds out that people are working on alternatives to their current living conditions. It brought up the questions of the hierarchy of being saved when the situation worsens or even if there was a cure to all the ills ailing their world, who decides the reach of it. I liked it and looked forward to reading the rest.

      2. Paradise by Hannah Lillith Assadi

This story switches tack completely to focus on one girl carrying the weight of memories of losing her mother in a war-torn country, of being smuggled out and of trying to survive in a whole new place which just will not wholly accept her. It was a pretty good narrative and pulled a lot of heartstrings. The best part was the ending, it added a whole new dimension to the full story.

3. The Erasure Game by Yoon Ha Lee

Our country world is swamped by our need to stick to the latest trend, monitor our body, and this story takes it a whole step further. It took me a while to get the entire picture being presented and the rules of this seemingly utopic scenario where everyone is healthy and tries to stay that way. Some people are discontented with this interconnected life, but it was a decent story.

4. The Sweet Spot by Achy Obejas

I did not get this story in context with the previous ones. I read the author's description of why this fits into the book at the end and only then I was able to appreciate this story of a couple, one of who is losing her hearing and how that seems to impact the larger picture and her role in it. It is more about relationships and interdependence than anything else.

5.Reclamation by David A.Robertson and Illustration by Selena Goulding

All the previous chapters also had illustrations, but this was a graphic story, so I decided to mention the illustrator's name as well. There weren't too many panels, and although the story was pretty straightforward and simple, the drawings added nuance to it. This is the story of an indigenous (US-based) boy who finds a way to lay some claim to his roots.

6. Obsolescence by Martha Wells

I have read only one novella by this author, and it probably was her name that directed my attention to this collection in the first place. I liked the beginning of the story, the background (it is based in space), but I felt the ending a little too abrupt given the pacing during the rest of the narrative! It deals with how health care facilities are different for varying people

7. Viral Content by Madeline Ashby

This was a scary new world, where most things were normal but loneliness and misinformation are concentrated due to information online. We have one journalist trying to take a stand to bring something into focus. I would have liked there to be more of a twist in this since the scenario was pretty impressive. 

8. Brief Exercises in Mindfulness by Calvin Baker

This was another chapter that I only got the significance of when I read the author's note at the end of the book. It made sense only then. Otherwise, it mostly dealt with the complications of living with roommates and sharing space with other people

9. The Plague Doctors  by Karen Lord

This felt more like a novella in itself than any of the others. We were given the entire scenario as well as an ever decreasing timeline to procure a solution. It covered a lot of ground while being quick about it. The focus is on a contagion that people do not know how to protect the world and their loved ones from. 

10. The Masculine and the Dead by Frank Bill

This final story was interesting and even as I liked the content, I was not very taken by the presentation. We meet a lonely man who has brought a whole community together and even if it is similar to the Erasure Game (3), there is no one tallying anything or keeping track except for the villain of the piece. I liked the emotions in it.

Overall it was a different book to read, and I am glad I gave it a shot. They were different from each other in such a way that you can read one at a time and not feel the need to rush to complete them all in one sitting.

I received an ARC thanks to NetGalley and the publishers, but the review is entirely based on my own reading experience.
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The idea for this anthology—a collection of stories meant to shine a light on various issues occurring and worsening, and show potential solutions—is an interesting one, and the stories that resulted take very different approaches. I do feel the need to include a content warning for this anthology, there are mentions of domestic violence, child abuse, animal abuse, physical violence and murder, islamophobia, xenophobia, racism, classism, poverty, self-harm, alcoholism, substance abuse, homophobia and possibly other issues that I have forgotten. If you’d prefer to avoid sensitive matter related to the topics I just listed, Take Us to a Better Place Stories may not be for you. 
The anthology starts of weak, in my opinion, and grows better from there. None of the stories are truly bad, but the solutions they seem to suggest are not always realistic. For example, The Flotilla at Bird Island sets up a plausible world ravaged by climate change, but the solution suggested is far less fleshed out. The characters in this story were also not very sympathetic or realistic, and while I enjoyed the story (the line “I wanted to ask of we could fly a bit farther, in the space in between...”) is beautiful and found several parts touching or entertaining, I didn’t think the story was effective at inspiring change. 
Paradise by Hannah Lillith Assadi was much better, and though the topics covered in the story—xenophobia, systematic inequality etc—are huge and seemingly insurmountable, the story delivers an inspiring message of hope, family and community. Rita is an interesting and nuanced character, and her backstory is brought to life beautifully. 
The Erasure Game by Yoon Ha Lee was the reason I requested this anthology, and similar to his Machineries of Empire series this short story includes some non-binary representation. The story itself is quite different in tone from the previous work I have read from this author though, being quite reminiscent instead of Scott Westerfeld’s Uglies series. There’s a distinctly non-apocalyptic dystopian feel to the story, and the conclusion reads like a bleak indication of where our current situation could lead, rather than a path we might take to a solution. What solution can there truly be to a society that quietly cedes rights in exchange for convenience and efficiency?
Achy Obejas’s The Sweet Spot comes next, and while I thoroughly enjoyed the realistic and intersectional portrayal of living with a disability, I found the conclusion of the short story jumbled and confusing. I didn’t truly understand what social issue was being spotlighted, and didn’t think any solutions were proposed, realistic or otherwise. I truly enjoyed the characters and situations set up, but was not satisfied with the way the story ended. 
Reclamation by David A Robertson is a story told in the form of comic strips—not my preferred medium. The story itself is a hopeful one, but perhaps due to the structure I though it spelled things out in a way I found almost reductive. Fans of a more visual style will likewise disagree, and the change of pace was a welcome one within the collection. 
If the anthology started slowly, there is no doubt that it finishes strong. Obsolescence by Martha Wells was hands down one of my favourite within the anthology, and the science-fiction style of the short story was a marked change from the more modern/near-future feeling of the other stories. The short story sets up a classic closed-mystery scenario that drives tension remarkably well, and the story was thrilling and well-paced, while also allowing for commentary, character development and world-building. The portrayal of diligence on the part of adults, and the need to foster the innovation and optimistic idealism of future generations could not be more relevant than in a time when a sixteen-year-old was (deservedly) named the Times Person of the Year. 
Madeline Ashby’s Viral Content is another strong entry in the anthology, presenting a strong case for the need for an engaged and free media to prevent blatant wrongdoings from occurring in the same ways they have continually happened in the past. I found the future of mega-corporations sourcing ‘hyper-local’ news to be eerily believable, and the characters and situations presented in the story were also (sadly) this way. Censorship is in no one’s best interest, and Gloryanna’s determination to find the truth was a fascinating portrayal of the way even the largest of organisations can be undone by the determination of individuals to protect the innocent. 
Brief Exercises in Mindfulness was another story that missed the mark a little for me, perhaps because I didn’t understand what message the story was trying to send about gentrification, mental health or gender politics. The story had a non-traditional structure somewhat similar to the cult-classic film Pulp Fiction, and much like the movie the ending is not what you might expect. 
Karen Lord’s The Plague Doctors was another of my favourites from the collection, and reminded me very strongly of the Newsflesh series by Mira Grant. Another frighteningly plausible disaster-scenario is set up, with the solution once more being the insistence of ordinary people on finding a better way. I loved the way Audra’s personal life intersected with and mirrored the effect the plague had on her community, and the story itself elegantly mirrors class divides, refugee treatments and medical crises flawlessly. This story was engrossing and incredibly written, and I enjoyed every moment of it. 
The Masculine and the Dead by Frank Bill closes out the anthology, and also proposed stronger communities and an increase in social justice and awareness as the solution for a myriad of problems. While the solution may seem simple, it is realistic, and this anthology is an amazing reminder that problems that seem too big for one person to face, let alone fix, need only the concerted effort of a concerned group. Guy—the protagonist of this story—while a strong and capable man, ultimately needs a variety of connections and relationships to enact real change. 
Take Us to a Better Place Stories leaves you with a few less illusions about the inevitability of the problems the world is currently facing, and a quiet understanding that if enough people wished and worked for a difference, true change could come about. I’ll end this review with a thought from The Plague Doctors, it seems fitting. 
“A luxury bunker is too narrow a world at any price. No more moats and walls. We will tend the garden for everyone.”
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Wow. What a great lineup of talent, which shines brightly most of the time. A diverse set of stories, many feel depressing. But part of the goal here is to instill hope, which is also included. Not surprisingly, I didn't enjoy every story, but it's solid collection overall focused on issues that impact everyone. I think it's fair to say that readers will be thinking about one or more of these tales long after turning the last page.

A very big thank you to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation for helping make the world a better place in all you do, and for the ARC for review!!!
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It's tricky to review a book of very different short stories, which range from graphics (comics) to near future, to current. They all have two themes - health and hope. Definitely an interesting read, and one that would be fun to read with friends or a book club, since there is a lot to think about in this book.

Thanks NetGalley, for another interesting read!
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Book Review: Take Us to a Better Place: Stories
Authors: Multiple Contributors
Publisher: Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, with Melcher Media
Publication Date: January 21, 2020
Review Date: December 17, 2019

From the blurb,
“Take Us To a Better Place: Stories is a collection of powerful, perceptive, and seamlessly crafted fiction from a diverse group of storytellers that tells multiple truths about the realities of our health and well-being and the world in which we live. Roxane Gay writes: “These collected stories...are hopeful and cautionary tales. They are, above all, a call to action, offering all of us the opportunity to rise to the occasion of contributing, in the ways we can, to a world where a healthier life is possible for all.”
Conjuring a present and future that is at once vivid and hopeful, as well as heartbreaking and perilous, these deeply human stories will linger long after you finish. The stories spark new ideas about what a healthy community might hold—and how we might get there.
The book features the literary talents of Hannah Lillith Assadi (finalist, PEN/Robert W. Bingham Prize), Calvin Baker, Frank Bill, Mike McClelland, and Achy Obejas (finalist, PEN/Faulkner); the bold visual storytelling of David Robertson and Selena Goulding; the searing science fiction writing of New York Times best-selling authors Martha Wells (winner of the Nebula, Hugo and Locus Awards) and Yoon Ha Lee (winner, Locus Award), and speculative fiction writers Karen Lord (finalist, Locus Award) and Madeline Ashby. The stories explore issues such as health care, climate change, immigration, gentrification, and post-traumatic stress disorder with keen observations, fully-drawn characters, and haunting narratives.
Robert Wood Johnson Foundation is the nation's largest philanthropy dedicated solely to health. The Foundation is working alongside others toward its vision of a Culture of Health, where everyone has a fair and just opportunity for health and well-being. It is in this spirit that the Foundation invited ten authors to write a story about what a Culture of Health means to them. This book is the result and is offered free to readers by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Visit www.rwjf.org/fiction for more information.”

Many of these stories were writing by well known and highly regarded writers. I have mixed feelings about the book. Many of the stories were extremely creative and took me to new thoughts. However, this was one of the darkest, most intensely depressing collections of dystopian fiction. 

So on the one hand, I highly recommend the book for it’s high creativity. On the other hand, be warned that many of the scenarios are very depressing. 

It could be that I’m more aware of the reality of the world, as opposed to my Dick and Jane childhood worldview. 

Despite the negativity, I highly recommend this book for those who know they are walking into worlds of dystopia. 

Thank you to the publisher for allowing me an early look. And best of luck to all of the authors. 

This review will be posted on NetGalley, Goodreads and Amazon. 

#netgalley #takeustoabetterplace
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This is a collection of short focusing on health and society. Some are more successful than others, but all of them are mildly preachy and don’t contain understanding of disabilities, aging, and significant physical difference in people. I was also disappointed by what seems to be poor editing in a number of stories that were rambling or disorganized.
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Rare is the collection of stories on a theme in which all of the stories hold their own--but this is such a collection.   From the unsettling dystopic vision of Mike McClelland's "The Flotilla at Bird Island" to the poignant truths of Hannah Lillith Assadi's "Paradise," this is an important and magical collection not to be missed.
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