The Mortality of Nathan Quinn by W.J. McCabe

The Mortality of Nathan Quinn by W.J. McCabe
Publisher: Etopia Press
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Contemporary
Length: Short Story (67 pages)
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Can an act of self-destruction be the key to redemption?

Nathan Quinn despises nearly all of humanity, but he hates one person even more—himself. On the verge of taking his own life, Nathan is introduced to a mysterious figure, a Mortality Dealer, who congratulates Nathan on his impending suicide. What’s more, he seeks to recruit Nathan as a purveyor of death. Nathan’s choice is simple: he can either accept the MD’s offer and learn if he has what it takes to deal out mortality, or he can take a chance on what may—or may not—await him after death…

Second chances offer no guarantee that they will work out. Everything that caused Nathan to attempt suicide is still with him. Will he be able to take advantage of the opportunity the mysterious stranger offers, or will his past keep him from making better decisions?

Nathan is an easy guy to hate. He’s selfish, misanthropic, and believes the world revolves around his life. The way he reacts to the unusual proposition offered to him by a stranger made me wonder if there was more to him than I had originally assumed. Not every protagonist needs to be likeable, and this author created a troubled, cynical character I soon grew to appreciate because of his rough edges instead of in spite of them.

Setting up the backstory and propelling Nathan into the next chapter of his life absorbed the first third of the plot. In a longer novella or full length novel this would have been the perfect introduction, but a piece this length spending so much time setting up the rules of Nathan’s new life lead to pacing problems. As interested as I was in the premise I had trouble concentrating on these scenes because they slowed things down so much.

I was also concerned by the assertion that suicide is a selfish act. Only someone in an excruciating amount of emotional or physical pain would seriously attempt to end their lives. People who are thinking clearly don’t resort to drastic measures like these. Nathan’s selfishness is clearly evident in other decisions he makes. His suicide attempt is tragic, but it’s related to his dangerously poor state of mental health at the time instead of an indictment of his character.

Once everything was explained I quickly became engrossed in the rest of the story. The unsettling climax left me yearning for more. While all of the important questions were answered satisfactorily, the author leaves ample room for this world to be revisited in the future. The small, completely believable changes in Nathan’s personality alone are reason enough for me to hope there is a sequel in the works.

The Mortality of Nathan Quinn was full of surprises. This is a good choice for readers who like gritty science fiction with a twist.

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