“Cold Fusion” was written by Sam M. Phillips, co-owner of Zombie Pirate Publishing, for their anthology World War Four(2019). After reviewing Neal Asher’s Monitor Logan, featured in the same book, I received encouragement from a few of the other authors, including Phillips, to keep going.
So here I am.
The story is remarkably short. I went through it in just a few minutes, but that doesn’t mean comprehension is easy. The nameless protagonist is dying of radiation poisoning, but beyond that, the imagery is so hallucinatory, that it seems the poor fellow is already mad, stumbling across the multi-colored snow-covered countryside, body parts falling away like leaves, knowing his moments are numbered.
It’s also quite possible he’s become insane because he’s responsible for the cold fusion weapon that has destroyed, what? Everything?
Are the zombies real, the men in uniform, the aliens sucking out his brains for the hideous secret to cold fusion? He dies, of course, still a puzzle, even to himself.
The prose reminded me subtly of some of the late Harlan Ellison’s short stories, but I couldn’t tell you which ones. It was like remembering a feeling associated to reading Ellison decades ago. The visualization definitely speaks to Phillips’ being a poet.
No, this isn’t a typical, narrative tale where everything makes a sort of sense, and I suspect each reader will see a different message. I think the protagonist was pressured into building this world destroying device in order to end World War Four, which had been going on far too long. Reminds me a little of the rationalization used in Gregory Benford’s novel “The Berlin Project,” which I’ve also reviewed. Millions are suffering and dying everyday with no end in sight. Use a horrific and possibly criminal weapon to end it sooner. Yes, it will also kill millions, and send millions more down the path to slow decay and death, but then it will all be over…