Review: Scars by J. Ishiro Finney
Scars is a psychological sci-fi novella featuring a former astronaut and his super-intelligent support animal. This standalone story explores friendship and mental health, particularly PTSD.
Here at the Periapsis Press blog, we only post reviews of works we recommend, so you already know I enjoyed Scars. I encourage you to check it out!
Disclaimer: We received a copy of this book from the author for the purpose of review. This in no way influences our opinions. (You can request a review here.)
This review contains spoilers.
Scars Publisher Description:
James was a high-rider, a thrill seeker, an EVA cowboy. He was one of a small brotherhood of men who made a living out of lassoing dead satellites and towing them out of Earth’s orbit. Then came the accident, the one which cost James everything. Now landlocked and grounded with no chance of returning to space, James lives a life of quiet desperation.
By day, he struggles with having become an amputee. By night, he is haunted by nightmares of the moment that took his leg, his friends, and his entire career. After a failed suicide attempt, a company psychologist assigns James a companion animal named Max—a very smart rat with an interesting past.
Now, once again, James will find his life radically changed as old wounds are opened and fresh scars are forced to heal.
Follow J. Ishiro Finney:
Scars falls into a genre called psychological fiction, which centers around the main character’s mind and motives. His mental and emotional state drive the story forward with internal conflict. Scars deals with PTSD in particular. Elements of tragic past, mental spiral to unravel, and eventual epiphany are all present. The story also features common techniques to the genre: stream of consciousness storytelling and flashbacks.
The tone of Finney’s work is less bleak than many examples in the psychological genre and less prone to speculative allegory. This gives it a conclusion of simple hope.
James and Max are both sympathetic characters. James is broken, but he isn’t a bad person. He is kind and socially awkward. He isn’t wallowing in grief, and guild, and pain—he can’t escape it. These make him someone the reader wants to see succeed, and his frustration is tangible even for those who have not experienced PTSD firsthand.
Max is similarly easy to connect with. His enthusiasm for games and food, as well as his honest questions make him feel pure, despite his dirty mouth. (Note that there is a lot of profanity, including “Christ.”)
The setting has a fun, near-future feel. The story itself takes place in an urban environment with limited “everyday” advancements beyond the connection between James and Max that allows their communication. But there are little notes dropped in about the different scientific developments regarding the rats’ evolution that gave the sci-fi elements a hard edge. The realistic reports were a nice touch that supported the mental health theme by approaching the story with a sober, thoughtful attitude.
Furthermore, James’ former work in space felt intentional rather than merely flavorful due to the connection between Max’s inextricable connection between memory and his sense of smell and James’ tragic experience in space where there are no smells.
Mental Health (Spoilers!)
James is trapped in a bad place mentally and only wants to escape from the negative emotions and pain. The epiphany of the story, of course, is that escape is not the solution. Sharing his experience with a trusted friend who understands intimately is only the first step.
Finney’s encouraging conclusion is to put the characters into active roles, giving them purpose. Mental health can be a difficult thing to muddle through, but the idea of replacing passive “healing” with proactive responsibility gives the main character a sense of control over his situation that was missing before. Working together with someone else to intentionally improve also alleviates the sense of crippling isolation James struggled with.
I found this ending to be reassuring. The author has affection for the characters, and it is no stretch to assume a genuine care for others experiencing similar internal conflict in their own lives. The story thus interpreted is a word of encouragement, more than a generalized prescription.
Check Out Scars!
Scars delivers a meaningful story about mental health with sympathetic characters and a hopeful resolution. I will keep an eye out for more from the mind of J. Ishiro Finney!
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