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The Best of David Farland: Volume 1 and 2
David Farland
DFE, 126KB and 150KB

The Best of David Farland
The Best of David Farland
David Farland
David Farland decided to become a fantasy writer over 20 years ago. He tried his hand at doing a few novels, then decided to learn how to write by studying textbooks and doing some classes. Several pieces of work were published in the mainstream but he wanted to get back to fantasy. He started by doing the legwork necessary to build the world, to add in the magic system and to develop a sense of how he wanted the imagery/artwork to appear. That work has led to the development of a number of spin-off products available at The Runelords website.

David Farland / Dave Wolverton Website
Runelords Website
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: The Runelords: The Sum of All Men

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Trent Walters

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Although David Farland/Dave Wolverton is a best-selling fantasy and SF writer known primarily for his novels, he also has a pair of story collections available in both audio (at Audible) and Kindle and other ebook formats: The Best of David Farland (Dave Wolverton) 1 & 2. Farland's the kind of writer for readers who like a little style in their writing -- without overdoing it -- reminiscent in ways of Walter Jon Williams. Like Williams, style never gets in the way of story. Both want to pull you into and through the story. With this pair of collections (and a pair of stories not collected in them), Farland presents a smorgasbord of his keen story-telling prowess.

The Nebula-nominated "After a Lean Winter" first appeared in Kevin Anderson's intriguing concept anthology, Global Dispatches, stories of H.G. Wells' War of the Worlds as if told by other writers. This story was justly reprinted in David Hartwell's Best SF 2. Wolverton chose to tell it in the raw style of Jack London in the winter squalls of Alaska amid a group of ice-toughened trappers and dogs. One trapper bets the others that they wouldn't be able to stand against his beast (this probably isn't a story for incomparable dog lovers). The narrator's sympathy reaches out and touches the trapper's beast, more than once. The story's final note is pitch perfect. A writing sample that struck me as particularly sharp:

  " 'What news?' One-Eyed Kate called before Pierre could even kneel by the lamp and pull off his mittens with his teeth. He put his hands down to toast by the glass of the lamp.

"Pierre didn't speak. It must have been eighty below outside, and his jaw was leather-stiff from the cold. His lips were tinged with blue, and crystals lodged in his brows, eyelashes, and beard."

 

Of all the stories represented here, the biggest risk taker in terms of philosophical/sociological possibilities must be "Wheatfields Beyond." For a field that prides itself on the What-if? scenario, the big thought experiments aren't really as abundant as one might think. A lot of SF tells us what we want to know, which is a shame because we don't have a chance to reexamine what we think about the universe. Tana Rosen, a criminal psychologist, witnesses a homeless man getting beaten up by a fat, well-off father. Feeling guilty, the father frames the derelict by giving himself a small puncture and planting a knife at the crime scene. Tana feels this may be the best situation for the man as he will get food three times a day and a chance to be rehabilitated since she's sure she can get off on insanity. The rehabilitation is partially successful. He gets a job and even gets married, but he feels alien in this world, so off he wanders again. Then catastrophe strikes. An asteroid hitting the earth creates an ecological disaster which pressures countries to fire off nuclear weapons in a mad grab for land. Tana is much older now, living in a cave, struggling to cope with life under these conditions. Meanwhile, in a role reversal, the derelict is doing quite well.

"We Blazed" is one of Farland's more powerful short stories, both imaginatively and literarily. Alexander Dane is immortal, as is his wife. For some reason, though, his wife had been living since 2023, and Dane has just arrived, seeking his wife who promised to love him forever. Men of the village have tried to kill him, but Dane merely heals. However, when he finds Kaitlyn, she's immortal but isn't in love. She is married to another -- Dane's rival -- with children they'd never had because he'd been so busy with his rock band. Kaitlyn feigns not knowing him, and they decapitate him, plotting ways to get rid of him forever. This originally appeared in Peter Beagle's Immortal Unicorn. At first glance, Farland's thwarting of a direct representation of an immortal unicorn may appear cosmetic, but certain aspects run deep through the story, heart-wrenchingly painful.

What happens to a young boy born inside a city of all women? "A Rarefied View at Dawn" relates this narrative. Bann and his best friend are just turning the corner for puberty, and of course it is forbidden that they give the least hint romantic interest, but the city has more sinister plans in store for Bann. This very nicely overlays the primary story with injecting testosterone into a chicken to see how it develops. While the language is a little less felicitous here than in other stories, great moments abound: "[A]s he held [the young chicken], Bann was delighted to feel its tiny heart kicking like a cricket."

"Siren Song at Midnight" is a hauntingly bleak tale. The government created mermen, called Sirens, to survive on different planets; however, the governments of the world had not only lost major sea creatures like the dolphin, tuna and whale, but also plankton, lowering oxygen content and hurting the Sirens both nutritionally and physiologically. Professor Elegante is caught on video giving explosions to the merpeople and is sentenced to death. His daughter maintains his innocence and does what she can to reach him. This one's lyrically written at times, but I'm not sure it could have ended much more hopeless (although there is one tiny ray of hope in here). The science fictional aspects are still pretty nifty, and the emotions are intense.

According to the material accompanying the story, "My Favorite Christmas" has roots in more autobiographical material than the other stories. Uncle Ed comes to visit the narrator, who is in high school and less than thrilled at the prospect of having to entertain the hunchback of Notre Dame. But as their neighbor Kaman Porter accuses them of selling off his Christmas trees, he learns his family had a lot of impishness and skeletons in the closet. However, they learn something even more surprising: Ed may not be his uncle.

Duke Gorlois' wife is the object of King Pendragon's attentions in "The Mooncalfe," so much so that the duke has to flee. The king lays siege, but the duke escapes, stealing the king's armor. However, the duke begins to exhibit some of the king's less savory behavior toward women. The narrator's mother runs across a knight who causes her to be literally enflamed with lust for this man who does magic tricks with candles. Then two children are born: One King Uther Pendragon, the other the narrator with radiant skin called Mooncalfe. Mooncalfe is a fairy that the mother tries to hide away and heal the radiant skin to normality by burning the bones of a bishop. When she finds a young man who cannot love her the way she is, she goes to be healed of her skin's malady and finds her true father and why he did what he did. While the plot is episodic, the work as a whole is strong; for it challenges the general assumption of many fantasies and even utilitarian philosophy.

In "Feeding the Feral Children" (not in this collection but sold separately, or it can be found in John Joseph Adams' The Way of the Wizard) Huang Fa had his horse stolen, so naturally he kills them so that they do not return. However, these barbarian thieves are children whose teeth filed to points. While Huang Fa feels some remorse, it is not until he learns that one was the child of a great sorcerer that he fears. He tries to catch up with another traveling wizard, but a storm stands in his way. This one's style and description captures well the mood and foreignness of another time and another land. The suspense is intense. The ending, though, while moving, does not quite feel appropriate in a way that's hard to define -- in the manner that reminds one of how so many Greek myths end: Yes, if that's what happened, then that's where it has to end. You feel like crying at an unjust universe, from the lip of a canyon -- "But why?" -- with only your voice echoing back.

While the short story "On My Way to Paradise" is not included in this pair of collections, this one has to intrigue after it spawned the novel which became a runner-up to the Philip K. Dick award and third in the Locus awards for first novels. Of the stories here, this one is the most imaginatively inventive -- a tale of Latin-American political, virtual reality, gene-mod cyberpunk with military in hot pursuit. It opens with a strange woman who has lost her hand and wants to grow a new one. Angelo is a pharmacologist/anesthesiologist/doctor whom she calls on. Flaco, his best friend, and he suspect she's done something illegal. Maybe she has, for assassins try to kill her and anyone that tries to aid her. It turns out to be much than they thought.... Although the ending petered, this one was a fun ride.

Some readers like myself love to see what writers are up to: What are their preoccupations? themes? motifs? stylistic flares? This pair of collections does the job well. It's actually cheaper to buy the stories separately, at present, so you may want to choose. Hopefully, Farland will package these together as a whole to tempt readers into doing more than dabble at his smorgasbord.

Copyright © 2012 Trent Walters

Trent Walters teaches science; lives in Honduras; edited poetry at Abyss & Apex; blogs science, SF, education, and literature, etc. at APB; co-instigated Mundane SF (with Geoff Ryman and Julian Todd) culminating in an issue for Interzone; studied SF writing with dozens of major writers and and editors in the field; and has published works in Daily Cabal, Electric Velocipede, Fantasy, Hadley Rille anthologies, LCRW, among others.


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