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The Empire of Ice Cream
Jeffrey Ford
Golden Gryphon Press, 322 pages

The Empire of Ice Cream
Jeffrey Ford
Jeffrey Ford's first novel was Vanitas. His second, The Physiognomy, won the World Fantasy Award. He lives in New Jersey.

ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: The Portrait of Mrs. Charbuque
SF Site Review: The Fantasy Writer's Assistant
SF Site Interview: Jeffrey Ford
SF Site Review: Memoranda
SF Site Review: The Physiognomy

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Nathan Brazil

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"Walking through the stacks, I now could almost hear the ambient buzz of phonemic interactions transpiring within the closed covers of the shelved books. Upon opening a volume and holding it up close to my weak eyes, I thought I felt a certain fizz against my face, like the bursting bubbles of a Coca-Cola, the result of residue thrown off by the textual chemistry. Secmatte had fundamentally changed the way in which I thought about printed language."
This is the second volume of short stories from Jeffrey Ford, the first being the award-winning The Fantasy Writer's Assistant and Other Stories. I must explain here that when a book reviewer requests a title, what he or she gets is usually identical to the commercial product. Sometimes the book will have proof copy printed across it, occasionally a manuscript will turn up, but never before have I received something so scruffy as this volume. What fell out of the jiffy bag was a plain white book, with no cover artwork or even a title on the spine, just the company logo and a number. The spine itself was ripped and torn. However, this poor presentation was not the fault of the writer, so I flipped to the first page. Long before the end I realised to my amusement that what I held was the best example I'd ever seen of the old saying "don't judge a book by it's cover."

Jeffrey Ford is one among a rare breed, a writer's writer who still knows how to connect with the reader in the manner of a friend telling good tale. Even Jonathan Carroll is a fan, and writes in his introduction to this collection, "The precision and clarity with which he gives us his vision is really the next best thing to being there." The Nebula Award-winning title story, "The Empire of Ice Cream" deals with the synesthesia; a medical condition whereby touch, hearing, taste and smell are mixed and shifted by the brain. Sufferers quite literally perceive the world differently to the rest of us. Smoke might be heard as the buzz of a mosquito, the colour green produce a taste of honey, or a myriad other strange combinations. In this case, we follow a talented young musician who finds that he can see another world entirely, whenever he drinks coffee. "The Annals of Eelin-Ok" is an exquisitely crafted modern faerie tale, concerning one of the Twilmish, a type of faerie who inhabits sand castles abandoned on a beach, and whose entire life is lived in the time it takes for the sea to reach high tide. "Boatman's Holiday" shows us what Charon, the boatman who takes souls to Hell, does on his once per century holiday. "A Night in the Tropics" centres around a chess set created in 1533 by Italian goldsmith Dario Foresso, a chess set that is demonic. Breaking the mould somewhat, and interrupting the rapid fire of ideas, is a rambling, novella length story called "Botch Town." Part autobiographical, it's a coming of age yarn, which successfully transforms the characters mundane, everyday lives into something filled with charm, the humour of children, and a sense of menace lurking just out of sight. "The Weight of Words," a story about a uniquely gifted man who develops formulae for sublimating persuasive messages within text, borders on genius. Despite, or perhaps because, of it having something in common with the classic B-movie They Live. Out of all the stories here, it is the one I most wanted to continue to novel length. Last up is "The Trentino Kid" an ocean based ghost story set in and around the fishing community of Long Island. Like many of the works in this collection it mixes precision engineered imagination with a dash of the author's personal experience. For those who enjoy the hows and whys of writing, Ford also includes concise story notes after each work.

In summary, The Empire of Ice Cream is a superior collection, in which Ford weaves threads of other worlds, other lives, so stealthily that their inclusion is like the touch of spider silk. Trawling across dreams, as Bob Lind once sang, with nets of wonder, he takes the ordinary, and craftily adds the extra.

Copyright © 2006 Nathan Brazil

Nathan Brazil
If Nathan Brazil were dyslexic, he'd be the dog of the Well world. In reality, he's an English bloke who lives on an island, reading, writing and throwing chips to the seagulls. Drop by his web site at www.inkdigital.org.


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