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Dark Tales & Light
Bruce Boston, illustrated by Margaret Ballif Simon
Dark Regions Press, 68 pages

Dark Tales & Light
Bruce Boston
Bruce Boston is a 3-time winner of the Rhysling Award for science fiction poetry. He has also won the Asimov's SF Reader's Awards and been selected twice as Best Poet of the Year by SPWAO.

Bruce Boston Website
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: The Lesions of Genetic Sin / Confessions of a Body Thief / The Last Existentialist
Dark Regions Press

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Trent Walters

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The title, Dark Tales & Light, gives the tone of this collection of stories away: the dark gives way to humor and vice versa (sometimes within the same tale).

With a story title like "With Vorpal Sword in Hand" you probably can guess where the characters come from: Lewis Carroll's poem in Through the Looking Glass, "Jabberwocky", a poem which, down the years, has provided wild imaginative fodder for speculative writers like Roger Zelazny, et al. You'd also expect a similar weird and wild treatment from Bruce Boston. Yes and no. Yes, "With Vorpal Sword in Hand" creates a cast of furry clawed characters from the nonsense terms Carroll nonchalantly cast about: like Brillig and the gang of Slithy Toves who guard the Vorpal Sword that had once slain the Jabberwocky. But Boston puts the Toves on motorcycles and transforms Brillig into a daydreaming hero-wanna-be -- all very human designs. Brillig's daydreams his way out of his job into rescuing damsels, but digs himself into a hole he must continue to dig when he tries to become a hero when there is no need for one. The ending is the best kind, the kind that tears you two ways: you love the guy but you don't love what he does.

The aptly unnamed "he" in the second tale is the "Anesthesia Man". A middle-aged man, a hobo, or maybe an old man is trapped in a dreamlike fantasy or a fantastic dream where the settings shift smoothly yet unsettlingly: from train to camp to arctic wasteland. It's not bad enough that the outside environment changes, but his inner environment mirrors an uncertain and shifty identity as well.

"Pest Control" zooms aliens down to Earth... Only they've landed in Abbey and Miles' backyard -- aliens the size of small roaches. Abbey tries to establish communications with a holo-recorder. Lo and behold it works! But so does the communication that the aliens establish with Abbey and Miles -- only the communication works too well.

"Pulp Woman Gets Her Man" humorously presents the epitome of all bad feminist story plots. In classic pulp style, superhero Pulp Woman rescues Defenseless Woman from Bad Man.

"On Spending the Night in a Haunted House: a User's Guide" says it all. User's guides are an acquired taste: speculative humor poking fun at speculative tropes. They don't usually entertain but at least this one had the semblance of a plot where most don't even bother.

Three of the stories here were gathered for an encore in The Complete Accursed Wives. Briefly, the "Simulacrum's Wife" discovers her husband is not her husband anymore, the "Hypnotist's Wife" has been tricked into love and marriage and she'll do anything to get out, and the "Cyberhead's Wife" takes action when her husband gets too involved with his VR technological gizmos.

The light-hearted space noir "Striker Out" has a detective who may have been double-crossed more times than any tale in the history of the genre. It's got selfishly political aliens, crooked gendarme, and beautiful dames. What more could you ask for?

The collection closes with what "Love in Babylon" in the future will be like. The egomaniacal king enslaves freckled women to his lusts. Lust is a good thing, right? But what happens if a hero -- someone whom the king admires -- gets ideas in his head that this may not be the best kingdom to serve?

While the strongest and emotional impacting stories here are those from The Complete Accursed Wives and "With Vorpal Sword in Hand," the mix of humor and humanity keep the collection varied and entertaining -- a worthy goal of any literature.

Copyright © 2001 Trent Walters

Trent Walters' work has appeared in Speculon, Spires, and The Pittsburgh Quarterly, among others. He has interviewed for SFsite.com, Speculon and the Nebraska Center for Writers. More of his reviews can be found here. When he's not studying medicine he can be seen coaching the Minnesota Vikings as an assistant coach, or writing masterpieces of journalistic advertising, or making guest appearances in a novel by E. Lynn Harris. All other rumored Web appearances are lies.


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