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January 1999
 
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Charles de Lint
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Books To Look For
by Charles de Lint

LEGACIES, by F. Paul Wilson
Forge, 1998; $24.95

Way back in 1984, F. Paul Wilson wrote a terrific supernatural thriller Called The Tomb, featuring a character named Repairman Jack.  Jack was a Fascinating individual who lived outside the perimeters of regular society (in other words, he didn't exist on paper) and could "fix" problems that couldn't be handled through the regular channels of law enforcement agencies or the courts.  Jump ahead fourteen years, and now Wilson has finally produced another Repairman Jack novel.  (Though for completists I should add that Jack had a supporting role in Nightworld and appeared in a number of short stories since The Tomb.)

The big difference from that first novel is that in Legacies the supernatural element is non-existent.  Jack's adventures this time out center around the more mundane, though no less horrifying, themes of child abuse and children who are born with AIDS.  It makes for an interesting connection to the fiction of NYC lawyer Andrew Vachss who uses the proceeds from his books to support his law firm, since his clients (infants and young children) can't afford to spring for a lawyer. 

Most of Vachss' books have an ex-con named Burke as their principal character.  Like Repairman Jack, Burke also doesn't exist on paper, but he lives much deeper in the belly of the city's underground.  The novels are written in a very hardboiled style, playing out against a gritty backdrop of undesirables, and the unwanted, with no supernatural elements whatsoever.  I don't know if Vachss has ever read any of the Repairman Jack stories, but The Tomb certainly preceded his Burke novels. 

In some ways Wilson's Repairman Jack is a kinder, gentler Burke.  He gets the job done, and he can be brutal when required, but one doesn't sense the constant edge of violence in his character.  The language in Wilson's books is…not more literate, but certainly less clipped.  It doesn't have the immediacy of the Burke novels, which could partly be Wilson's decision to write in the third person, as opposed to the first person narratives Vachss uses. 

But I think it's simply different approaches to a somewhat similar idea.  For one thing, Repairman Jack is given to introspection as to his place in the world, who he is, why he does what he does.  Burke, as Vachss depicts him, is driven and less altruistic, unless a problem arises that will affect his family of choice.

One could spend a great deal of time comparing the two characters, and gain some fascinating insights behind the author's choices of character and storytelling, but that would only appeal to avid readers of both writers and I think readers of this column will generally be more interested in how Legacies stands up to previous Repairman Jack outings.

On that front, they won't be disappointed. 

The novel starts off with Jack's girlfriend Gina asking him to help recover a truck load of Christmas presents that have been stolen from a hospital dedicated to children with AIDS.  But soon the hospital's director, Dr. Alicia Clayton, comes to him with an odd request: she wants him to burn down her ancestral home.  Doing some investigating on his own, Jack discovers that a number of different foreign elements are after a secret hidden in the house and will kill anyone who tries to help Dr. Clayton, while also scrupulously protecting Clayton's own life.

The resulting events make for a fast-paced and engrossing novel.  And here's the other Vachss connection: like Vachss, Wilson makes his moral points, not by lecturing the reader, but by telling a good story in which the elements of child abuse and children with AIDS are expanded upon within the context of the plot.

What we have here is one of those rarities: a sequel that works, standing as strong as the original work.

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BLUE LIGHT, by Walter Mosley
Little, Brown & Co., 1998; $23.50

I'm somewhat amused by how when a mainstream publisher releases a genre work, they usually a) pretend it's not genre fiction (in this case sf), and b) act like their author invented sliced bread.  Not that it's the author's fault how he or she's being promoted, of course.

Some genre readers don't like it when a mainstream author appears to beinvading our turf, but I have to admit to enjoying it, especially when it's someone as able as Walter Mosley, more widely known for his powerful mystery novels.  The appeal to me is the naivete one can see in the work, the sense that, for them, they are inventing the genre.  They come with no excess baggage, as those of us writing in the field sometimes do, and yes, sometimes they are reinventing the wheel, but often they bring a freshness to what we've already worked to death.

Blue Light has the sense of a post-holocaust novel about it--think Davy, or some of Brin or Le Guin's work--but it's actually set in the near past, as many of Mosley's novels are.  This time it's the Bay Area during the sixties, a perfect time for some of the odd characters with whom Mosley peoples the novel to make their way mostly unnoticed by the general populace.

The story starts with the appearance of the "blue light" of the title, a shower of darts of blue lights that, when they enter living beings, accelerate their evolutionary potential.  The first half or so of the book depicts some of the various people to be affected--not to mention a few coyotes, a dog named Max and a giant redwood tree--and also explains how one of the men touched by the light turns, unlike the others, into the Gray Man, a creature bent on killing all living things.

The second half of the book takes place in the wilderness where a number of the "Blues" and their followers have taken refuge.  This is the section that seems so much like a post-holocaust novel as the group sets up their community of Treaty.  But with the approach of the Gray Man, the community changes its name to War, sends away all the residents except for the pure Blues, and prepares to confront their nemesis.

Much of this will feel familiar to sf readers.  What makes Mosley's novel still worth reading for those of us in the genre is his fabulous prose, and the sensibilities he brings to his characters.  The viewpoint character of Chance, a half-black, half-white man who is trying to commit suicide before he comes under the influence of the Blues, will stick in your head for a long time.  He provides a gripping counterpoint to the "perfection" of the Blues and becomes Mosley's voice for exploring questions of race and individual identity, as relevant in our own world as it is in this fictional one touched by a blue light.

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Briefly:

THE FLOWER IN THE SKULL, by Kathleen Alcalá
Chronicle Books, 1998; $22.95

Alcalá is fast becoming one of my favourite writers.  Like her previous novel Spirits of the Ordinary (discussed awhile back in this column), The Flower in the Skull is set along the Mexican/Arizona border and deals with three generations of Opata Indian women--ranging from the turn of the century to the present day.  There is less of a magical presence in this volume and the story is heartbreaking in places, but the prose is even more gorgeous, and there is a richness to Alcalá's characterization and settings that makes me reread passages, simply to re-experience their resonance.

ETERNAL LOVECRAFT, edited by Jim Turner
Golden Gryphon, 1998; $25.95

This will already be on any Lovecraft aficionado's "must buy" list, but it's also a good place for those less familiar with Lovecraft's ideas and influence to see what the fuss is all about.  It's a collection of Lovecraft-influenced short stories, utilizing some of the late author's concepts rather than slavishly imitating his style.  From high-profile authors like Stephen King and Harlan Ellison, to perhaps lesser known (though no less worthy) authors such as Fred Chappell, Nancy A. Collins and William Browning Spencer, there's something for everyone in here. 

Editor Jim Turner claims this will be the last Lovecraft-themed anthology he'll edit, which seems a shame since the books he's brought us through Arkham House, and now his own imprint, Golden Gryphon, have always been of superior quality.  If your local shop can't get it for you, you can order it from: Golden Gryphon Press, 364 West Country Lane, Collinsville, IL 62234.

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Material to be considered for review in this column should be sent to Charles de Lint, P.O. Box 9480, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada K1G 3V2.

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