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June 2003
 
Book Reviews
Charles de Lint
Elizabeth Hand
Michelle West
James Sallis
Chris Moriarty
 
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Off On a Tangent: F&SF Style
 
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Kathi Maio
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Coming Attractions
F&SF Bibliography: 1949-1999
Index of Title, Month and Page sorted by Author

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Books To Look For
by Charles de Lint

Feesters in the Lake & Other Stories, by Bob Leman,
Midnight House, 2002, $40.

REGULAR readers of this magazine should recognize Bob Leman's name, and probably some of these stories as well, since all the material collected here initially ran in Fantasy & Science Fiction between 1969 and 1988, except for "Come Where My Love Lies Dreaming" (which first appeared in Shadows 10) and "How Dobbstown Was Saved" (which is original to this book).

These stories also make up the complete works of Leman, who, after writing fifteen stories over three decades, decided "whatever creative spark I had for a while just went away," and stopped writing. And that's a real shame because, for the most part, these stories are equal to the output of any of the great masters of our field.

There are a few elements that might not engage a reader more accustomed to contemporary fictional styles, particularly Leman's penchant for writing from an omnipresent point of view. It's an old style of writing, and certainly a valid one, but that distancing of the narrator—be it in first person or third—can make the story feel stiff. The modern reader is used to being inside a character's head and only knowing what the character knows. Direct authorial asides to the readers can be jarring, but personally I enjoyed them.

There are also a few stories which are basically extended jokes, such as the Mad Scientist exercise that drives "How Dobbstown Was Saved."

But those are small carps when set against the bulk of the collection's stories. The prose is carefully considered, flowing stately and sure. The strange array of characters and creatures is endlessly fascinating, begging for their stories to be reread, simply for a repeat enjoyment of both their truthful portraits and their oddities. And the ideas and speculations show more imagination in a few thousand words than do many contemporary novels.

No matter what subject Leman turns his attention to, he brings a new and thoughtful—and, yes, sometimes amusing—perspective: from parallel worlds (the stunning "Window") and vampires ("The Pilgrimage of Clifford M." is easily one of the best takes I've run across yet, fascinating and tragic) to time travel and the paradoxes alternate time lines can create ("Loob"). But the highlight of the book for me is the title story, a creepy tale that takes a pulp era concept and makes of it high art.

Physically, this is a beautifully produced book, with a sewn binding, nice heavy stock, and a lovely design. The cover's rather ugly, but I like it for how it reminds me of the old semi-pro zines such as Whispers and Weirdbook, and Leman's stories certainly echo the feel of the material those magazines published.

One last note: I recommend that you skip Jim Rockhill's introduction until you've actually read the stories. It's not so much the prose is so dry, which it is, as that in his discussion of the stories he gives away too many elements that will be more enjoyable when you come across them in the context of the actual story first. The introduction should have been an afterword.

But do read Leman's short and heartfelt preface.

*     *     *

By the Light of the Moon, by Dean Koontz,
Bantam Books, 2002, $26.95.

I'll admit to a small disappointment when I realized that, for the third year in a row, the latest Koontz novel still doesn't complete the story he started in Fear Nothing (1998) and Seize the Night (1999). But that disappointment lasted only so long as it took me to turn to the first page and begin reading.

By the Light of the Moon starts with yet another wonderful Koontz setup. This time out, Dylan O'Conner, an artist on his way to an arts festival in Santa Fe, and his autistic brother, Shep, are attacked by a mild-mannered "doctor" who injects them with a mysterious substance that, Dylan is told, will either kill them or transform them into something remarkable and perhaps more than human. And, oh yes, some very nasty men will want to kill them in an attempt to eradicate every trace of the doctor and "his work."

A chance encounter outside their room with the doctor puts an up-and-coming comedian named Jillian Jackson in the same predicament, and very soon the three of them are fleeing the doctor's enemies. They also have to deal with effects of the mysterious substance with which they've been injected. These two needs end up colliding in a fast-paced, smart novel that takes them all the way from their troubled present into the tragedies of their pasts.

Although there are often fantastical elements in Koontz's novels, they are usually based firmly on speculations from the cutting edge of contemporary science. This time out he's tackling nanotechnology and posits a fascinating array of theories on the subject.

There are many things to appreciate at the end of the year, and one of the main ones for me is the publication of a new Koontz novel. Koontz gives us characters with breadth and heart, in prose that is always polished. He's not afraid to mix humor with the action sequences and the more serious elements of the story, and his character dialogue, while far more graceful and articulate than any you'll hear in life around you, doesn't detract from the believability of his characters. Instead, it adds to the joy of the reading experience, as much as does that impeccable prose of his.

*     *     *

Floodwater, by Heather Shaw & Tim Pratt,
Tropism Press, 2002, $4.

This is a nice introduction to the work of two authors, and cleverly presented: a collaboration between the two is bookended by a solo story from each author.

Heather Shaw starts the proceedings with "Wetting the Bed," a strange, surreal take on the Peter Pan myth. It opens with "When the floods came, all us kids climbed into our beds…." The floods take the beds away and the children make rafts by lashing a number of beds together. Adults don't survive the floods and when children get too old, their beds sink, taking them down as well. It's an odd little story, but fascinating for how much Shaw manages to fit into it and where she takes us as it unfolds.

The collaboration, "A Serious Case of Fairies," is the longest of the three stories collected here, and certainly entertaining, but it's more like a sustained joke, complete with a punch line ending.

Far more resonant is the third piece, Tim Pratt's solo outing. While "The Heart, a Chambered Nautilus" is another short-short, it packs a lot into its length, depicting a meeting between a woman and a strange man who steps out of a vending machine, "unfolding before her like a Japanese fan." Here, the pleasure is in Pratt's language and in the payoff at the story's end—expected, but no less appealing for that.

For more information on Tropism Press, contact them at: P.O. Box 13222, Berkeley, CA 94712-4222, or on the web at: www.sff.net/people/timpratt/press.html.

*     *     *

Spectrum 9, edited by Cathy Fenner & Arnie Fenner,
Underwood Books, 2002, $27.

It's January as I write this and already the awards season has started, with Dick Clark's American Music Awards leading the way. It's also the time when we're seeing the tail-end of the "best of the year" lists in magazines (which conveniently ignore anything that was released in December) and the various "year's best" publications begin to roll off the presses.

One of the first to appear each year is the Fenners' Spectrum, which collects samples of art from the past year, produced by a juried selection of the top contemporary fantastic artists of 2002. The production values are always top-notch—heavy, slick paper, rich colors—and the choice eclectic, ranging from the weird and strange to works of great and luminous beauty.

Arnie Fenner provides a solid overview of the year, and there's a one-page bio of this year's grand master award recipient, Kinuko Y. Craft, that faces a stunning reproduction of one of her paintings.

Do you need this for your own library? Not necessarily. But if you don't get it, you'll miss one of the best visual treats that your eyes could experience this year.

*     *     *

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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