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September 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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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

A Stir of Bones, by Nina Kiriki Hoffman, Viking, 2003, $15.99.

A NEW novel by Hoffman is always a treat, and this first one of hers aimed at the Young Adult market is no exception. And before I tell you anything else, let me assure you that adult readers will get just as much pleasure from it as they have from her books marketed to the adult audience.

A Stir of Bones is a stand-alone prequel to two of those adult novels, A Red Heart of Memories and Past the Size of Dreaming. It's the story of Susan Backstrom, the perfect teenager. She's bright, blonde, and beautiful, lives in a big gorgeous house, and has loving, attentive parents. Too attentive, when it comes to her father.

No, he doesn't physically molest her. He simply insists on controlling every minute aspect of her life to make sure that she really is the perfect teenager. When she isn't—and her failings are so infinitesimally small that in any other household they would barely register on parental radar—he punishes her mother.

But because Susan is conditioned to not let any of her inner turmoil show, and because she knows what her father will do if she ever tells anyone about what life is really like inside that perfect house they live in, she seems standoffish to her peers and (even away from the watchful eyes of her father) is never included in the activities and conversations that usually fill a teenager's life.

Her rebellions have always been small and invisible to her father's intense scrutiny. Until the day she overhears a conversation in the public library that gains her some new friends, including a ghost. Unfortunately, it also puts her in a world of trouble when her father finds out, and not even the haunted house where she and her new friends go after school can be a safe haven.

This is a wonderful book—not so much a coming-of-age story as a daring-to-be-one's-self story. And even with its dark underpinnings, it's chockful of magic and delight.

Hoffman is one of those authors that, while she certainly appeals to a genre audience—at least one with an interest in contemporary fantasy—is also an excellent ambassador to the wider world of literature beyond our few shelves of the bookstore. Her books are the kind that I can hand to my friends who only read mainstream and they are immediately enamored—not realizing that they're reading a fantasy, for all the fantastical goings on in their pages.

Now I don't say this because I feel that we (in the genre) need to gain validity from those readers who live in the bigger city beyond the few blocks and alleyways we've either staked out as our own, or that have been left to us. That's not important. What's in the book is important. And that it reach as many readers as possible, because that's why writers write. They want to communicate to as many people as possible.

So I love it when I find an author like Hoffman who is as gifted as she is at expressing what I love about fantasy (the sense of wonder) but doesn't shy away from real-life concerns while doing so. Hoffman shines a light into the darkness and finds treasures there as well as deeper shadows.

*     *     *

Custer's Last Jump and Other Collaborations, by Howard Waldrop & Leigh Kennedy, Steven Utley, Buddy Saunders, George R.R. Martin, Bruce Sterling & A. A. Jackson IV, Golden Gryphon, 2003, $24.95.

Apparently, Howard Waldrop has been holding back these stories from the various collections of his that have appeared over the years, in the hope that one day they could all be together in a single volume.

Well, that day's come, and what a treasure trove they prove to be.

The presentation alone is fascinating, as each story has an introduction by Waldrop covering how he met his collaborator and some history of the story's genesis, followed by the story itself, and then an afterward by the collaborator, either building upon, or sometimes refuting Waldrop's facts. Though truthfully, there's little of the latter, as Waldrop is noted for keeping copious notes on his stories.

Also appearing throughout the volume are a series of short, somewhat tongue-in-cheek essays on the art of collaboration.

All of it makes for compelling reading, building up a portrait of Waldrop and whetting one's appetite for the main course, which is the fiction itself. And while I understand Waldrop wanting to bring them together in one collection, these stories are too good to have languished uncollected for so long.

They range from alternative histories like the title story (written with Steven Utley) and "One Horse Town" (a take on Homer written with Leigh Kennedy) through to "The Latter Days of the Law" (an eleventh-century detective story set in Heian Japan with Bruce Sterling) which I believe is original to the collection.

I've always been a sucker for the short story form, especially when handled as well and as imaginatively as they are here by Waldrop and his collaborators. And since you're a reader of this magazine of short stories (where you were momentarily distracted by this column), I'm sure you'll enjoy them as much as I did.

*     *     *

The Faeries of Spring Cottage, by Terri Windling & Wendy Froud, Simon & Schuster, 2003, $21.

Of all the denizens of Faerie, surely one of the most charming has to be Sneezlewort Rootmuster Rowanberry Boggs the Seventh, a hawthorn root faery with a heart as large as the sky and an unfortunate penchant for getting into trouble. More familiarly known as Sneezle, he has already had two big adventures, told to us in a combination of words and pictures by Terri Windling and Wendy Froud in A Midsummer Night's Faery Tale and The Winter Child.

Windling's prose has all the delight and resonance of a tried-and-true fairy tale, the kind of storytelling that is simple but sometimes soars, and always holds the promise of some greater mystery lying just beyond the edges of the words. Froud supplies the wondrous dolls that illustrate the tale, while her husband Brian built the sets and directed the photographs that bring them to life.

This time out, the trouble that always seems to find Sneezle takes him from the hidden reaches of Old Oak Wood into the world of mortals, where all is not as it should be. Accidentally hitching a ride in a child's knapsack, he finds himself trapped in a cottage in the human world, and surrounded by unfamiliar dangers. There is a cat that would dearly like to have him for its dinner. But worse, the mistress of the house has had to leave the cottage and all the brownies and good folk are going feral from her neglect, turning into nasty bogles.

Half based on folklore (with appearances by traditional Faerie denizens such as a Billy Blind) and half born from the fertile imaginations of author and illustrator, there are no seams showing where one source ends and another begins. Readers can simply immerse themselves in this self-contained world of Faerie with the sure knowledge that they are in skilled and capable hands.

The Faeries of Spring Cottage is undoubtedly aimed at younger readers, but the writing hasn't been dumbed down in the least, and older lovers of a well-told fairy tale and British folklore will find much to engage them. The noted folklorist and author K. M. Briggs would have been charmed at how Windling and Froud are building on tradition. I know that I am.

*     *     *

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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