edited by Joan Spicci Saberhagen & Robert E. Vardeman
Reviewed by Steven H Silver
Golden Reflections opens with the most complex story in the collection, a reprint of Fred Saberhagen's 1979 novel Mask of the Sun. This story of time-traveling warriors, a golden mask that can help predict, or perhaps cause, the future, and a resurgent Incan empire serves as the inspiration for the remaining seven stories. For those who have read Mask of the Sun before, the story holds up quite well and uses a variety of time travel and multiple timeline tropes which have been used many times since its initial publication, frequently to lesser effect. For those who have never read the novel, it retains a freshness and stands strong among the subsequent stories which it inspired, collected here in memory and as a way of thanking Saberhagen for his importance to the field of science fiction and fantasy.
Walter Jon Williams places the mask in an alternative Ptolemaic Egypt in “Fate Line.” Rather than focusing on the way the Pharaoh uses the mask, Williams depicts Demetrios, a future warrior who must travel back in time and across timelines to a world in which Egypt has managed to remain strong, in no small part due to the presence of a mask. Demetrios quickly learns that he can’t act in too obvious a manner for fear that the mask will work against him, but he still has his duty to complete. Williams does an excellent job portraying a man who has everything to lose and few resources. Williams also takes a little known period of Egyptian history and twists it in a new direction, providing the reader with the necessary background to understand not only what is happening, by how it it different from what actually happened and why it is important.
Daniel Abraham describes the making of the Mask-case for the goggles in “Wax, Clay, Gold.” Perhaps more interesting is the debate by a team of agents in hiding who are discussing the question of intentionality behind what the Mask shows its owners. What is most perplexing to one of their members who was present when the mask was made, was the fact the wearing the mask apparently didn’t improve the life of the mask maker in any way, although improvement is in the eye of the beholder.
John Maddox Roberts depicts a vision in which the Mask of the Sun finds its way into the Nazis’ hands in “The Conquistador’s Hat.” Beginning with the almost comic figure of Juan de Cervantes who steals the mask from Cortés, the action jumps to a future world in which the Nazis were successful in World War II and have brought all the world’s great art together in the Museum of Aryan Culture, where one of the curators, Herr Muller, is trying to get a “loan” of art from the Vatican, one of the few places which has managed to retain its collection. Roberts’s focus on art allows him to ignore the worst excesses of the Nazi regime, although he hints at them in the background.
Harry Turtledove’s “Eyewear” is a secret history of the Cabeza de Vaca expedition through Texas and New Mexico. Using the slave Estevánico as his protagonist, Turtledove outfits the four survivors of the expedition with a pair of magic spectacles which allows the slave to suggest the best course of action and eventually lead the men to safety before setting off on a journey to find Cibola, and the city of Hawikuh, where the historical Estevánico was killed. Because Estevánico is a slave, there is little room for growth in his relationships with anyone, but instead the story is presented as a puzzle for him to figure out the best use of the eyewear as he is guided by a time traveler who can only provide him with the vaguest of clues. The story ends, almost feeling as if it were a placeholder to provide
“Like the Rain,” by Jane Lindskold, opens with a look at the hypocrisies and contradictions in the way Christianity was presented to the Mesoamericans as Po’poy, a senior priest of Ohkay, is suffering flagellation at the hands of Christians as a punitive punishment for the sins of a stranger. Po’poy’s treatment at the hands of the Castillians interlopers leads him to foment rebellion using the powers of the golden mask, even when that revolt may have disastrous effects on his own personal life. When the concept of rebellion is first broached by the time-traveling Tleume, Po’poy is asked if he can be ruthless, indicating that the Mask will help those who are willing to follow it in everything it asks and shows, regardless of consequences.
“Remember” is set at an Alamo which is heavily populated by time travelers waiting for the inevitable attack, not by Mexicans, but by Incans. Dean Wesley Smith focuses on the time travelers with hardly a thought about the actual mask as Vietnam vet Dennis Holcomb trades in his meaningless death by cancer in 1981 for a glorious death in battle in 1836 in an attempt to preserve a timeline that isn't even his own. In the process, Holcomb mingles not only with his fellow time travelers, but also with Davy Crockett, James Bowie, and William Travis, although the historical figures are mostly barely cameos..David Weber portrays a complex alternative world in which “Washington’s Rebellion” failed. However, rather than just portray one world, Weber creates multiple worlds in which the rebellion failed, each with different political outcomes. His protagonist, Dunstan Carmichael, is morning the death of his children and his wife, who is in a coma, when he is first given the Mask of the Sun and later the opportunity to travel to an alternative world to help with the cross-dimensional battle between the Incans and the Tenocha, and, possibly, the care his wife needs to recover from her massive injuries. Weber's story is a reminder that while history might seem inevitable, that sense of inexorableness only comes with hindsight.
Not only does Golden Reflections offer readers seven stories, but it also provides a new and interesting introduction to a classic work of science fiction. Although the ideas of new authors writing stories in the worlds of classic science fiction and fantasy novels runs the risk of the law of diminishing returns, in this particular case, the authors Saberhagen's widow and Robert E. Vardeman have chosen to include manage to reach a quality that is indicative of the fact they they are clearly writing these stories in response to their friendship with Saberhagen and their memories of first discovering his work.
|Fred Saberhagen||Mask of the Sun|
|Walter Jon Williams||Fate Line|
|Daniel Abraham||Wax, Clay, Gold|
|John Maddox Roberts||The Conquistador's Hat|
|Jane Lindskold||Like the Rain|
|Dean Wesley Smith||Remember|
|David Weber||Washington's Rebellion|
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