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The Reel Stuff
edited by Brian Thomsen and Martin H. Greenberg
DAW Books, 383 pages

Art: Les Edwards
The Reel Stuff
Brian Thomsen
Brian M. Thomsen is TSR's Director of Books and Periodicals. As an editor, he has been nominated for both the prestigious Hugo and Tucker awards, served as judge for the World Fantasy Awards, and edited and acquired numerous award-nominated novels, including Cyteen by C. J. Cherryh (Hugo Winner for Best Novel). He is also the author of over twenty short stories for various anthologies. His first novel, Once Around the Realms, was published in 1995.

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Martin H. Greenberg
Martin H. Greenberg is the most prolific anthologist in publishing history. He has won the Milford Award for Lifetime Achievement in Science Fiction Editing and was Editor Guest of Honour at the 1992 World Science Fiction Convention. He lives in Green Bay, Wisconsin.

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Martin H. Greenberg anthologies - 1st of 4 pages

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Alexander von Thorn

Brian Thomsen, a respected editor for DAW Books and other publishers, makes a curious admission in the preamble to The Reel Stuff. He says that he first discovered science fiction through films, not books. This unique perspective allows him to introduce this anthology of stories which were later made into feature films.

These stories are among the best of the genre, so all are worth reading in their own right. But, putting them together as a collection shows the reader the strengths, and weaknesses, of short fiction as an artistic medium. The stories here encapsulate ideas, but in some cases, especially the short stories, that's all there is. Very little depth of character or setting can be squeezed into a story of less than 10,000 words, and the contrast between the stories and the films is quite strong in some cases.

George R.R. Martin is a master in any genre, and he has two stories here: "Sandkings," which was converted into an episode of Outer Limits, and "Nightflyers," which became a movie. The stories show a characteristic Martin ploy: he creates a strong idea, but then the characters come to the foreground and the premise almost fades to the background. The protagonist's social by-play in "Sandkings" and the tension between captain and passengers in "Nightflyers" dwarfs the revelations about unique aliens in both stories. This might almost be a flaw, an imbalance between character, plot, and setting, except that any of these elements alone would make the stories worth reading.

Philip K. Dick also has two stories here. "Second Variety" has another strong idea, but there isn't more than a short story's worth of plot and character despite covering more than 40 pages. The story is set in an oddly anachronistic setting of conflict between the western powers and the Soviet empire. Even though the story is fairly long, the idea is still chilling and was made into the movie Screamers, although it might have been a more plausible origin for, say, the world of The Terminator. "We Can Remember It for You Wholesale" is the story which was expanded into the Schwarzenegger movie Total Recall. This shows the strength of the print medium, for the movie is in some ways much less ambitious than the short story, with a surprise twist ending that the movie just skipped.

"Mimic," by Donald Wollheim, is pure idea at barely 6 pages. The contrast between print and film is strongest in the first story in the collection; a movie conveys setting, character, mood, and a level of verisimilitude that print can never achieve. Robert Silverberg's "Amanda and the Alien" showcases one of the most dangerous species in the universe: human beings. They're not noticeably strong or fast or even intelligent, but are potent because of their sheer inconsistency and inconstancy, and their ability to befriend in one breath and betray in the next.

The movie "Millennium" is quite a faithful reproduction of John Varley's "Air Raid." The film has more characters and plot elements than this 14-page story, but the mood and idea is really here in the story. William Gibson's "Johnny Mnemonic" also carried over very well onto film, but the print version now seems oddly out-of-date, as so much early Gibson does these days. Gibson's story is extremely visual, however, and action-driven; it's amazing he was able to capture as much as he did with mere text.

Clive Barker's "The Forbidden" sticks only a single toe over the line into the supernatural; the story depends on being internalized by the reader, making it far more effective than any movie could be. It's more about cultural anthropology, urban alienation, and scientific curiosity than any frisson of horror. As for Barry Longyear's "Enemy Mine," I wasn't impressed with the movie. The story, at more than 60 pages, drags on longer than it has to, but it's still quite readable and makes perhaps a deeper statement about the unity of all sentient life than the movie.

The anthology ends with the oldest story in the collection, the H.P. Lovecraft classic "Herbert West -- Reanimator." This story is a serialized novelette, a form no longer practised in English literature. This 6-part tale builds tension by describing more and more horrific events in a completely matter-of-fact way. Lovecraft's work is in many ways reminiscent of Conan Doyle, except that he proceeds through logical scientific steps to a deeply strange and terrifying outcome. A modern movie can revive the story, but not truly recreate its somewhat antique tone and pacing.

The Reel Stuff is enjoyable on many levels: for the stories themselves, for reviving the images of a number of memorable films, and for contrasting the treatment of similar stories in print versus film. These stories are all worth reading; any flaws that might exist are inherent to the short-story medium, for the authors are a group of outstanding writers. The reader may even want to rent a few movies to see how the stories compare. This is a much more interesting collection than the usual "Best of..." anthology; almost any of the stories is worth the price of the whole volume.

Copyright © 1998 by Alexander von Thorn

Alexander von Thorn works two jobs, at The Worldhouse (Toronto's oldest game store) and in the network control centre of UUNET Canada. In his spare time, he is active in several fan and community organizations, including the 'Toronto in 2003' Worldcon bid. He is also a game designer, novelist-in-training (with the Ink*Specs, the Downsview speculative fiction writing circle), feeder of one dog and two cats, and avid watcher of bad television. He rarely sleeps.

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