by Jay Lake




Dogs in the Moonlight
Cover by Juha Lindroos

Reviewed by Steven H Silver

Jay Lake, who hit the world of science fiction in a huge way, publishing more than a score of stories in a year, editing four issues of Polyphony, writing numerous essays, and rounding it off by winning the Campbell Award, has already published an collection, Letters from Lake Wu.  He has published enough stories that he has been able to publish another collection, Dogs in the Moonlight.

All the stories in Dogs in the Moonlight are set in rural Texas with a roster of characters which seem to come out of redneck central casting.  However, for all their ignorance, Lake portrays them as intelligent (usually) individuals and there is both a gentle mocking and an affection for their foibles.  The work is collected into four sections.

Opening with "Ghosts," Lake collects three ghost stories.  "Dogs in the Moonlight" is a tale of revenge with a slight Norman Bates twist to it.  While well-written, is lacks some of the horrific tension Lake was going for since the reader begins to see his direction before he gets there and feels some familiarity with it.  Lake looks at another murder in "Arrange the Bones," told from the point of view of the victim.  On the whole, the story is good, but the discussions between Elise and Cause are sometimes difficult to follow for the very reason the story is good…the characterization of Cause.  "The Oxygen Man" is a post-apocalyptic story in which the very basic necessities of life are either unavailable or extremely expensive. When a family can no longer pay the Oxygen man to deliver the necessary element, they must come up with an alternative method of payment, although Lake provides an ambiguous ending.

The second section of Dogs in the Moonlight, "Angels," contains perhaps the four most unnerving stories in the collection, beginning with "Like Cherries in the Dark."  This first story is actually one of hope and coming to the realization that you can be happy with what you have.  "Shattering Angels" is a coming of age story, not from the point of view of the adolescent, but of her father.  Lake mixes in a fair amount of vengeance into the short piece which adds to its power.  In "Mr. Heaven," a young girl completely fails to fit into her society, following her belief in what is right rather than what people think.  And Satan is rampaging in Texas in "The Goat Cutter."  Lake portrays a Satan which can be defeated, but who is victorious in his defeat.  The story plays on the sometimes unreasoning religiosity of people who are raised to believe in their faith without question.

Above Angels are the "Gods," beginning with "Christmasseason," a clever little story which will strike most people as humorous but may carry a horrific element to those who retain a soft spot for their juvenile myths.  "Twilight of the Odd" is a tale of Götterdammerung in Texas and Lake's versions of the Norse names as heard through the ears of an uneducated young man is clever and done in a way which doesn't detract from the story.  Located about halfway through the collection, it is one of the most fun stories in the book.  "Naked and Homeless on Golgotha" is a story about charity and faith and taking care of people.  Even as Lake tackles these serious subjects, though, he seemingly unintentionally introduces an element of Monty Python which tends to draw the reader's mind from Lake's actual story.  "Ancient Wine" is Lake's placement of the Greek gods in his rural Texas.  Coming so closely on the tail of "Twilight of the Odd," this story of Deimos and Dionysus is a nice juxtaposition of the different mythologies in very different manners.  Lake ends the section on Gods with "Sparrows, Two for a Penny," which is a chilling story of a life gone awry.  It is made even more horrific by the knowledge that such things as happen in the story do happen in real life and there is no way of knowing how much of a hold Eleanor has on her reality.

Finally, the collection ends with "Aliens," perhaps the best written of the stories in the collection.  "Mama She Truck" is a story about a foster care mother who always has a large brood around her.  When one of her new children seems to be a little strange, the FBI gets interested, but the local shopkeeper finds a strange affinity with him and comes to understand the need to protect the protectorless.  As with some of the other stories in Dogs in the Moonlight, Lake appears to telegraph where he is going with "Pax Agricola," about a put-upon farmer named Joe Radford.  As with those other stories, however, Lake manages to confound the reader's expectation with this story of a strange crop and the effects it has on the people and situations around him.  "Gratitude" is a brief tale of aliens in the Texas hinterlands and the good old boys who kill them.  The story takes a horrific twist when they run across the grand-daddy of all aliens, but Lake has a tendency to introduce more twists and the result is that "Gratitude" is one of the strongest stories in the book.  Lake ends with a story which was originally performed as an audio-file on the web, "Hitching to Aurora."  One would assume that the print version is a transcription of what appears in that version.  The story tells of a man who has decided it is time to end his dependence on drugs and pushing and the alien epiphany he comes across on his way to meeting his contact in an old graveyard.

Dogs in the Moonlight Twilight of the Odd
Arrange the Bones Naked and Homeless on Golgotha
The Oxygen Man Ancient Wine
Like Cherries in the Dark Sparrows, Two for a Penny
Shattering Angels Mama She Truck
Mr. Heaven Pax Agricola
The Goat Cutter Gratitude
Christmasseason Hitching to Aurora

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