In “The Journeyman: On the Short-Grass Prairie,” by Michael F. Flynn, Teodorq sunna Nagarajan the Ironhand is on the run, pursued by the brothers of the man he killed. We already should know he’s a hero by his name, but then we read this: “On all the Great Grass, he feared no man; but fearing a score of men was another matter. One Serpentine, he could meet knife-to-knife. Half the clan, maybe. But not all the Serps all at once. It would be a songbound feat even to evade them.” So now we really know he’s a hero.Well, who is TOF to contradict her?
We share Teodorq’s world intimately, his nights recalling lore of the sky that foreshadows later events in the story. We enjoy his ingenious ways of diverting pursuit, his skill in the kill when he is found, his honoring of those he kills by carving praise of their deaths on their chests. Then his flight brings him to the end of the Great Grass into a different land, that of the short-grass prairie. He follows a ravine up to an impassable dead end, then hears a strange voice coming from inside a fissure in the hill. He is joined by a Hillman on a walkabout who also has been seeing the rock light up. They enter the fissure, disturbed to see all signs of passage show entrance but no exit. The passage darkens behind them; inside the hill it’s much larger than it was outside, and then they encounter the ghost of something out of their own legends of the sky.
This story is flawless, with beautiful, lyrical descriptions and without a single wasted word. The story is also very funny once the Hillman shows up—because he says things like this:
“You plainsmen plenty fools. When Hillman want kill, he hide in bush, slay from behind. Higher success rate.”I loved every bit of this story.
The review covers all the stories in the ish, of which Ms. Chen is passingly fond. TOF was fortunately bundled with a number of very good writers and their very good stories. All of them are worth the read. Tangent on-line magazine specializes in reviews of short fiction in all the mags and other sources.
Then we have ForeWord Reviews bespeaking my collection Captive Dreams.
ForeWord Reviews appears to specialize in reviews of independent publishers, like Arc Manor/Phoenix Press, which did Captive Dreams. Take a look at it and you may spot books that would not ordinarily have come to your attention.In the early years of science fiction publishing, writers were often coaxed into publishing fix-up novels, composed of two or more short fiction works which were combined with connecting material to form a novel. For example, Gordon Dickson had a few fix-up novels published as well as writing entire novels centered on his Dorsai “universe.” The point was to get as much financial mileage as possible out of a writer’s short fiction portfolio. This allowed short fiction collections, fix-ups, and whole novels to all be centered on one set of characters or the same worlds, even though the generator of the longer works was initially unrelated.Janine Stinson
Captive Dreams is not a short fiction collection or a fix-up in the usual sense. Some of the stories herein were previously published, others were written for this volume. The character set is the same for each story regardless of which characters appear in any given stories. What makes this volume unique is that one neighborhood is the setting, and all the characters in the stories live in that neighborhood. Flynn has also added afterwords for each story which describe how he came to write each piece, a great way of answering the standard question, “Where do you get your ideas?”
Flynn has created a fictional work from disparate parts that feels homogeneous. “Melodies of the Heart” establishes the milieu and the tone of all the stories in its recounting of a part-time doctor at a retirement home who thinks he finds a key to unlock the chains of his daughter’s illness in an older resident’s memories. The title story is a deeply affecting meditation on how parents of handicapped children can grow too attached to their child’s handicap instead of the child. “Buried Hopes” focuses on a foreign-born member of the shared neighborhood who finds himself in need of psychological counseling. It’s an intriguing tangent from the “aliens live next door” trope that shows how devastating homesickness can be if allowed to grow, and what the “outsider” might do to improve its mental state.
As Flynn notes in the “Afterword to the Afterwords,” the stories in Captive Dreams share a “common ambiance of deep melancholy and terrible ambiguity.” Each story reflects the human element of scientific advancements, the good and bad of breakthrough treatments, programs to improve the human body and mind, the persistence of the mind after physical death, and other what-ifs often found in science fiction. Captive Dreams represents an alternative to fix-ups that works very well.
June 22, 2012