Friday, November 30, 2007

A Typical Thursday

Here's what I did yesterday:

Part of the morning I spent wandering the halls of a closed government building, peering through windows and rattling doors to check the efficacy of their security procedures. (At the administrators' invitation, of course. I don't do this sort of thing freelance.) On the way home I stopped at a library book sale and picked up hardcovers of Prehistoric Animals and Prehistoric Sea Monsters with those classic plates by Zdenek Burian for two bucks a pop. Then (a little last-minute, I admit), I planted tulip bulbs. And I dropped by a bookstore and bought the February issue of Realms of Fantasy.

By good fortune, my new collection was the lead item in the book review column. Here are the highlights of what Paul Witcover had to say:

Nowhere is the health of the speculative genre more evident than in the short story . . . Lovers of fantasy have a lot to be thankful for -- not least being the efforts of Michael Swanwick, who returns with a new collection, The Dog Said Bow-Wow, containing sixteen stories, most of them as good as any he has ever written: indeed, no less than three (the title story, "Slow Life," and "Legins in Time") are Hugo winners.

For our purposes, the stories of note are those set in a grimy, industrial version of Faerie that has been scoured clean of any remotely twee elements: a kind of steampunk fantasy. . . . These bawdy, tightly plotted tales will make you laugh out loud, but they don't shy away from deeper meaning.

This is doubly true of the three stories featuring Darger and Surplus, two charming rogues, the latter of whom is a genetically engineered dog. . . . these lusty stories are really fantasies that allow Swanwick ample room to play with old myths, legends, and fairy tales, as well as to comment upon the politics of the present day, which he does with considerable zest.

But wait -- there's more! In that same column, Jeff Vandermeer reviews Gregory Frost's imminent novel Shadowbridge. And, what the hell, I'll give you the review in its entirety:

In addition to the return of heroic fantasy, stories-within-stories Scheherazade-style are back in vogue, which is good for Gregory Frost and his Shadowbridge, because not only is his protagonist, Leodora, a story collector and teller, but everyone lives on a huge bridge that is for all intents and purposes the world, as there's nothing beneath but endless seas. To call the premise audacious would be an understatement, and yet it's the stories and the characters that reign here, not the concept, for all the glitter. Leodora, fleeing her past, is a very real person, and her adventures and perils are also real. The idea of the naming of things and people being important, the idea of stories being not frivolous but vital, drives the engine of the plot. A cavalcade of other characters, from Leodora's manager to her musical companion, also provide depth. The inclusion of gos and much of wonder in the setting is certainly a bonus, but almost isn't necessary. The only real shame about Shadowbridge, however, is that it's clearly part one of a novel cut into two parts (for marketing reasons?), with the second half to be published in 2008.

To which I shall add two comments:

1) Yes, apparently the original manuscript was deemed too long to be profitably published in one volume. But the second book is being published in early 2008, so there's no reason to put off buying the first one.

2) So convinced am I that Shadowbridge, which I read in an earlier unfinished draft and which I am furiously anxious to finally get to read in its completed form, will turn out to be a classic fantasy novel, that I cannot resist pointing out that I know Gregory Frost personally. Greg and I have been friends for decades. That's the kind of writers I get to hobnob with!

(Oh, and incidentally, Realms of Fantasy is a journal that deserves your patronage and possibly even subscription. Why don't you pick up a copy at your local bookstore, read it, and then make up your own mind about it?)

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