book reviews by Althea

The Very Best of Tad Williams ***

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Recommended for anyone seeking an overview of Tad Williams’ career. He may be better known for his epic and lengthy novels, but he’s also published quite a variety of short pieces over the years. The collection really shows the breadth of his work.

“The Old Scale Game”
A very light-hearted and humorous take on the old tale of the traveling dragon-slayer. As in some other similiar stories I’ve read, the dragon ends up making an agreement with the knight… but this one takes it one step further.

“The Storm Door”
A paranormal investigator goes to talk to his elderly godfather about some of the strange, possession-related phenomena he’s been seeing lately. He’s hoping for advice… what he gets is something else.

“The Stranger’s Hands”
A re-read – I’ve actually read this twice before, in the ‘Wizards’ anthology, edited by Jack Dann and in the ‘Stark and Wormy Knight’ collection. I do really love the story. A village takes in two wanderers – a man who seems to have lost his wits in an injury, and his caretaker. Soon, it is discovered that some who touch the disabled man’s hands have their heart’s desire magically granted. Soon, the needy flock to the town in hopes of having their wishes granted. But with greater exposure comes the revelation that the village’s miracle man is (or was) actually one of the most powerful, dangerous, and evil wizards around. Is there some trick here? A well-crafted and thought-provoking tale.

“Child of an Ancient City”
‘Dracula’ meets ‘The 1001 Nights’ in this tale of a trading caravan that meets a supernatural horror in some foreign woods. Nicely done – although the sad tales weren’t all that sad… but I guess that was part of the point…

“The Boy Detective of Oz” (An Otherland Story)
A murder mystery (?) set in a weird simulation of Oz, which will be familiar to readers of Williams’ ‘Otherland’ series. As a matter of fact, I’d suggest reading ‘Otherland’ first, because this story doesn’t give a lot of background. It’s quite fun (and refreshing), however, to see Williams playing with themes and characters from L. Frank Baum’s books, rather than the done-to-death film.

“Three Duets for Virgin and Nosehorn”
Previously read, this one in the anthology “Immortal Unicorn.” ‘A resentful priest of the Inquisition is charged with accompanying a mysterious box on a sea voyage.
A Dutch maid is asked to model for a visiting artist.
A young Thai princess encounters a handsome and arrogant warrior.
Interesting, and well-written.’

“Not with a Whimper, Either”
A fan in an Internet chatroom (it’s 2002) encounters an emergent AI. Feels a bit dated, today – but that’s kind of part of the charm.

“Some Thoughts Re: Dark Destroyer”
Written in a format of a formal editor’s memo to a professional writer of artist – except that the content is all about a teenage boy’s juvenile and less-than-tasteful hand-drawn comics. I feel like other people would find this funnier than I did.

“Z is for…”
A man wakes up in the midst of a party, dazed and confused. He can’t quite remember where he is, or who the people around him are – although they all seem familiar. Revealing more than that would be a spoiler… but I can say I really liked this one.

“Monsieur Vergalant’s Canard”
This weird vignette features the simulacrum of a duck, presented for the entertainment of the aristocracy.

“The Stuff that Dreams are Made Of”
Noir-style detective fiction. An attractive young woman comes to one of her recently-deceased father’s old colleagues with what she believes may be a clue shedding light on his untimely death: a photograph with a cryptic message, and the faces of several of his other former schoolmates – at a program for stage magicians – circled. Magic and mystery mix, as the two investigate whether the supposed suicide or accident may actually have been murder.

“Fish Between Friends”
This may be one of the most entertaining takes on a story of three wishes that I’ve ever heard. Told in the format of a traditional fable, the familiar elements get an original twist that gave me a good chuckle.

“Every Fuzzy Beast of the Earth, Every Pink Fowl of the Air”
Sofia (wisdom) in the form of a little girl, shows up while the angels Gabriel and Metatron are doing the work of creating the Earth – and gives them some suggestions. Irreverent and fun.

“A Stark and Wormy Knight”
A re-read – from the collection of the same title: ‘A humorous dragon story, full of playful language.’ Goes very well with ‘The Old Scale Game.’

“Omnitron, What Ho!”
Another humorous piece playing on tropes from both space opera and 19th-century fiction. A disfavored nephew is sent by a domineering relative to make sure his cousin doesn’t marry a woman that isn’t wanted in their aristocratic family. Along with the nephew is sent a robotic butler, to make sure he does as he’s told, and to keep him out of trouble. The butler does, indeed, keep him out of trouble – to a larger degree than anticipated.

“Black Sunshine”
Another re-read (from A Stark and Wormy Knight): “This is a screenplay for what would be a really-not-very-good (and rather short) B-movie based on our social paranoia about drugs.

“And Ministers of Grace”
Another one from ‘A Stark And Wormy Knight.’ I do really like this story. “Really well done. From the point of view of a future religious terrorist/assassin who sees the ubiquitous advertising of the future as evidence of our sinful ways. As Williams notes, it could work well as the opener to an epic story. I especially like that the Christians and Muslims are working together against the science/technology-based society – makes sense.”


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