readingtrance

book reviews by Althea

Street Magicks – Paula Guran, ed.

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Street Magicks
Street Magicks by Paula Guran
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

*** “Freewheeling” by Charles de Lint
Older story – I’d previously read it in ‘Dreams Underfoot.’ (https://www.goodreads.com/review/show…) It’s not bad, but I feel like I re-read it mostly through inertia. In this one, de Lint’s recurring character Jilly Coppercorn tries to look out for a mentally disabled young man who’s suspected of being part of a bike thieving ring by the local police. Sadly believable, with an ambiguous touch of magic.

**** “A Year and a Day in Old Theradane” by Scott Lynch
A MUST for anyone who’s a fan of Lynch’s ‘Gentleman Bastard’ series. Although it’s an unconnected story, the themes and the sense of humor are the same. A ‘retired’ infamous thief is blackmailed by a wizard into an improbable heist: she is tasked with stealing a street. Yes, a city street. It’s a short street, admittedly, but it’s full of homes, commerce and passers-by. How will this be accomplished? Well, first, she has to gather her old gang and get them to help…
Clever and entertaining.

***** “Caligo Lane” by Ellen Klages
Interesting. I read this just about exactly a year ago, and gave it three stars. At the time, I said:
“”The secret of ori-kami is that a single sheet of paper can be folded in a nearly infinite variety of patterns, each resulting in a different transformation of the available space. Given any two points, it is possible to fold a line that connects them.”
Franny, a woman of San Francisco, does magic using ‘ori-kami.’ Nice, but mood overshadows plot in this piece.”
Upon re-reading, I’m giving it 5 stars. I’m not sure why I didn’t fully appreciate it last time. Yes, the mood and the setting is of primary importance in this piece, but this time, it just worked for me perfectly. I felt myself transported to this wizard’s foggy, beautiful San Francisco home, and found her quest heartbreakingly sad.

*** “Socks” by Delia Sherman
Previously read in ‘The Essential Bordertown,” back in 1999.
At a flophouse where a group of misfit kids, including one girl known derisively as ‘Socks,’ has found a degree of safety and protection, a new girl comes into the fold. Tough-talking and damaged, she’s full of unlikely stories about her mother being a runaway princess of Elfland. But more of her tales might be true than one might guess, and she could help Socks heal, in more ways than one.
I found this a bit more heavy-handed upon re-reading than I think I did the first time around. I think it might mostly be that I’m just not the right age for the ‘Bordertown’ tales anymore… they were more meaningful to me than nearly anything when I first discovered them, back in 1986.

*** “Painted Birds and Shivered Bones” by Kat Howard
Eccentric New York City artist keeps thinking she sees a man turning into a bird – and she’s right. After a thousand years of suffering under a wizard’s curse, the afflicted man hopes that her art might be able to set him free. The story had some nice moments, but at several points I felt like it was trying too hard to be poetic and/or hip.

***** “The Goldfish Pond and Other Stories” by Neil Gaiman
Another re-read. Fairly certain I initially read this probably in 1999 or 2000.
I’m usually not that interested in the whole ‘glamour of Hollywood’ theme, but this is probably the best commentary on it I’ve ever read.
Clearly partially autobiographical, this tells the story of a British writer who’s flown out to L.A. to talk about converting his bestselling novel into a movie. A shifting cast of film execs gradually morph his story past recognition. Meanwhile, he gets to know the elderly groundskeeper at his decaying hotel, who tells him stories of the glory days of silent films.
Multi-layered, ironically humorous, but ultimately poignant. Beautifully done.

*** “One-Eyed Jack and the Suicide King” by Elizabeth Bear
Urban fantasy tale detailing an incident in a longstanding rivalry between the genii locorum of Los Angeles and Las Vegas, played out at the Hoover Dam. (Yes, I admit I did just look up the proper plural of “genius loci.”)
This very much feels like an excerpt from a longer work, and indeed, it was expanded into a novel (https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/1…), and is part of Bear’s ‘Promethean Age’ books. I’m not sure how well it works on its own.

**** “Street Worm” by Nisi Shawl
Very effectively done YA story; in theme if not in details it reminded me a lot of the ‘Bordertown’ series, actually. It’s got that whole growing up/you are special/parents don’t understand/running away to manage your issues on your own angsty thing going on – but it’s done with a lot of sensitivity. Our protagonist is a young teen who’s recently started seeing horrible, nasty nests of giant worms clinging to the roofs and walls of buildings. No one else sees them, and her parents – a couple of well-meaning social workers – have made her an appointment with a psychiatrist. But she’s not crazy… is she? Looking for a place to stay, she encounters an older man who says he can tell she has magic – but is he just a creepy perv?
The story wraps up just a bit too quickly and neatly, but I’d love to read more about this world and these characters.

*** “A Water Matter” by Jay Lake
Apparently, this is part of Jay Lake’s ‘Green Universe.’ I think it might be appreciated more by fans of the books who are already familiar with the setting, as I felt rather ‘plunked down’ in medias res.
Here we meet a character known only as ‘The Dancing Mistress.’ She’s a member of a feline, non-human species who are an endangered minority in a humans’ world.
At a chaotic time of political transition, she encounters a shaman who seeks to compel her to help him with his shadowy agenda. The blood magician seems to know secrets of her people that no human should know – and is definitely a threat.
The world we get a glimpse of seems complex and fascinating, but the story presented here is a pretty simple “showdown” incident.

*** “Last Call” by Jim Butcher
A quick Harry Dresden adventure. Again, fans of the series are sure to enjoy this; but it’s not wholly my thing. Harry discovers that some kind of spell has been put on the beer at his favorite bar – and the cursed microbrew is also about to be sold at a big event, locally. Can he solve the crime and stymie the plot before the brew is quaffed and disaster ensues?

***** “Bridle” by Caitlín R. Kiernan
Dark fantasy at its finest. Kiernan captures the horror and the beauty of myth, in this tale of a modern, urban individual in the thrall of an ancient Irish kelpie, caught in an artificial pond and yearning – nay, demanding – to be set free.
Inspired by the 1904 painting “The Black Lake” by Jan Preisler. (http://hyperallergic.com/wp-content/u…)

**** “The Last Triangle” by Jeffrey Ford
Excellent, dark-urban-fantasy tale. A homeless junkie gets some help from a tough older woman – but she wants something in return. The credence she seems to be placing in some occult graffiti that’s turned up seems a bit off-the-wall… but there could also be information that’s she’s not telling.

**** “Working for the God of the Love of Money” by Kaaron Warren
Reminded me a bit of Neil Gaiman. A boy is compelled to work for a god, collecting coins and enabling the god to gain leverage of peoples greed and failings – allowing him to do terrible things. The boy is not a wholly unwilling servant, at least at first… but not every shred of human compassion has been burned out of him yet.

**** “Hello, Moto” by Nnedi Okorafor
Through an alchemical combination of magic and technology, a young woman has created wigs which allow their wearers to have terrible power over others. She intended only good for the world, but after unwisely sharing her invention with her friends (or as it turns out, frenemies), she sees the pettiness, greed, and evil that lurked within their hearts, and which has been released by ultimate power. Can she stop them before it’s too late?

*** “The Spirit of the Thing: A Nightside Story” by Simon R. Green
I think this one would very much appeal to fans of Jim Butcher’s Harry Dresden stories. It’s got that same ‘urban fantasy’/’private investigator’ mashup going on, with a very similar tone and style. Here, the investigator is asked to look into a threat being made at a dive bar. But things don’t turn out quite the way the complainant hoped, as more crimes than one are uncovered.

*** “A Night in Electric Squidland” by Sarah Monette
A couple of paranormal investigators look into a crime that might be tied into the goings-on at the exclusive, underground fetish level of the local goth club. More things may have been called from the dark than mere lusts and naughty titillation…

** “Speechless in Seattle” by Lisa Silverthorne
I kind of had an issue with this story not taking the wishes of the familiars into account – or giving them any weight or thought at all when crafting its resolution. On top of that, I didn’t think it was very well written, and the romance was dull.

**** “Palimpsest” by Catherynne M. Valente
This is the short story that Valente later expended into a novel of the same name: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show… .
It will feel very familiar to anyone who’s read the novel, but I think it might work even better in a short format. Lovely writing, evocative images.

*** “Ash” by John Shirley
Down-on-his-luck, a man plans a robbery that will be his first-ever crime. However, a seemingly insane homeless man gets in the way of his carefully (but perhaps not wisely) laid plans… and he finds himself plunged into a strange and hellish alternate city where he must face his guilt.

**** “In Our Block” by R. A. Lafferty
Some strange people – possibly aliens – decide to go into business on earth, on one particular block, without making any kind of fanfare about it. And it’s rather wonderfully peculiar. Very much like an old Twilight Zone episode.

Every time I read a book edited by Guran, I seem to feel a need to comment on the Introduction. For this one, apparently she got out a dictionary and simply went through the different definitions of the word “street.” It adds absolutely nothing to the book. It would’ve been better without it. Still, this is a quite excellent collection of stories, with only a few weaker inclusions. Recommended.

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