Mike’s Prattle


Charles De Lint – From a Whisper to a Scream; “The Bone Woman;” “Mr. Truepenny’s Book Emporium and Gallery;” “Waifs & Strays;” “The Wishing Well;” “Dream Harder Dream True;” “Pal o’ Mine;” “Dead Man’s Shoes;” “Coyote Stories;” John Varley “Good-bye Robinson Crusoe,” “Lollipop and the Tar Baby;” “Equinoctial,” “The Barbie Murders;” “The Bellman;” “Options;” “Beatnik Bayou;” “Manikins;” “In the Hall of the Martian Kings;” “Air Raid;” “The Persistence of Vision;” T.E.D. Klein – “Renaissance Man”

Posted by Mike on December 1, 2009

The Charles De Lint works takes me well into the Newford series, including his second novel (and first that wasn’t a children’s work – this is something of the opposite of that) and about halfway into “The Ivory and the Horn.” It’s interesting reading this stuff alongside Fritz Leiber as De Lint works in the urban fantasy and horror genre Leiber is credited as inventing, that way of meshing the real and supernatural so that the border kind of creates a nice bit of ambiguity to it. De Lint’s a more sentimental writer than Leiber, at least this early on, it seems to me De Lint gets less sentimental as he goes. I had trouble with the first Newford collection “Dreams Underfoot” on this account, some of it was a little too obviously emotion tugging, to the point where I felt a bit manipulated, perhaps the only time I felt that way in this group was with the novel From a Whisper to a Scream. This is an urban horror about a ghost stalker where a number of different characters from a Native American detective to a freelance photographer to a homeless young girl thread together to end up fighting a growing nemesis in the poorest area of town that seems to be the cause of the Friday Night slayings. It’s actually a bit mainstream-ish in a way, certainly a lot more than the Newford shorts are, written kind of like a thriller, but it was absorbing and quick enough to put away, although it was the first in a number of stories where abuse seems to be the central motivation of many of the city’s characters, something that started to wear a little with me over a couple hundred pages. That is, there’s a similarity among many of De Lint’s characters this early, usually a young female teenage or early 20s s0mething living past her means in poverty due to the need to escape a troubled childhood or stepparent. Certainly a resonant theme, but something a lot more obvious when read closer together.

The Newford stories do take on quite a bit of myth and poetry by the time of The Ivory & The Horn. “The Bone Woman” absorbs a Native American myth with a lot of subtlety, here the climax is hinted at rather than broadcasted and it’s all the better for it. “Mr. Truepenny’s” is a neat dream short where the protagonist realizes her childhood dreamplace has been neglected and is true for more than her. Short but certainly resonant for those with an intense dream life.  “Waifs & Strays” introduces another young woman, Maisie, barely making ends meet who has adopted several strays, animals and a mentally handicapped man, who juggles her responsibilities under great stress only to realize she hadn’t been following her path (another common De Lint theme, the sort of new age concept that’s a big influence on this stuff). “The Wishing Well” is a strong novella that includes character mainstay and always endearing artist Jilly Coppercorn, who’s friends with the main character Brenda, another classic barely-making-ends meet De Lint character, who deals with anorexia, smoking and overspending and whose habits take a sharp turn for the worse after an encounter with a wishing well. Reality and the supernatural blur very nicely here with the type of ambiguous ending that really has resonance after the reading. “Dream Harder” is a romantic short short about a man who unknowingly brings in a stray of his own, an angel with a secret broken wing, but little does he know his time with her is much shorter than he thinks. “Pal o’ Mine” is  a very sad Christmas story about the fate of the nonconformist and depressed, narrated by her best friend. “Dead Man’s Shoes” returns to a character in “Waifs & Strays” (and Jilly again) who tracks down the mystery of the death of an otherwise feared homeless man who she begins to dream of only to find his fate holds a terrible secret. And finally another short short “Coyote Stories” about the tales of a Native American and the resulting revival it brings to his people. All in all a consistent and entertaining string of shorts, all that have a deep emotional resonance and a sense of the romantic much more tempered than his early work and all the better for it. And it takes me up to the next Newford novel, one I’m waiting in the mail for before I return to more Ivory shorts.

The next group of John Varley shorts all post date The Ophiuchi Hotline but many deal with characters and situations from the book. “Good-bye Robinson Crusoe” is the story of a young man – physically – and his emergence into his teen years in a bubble world that seems to resemble the Pacific islands (or Carribean – I forget). In a future where sex has long lost its taboo nature, he comes out of innocence when his world is visited by an offworlder he becomes embroiled with while being confused at the moves of a long time friend. But even though he knows he’s much older than his physical age, which can be changed at will, the full story has yet to emerge.

“Lollipop and the Tar Baby” revisits the outer solar system Black Hole Hunters from The Ophiuchi Hotline via the viewpoint of a youngster born during one of these long journeys who finally finds one of the rare black holes only to find out it’s sentient. “Equinoctial” also revisits a theme from Ophiuchi, that of the symbiotes that live in Saturn’s rings and what happens when one of the humans is brutally separated from her symbiote while she gives birth to quintuplets. The story is her search to find them all again, which means finding another symbiote. At this point Varley’s just on top of his game, these are all tight, brilliantly constructed stories that really envision a deep far future vision.

“The Barbie Murders” is the second of his stories to feature detective Anna-Louise Bach on a future moon that so resembles the Eight Worlds moon that the series, originally not intended to be a crossover, has almost been dragged into the canon by fans. But they certainly all take on different tones, using a more informal and less neutral language. In this short, Bach is tasked to find out a murderer in a colony of identical clones. Bach is pregnant and just about due in “The Bellman” a story written for the long promised and never materialized final version of Harlan Ellison’s last Dangerous Visions collection (written in 78, finally published in The John Varley Reader in 2003). It’s good it finally arrived as it’s as strong as most of the stories from the period taking Bach on a crime mystery that finds her abducted and left totally to her own skills to get out of a syndicate that wants her baby for the most nefarious of purposes.

“Options” returns to the Eight Worlds and in this story the long bandied about and common ability to have sex changes is taken to its earliest formation where many are still quite uncomfortable with the idea. A married woman with children slowly decides she’d live to try life as a man only to find resistance from her husband, but she goes ahead with it anyway. “Beatnik Bayou” brings back one minor character from Ophiuchi, but is about the education of a young teen just finally emerging into adulthood on a bubble created as part of the bayou. The story is about his changeover from one teacher to another, after the initial set up finds them all in court over a woman who tries extreme coeercion to get the boy’s prior teacher to teach her own child.

The last three stories here are the few I hadn’t read from from Varley’s first two collections. Manikins wrapped up the Barbie Murders collection, a very early short that’s one of the few that didn’t work for me, and happens to be the one I can’t remember much about. “In the Hall of the Martian Kings” brought me some deja vu, I’d wonder if I’d read it somewhere before, about a crew on Mars whose air bubble is burst when the water shed from the camp awakens the native Martian life. The survivors, left to fend for themselves in an unlikely situation, end up finding out that the slowly growing life seems to have a connection to Earth. Really a brilliant piece of work this one. “Air Raid” inspired the movie and book Millenium (the one with Cheryl Ladd and Kris Kristofferson of all people) that I’d seen way back when, however the short is much leaner, intense and hectic and less “Langoliers”-like than the movie that followed, as future people raid a plane about to crash in a manner that would hint at Kage Baker’s Company series down the line. Finally, the title story of the Persistence of Vision collection and perhaps the best story here or at least one of them, about a drifter’s encounter with a colony of the blind and deaf in the New Mexican desert, a completely self sufficent and unusual colony who have adapted several languages and a society that is so complex that he finds himself more and more distanced as he lives in the colony. Later he comes back to it after some time after missing it only to find a mystery at the heart that can’t be discovered without a major change. It’s a Hugo, Nebula, Ditmar and Locus winner, which probably says it all and it’s certainly great to read those that live up the awards. Tons of great stuff, I couldn’t really even wait to check out Blue Champagne from the library to read the few in there I didn’t have.

And finally a rather early (I think his second) short short from TED Klein, the esteemed editor the Twilight Zone magazine in the 80s and a pretty impressive writer on his own, that I found in the Microcosmic Tales collection edited by Amazon and including a Fritz story I needed. This one’s about a future NASA’s breakthrough in sending a future scientist back in time only for him to be unable to recount their breakthroughs in any practical manner to the past. Perhaps a bit obvious overall, but still kinda neat.


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