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Dream Sequence

Author: Steve Lazarowitz
Genre: Fantasy
Reviewed by Elizabeth K. Burton

cover art Those who have had the pleasure of meeting Steve Lazarowitz and his work already know what I'm going to say about Dream Sequence and Other Tales from Beyond . The rest of you don't know what you've been missing. This is one of two collections of Steve's work currently available in e-book. The other one, A Creative Edge , contains a batch of his early work, including one Preditors & Editor's Poll winner and one nominee. The title tale has been picked for this year's Best of the Web Anthology. The stories in Dream Sequence are some of his later work, and they have a slightly different flavor. It's not so much a more mature style as it is one that reflects an acquisition of additional knowledge and its application to his style. That may sound like a split hair, but if you read both ensembles I think you'll see what I mean.

The title story is a fantasy that gently questions whether the line we've drawn between sanity and madness may not be just a bit too arbitrary. In "Brimstone and Nitro," one of my personal favorites, the denizens of Heaven and Hell duel over who gets what part of earth by drag-racing muscle cars. "The Fate of Ambrose Colony" will give you a whole new viewpoint about gypsy moths and "The Gift," a story about friendship and sacrifice, manages to be both macabre and inspiring at the same time. In "Tales from Beyond," another favorite, he offers a kind of tribute to the late Rod Serling--and the ultimate obsessive-compulsive writer.

That kind of skewed vision, and the ability to handle it with the aplomb of a pretzel-maker tying knots, is what makes Steve such fun to read. Just when you're sure you know exactly what's going to happen, he spins you around and takes you into a completely different direction. And makes you like it. His characters tend to be the social outcasts, the misfits who have something about them that sets "normal" people's teeth on edge. Yet often it's those misfits who turn out to have a true sense of what's real and what isn't. There's also a touch of ironic humor in most of the stories, but one that never gets bitter or sarcastic.

If you like your SF and fantasy with a bit of a bite, then introduce yourself to Steve Lazarowitz--and prepare to be entertained.

April 9, 2000 in Fantasy | Permalink | Comments (0)

Dead Man Falling

Author: Randall Silvis
Genre: Mystery
Reviewed by Elizabeth K. Burton

dmfTragedy, loss and an unresolved yearning for reparation have driven Mac Parris into solitude. His barely controlled rage and pain and guilt are a resolutely maintained barrier between himself and a normal life. He makes his living filming wildlife documentaries in which no human voice is heard, only original music composed by former Hollywood denizen Henry Carlyle, another expatriate from society.

It is Henry who sends Diana Westover to Mac to enlist his help in tracking the last few weeks of her teenage brother's life. Both she and Tony ran away from home, she at 18 and he at 12, to escape intolerable abuse. Now, she believes her brother has been murdered, his body dismembered and scattered across the wilderness areas of Pennsylvania and New York. Together, Mac and Diana go to Jamestown, New York, following a slender thread from a postcard Tony sent his sister shortly before his disappearance. From there, the search leads them into the dark underbelly of a small town where ugly secrets lurk in unexpected places while it leads Mac into a confrontation with the ugliness within he has nurtured for so long.

Dead Man Falling is the story of a man who no longer exists but continues to go on living and a young woman who exists and wants desperately to find a life of her own. Randall Silvis's characters are too complex to be totally comfortable with. They are too much like we are, full of unresolved anger and self-defeating obsession. Yet, it is impossible to avoid becoming involved with them. Their flaws, their pain, their obstinate refusal to be moved from the goals they've set all irritate and yet compel us to remain in their company. There is a mystery here, set in the semi-bucolic streets of a small, upstate New York town; but the real story lies within Mac Parris's inner landscape. The steps he takes in search of the missing boy also take him back into a past he can't forget and yet has no desire to recall, and the final solution to the mystery is also a confrontation he must make with the one thing that has driven him for most of his life.

Those who like their mysteries to be inhabited by heroes may not find Silvis's reluctant "investigator" to their taste. Those who prefer a large dash of realism in their fiction, however, should not overlook Dead Man Falling.

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April 9, 2000 in Mystery | Permalink | Comments (0)

The False House

Author: James Stoddard
Genre: Fantasy
Reviewed by Elizabeth K. Burton

55It has been three months since Carter Anderson, Steward of the High House, defeated the Bobby and stopped the depredations of the anarchists. Suddenly, he wakes in the deep of night with an overwhelming sense of danger. He hastens to Innman Tor, where a huge crater marks the location of the vanished hill stolen by the enemy. He surprises a band of anarchists as they remove some object from the bottom of the pit but fails to stop them.

Six days later, he returns to Innman Tor to meet with its ruler, Count Aegis. He also meets the count's beautiful daughter, Sarah, and the count's ward, 12-year-old Lizabeth. Carter and Sarah fall in love at first sight, and he proposes; but on the night of their engagement Lizabeth is kidnaped and carried to the Outer Darkness. There she is held prisoner by the Man in the Dark, isolated from all she knew and loved, convinced her terrifying and mysterious captor has stolen her heart and soul.

Not long after, mysterious changes begin happening to the High House. Corridors vanish; new ones appear. Rooms and stairways and countries suddenly assume a soulless, rigid order. When Carter discovers the reason, he knows he faces the challenge of his life.

For the anarchists have stolen the Cornerstone, the very basis of Creation, and the Man in the Dark is channeling Lizabeth's power as a catalyst through it to impose absolute order on the universe. He is building a hideous analog to High House--a False House--and when it is complete existence as we know it will perish.

In this sequel to his award-winning first novel, James Stoddard recreates the fascinating world where rooms are countries and furniture bites and a curmudgeon of a dinosaur lives in the attic. Not content with that, he now provides the False House, a kind of Winchester House as designed by a demented Picasso. He has also added a touch of romance and a captive princess in need of rescue.

Like its predecessor, The False House is par adventure tale, part allegory and all delight. It is high fantasy at its finest, peopled by characters so vivid we long to be able to step into the pages and join them for tea. It is the stuff from which classics are made.

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April 1, 2000 in Fantasy | Permalink | Comments (0)

Blackwater

Author: C.D. Blizzard
Genre: Mainstream
Reviewed by Elizabeth K. Burton

A successful financier returns home to central Florida to attend the funeral of his uncle. It is the first time he has been back to the river country of his youth in decades, and he is unprepared for the memories that descend on him.

Cotton Lemme was the outcast of the family, an independent wild man whose name and exploits were spoken in whispers, when they were mentioned at all. Yet that was just the kind of mystery to be a lure to a ten-year-old boy whose own father was away at sea much of the time. When Cotton invites young Mikey to spend the summer with him, the boy is sure he is about to embark on the adventure of a lifetime.

So, it seems, he has, although there are times when Cotton's outrageous behavior makes him uncomfortable. Nevertheless, for the first time Mikey has the freedom to explore the world and himself in a way his overprotective mother would have been shocked to learn about. But there is a dark side to Cotton, a deep-rooted rage that simmers just below the surface, and as the summer passes Mikey sees that rage begin to emerge until it erupts in one single horrifying act he can never accept.

Blackwater is C.D. Blizzard's debut novel, and if this is what we can expect from the ones that are sure to follow it will not be long before she makes it to the bestseller lists. This story of a boy and his all-too-abrupt initiation into life both joyous and terrifying is a well-written, well-plotted and totally engrossing book filled with unforgettable characters doing unimaginable things. Her vivid descriptions of Lake George and the St. Johns River watershed bring the sights and sounds and smells right into the room, and her characters reach out from the pages and drag you into their world with irresistible force. They are overflowing with life sometimes raw and raunchy and not always likeable. Yet even the quiet ones, like Cotton's long-suffering wife, Ruthie, have a presence that dares you to overlook them.

Blizzard has a particularly adept hand with language, shown dramatically by the way it switches between the Mike of today and his ten-year-old self. As the book opens, he speaks to us in the eloquent, educated tones one would expect of a successful businessman; but as the memories begin to seep back his voice gradually takes on the rhythms and dialect of those long-ago days. By the time we are fully into his remembrance, we are hearing not Mike but Mikey.

Blackwater is a compelling story filled with humor and terror and a boy's first steps into manhood, all set against the lush backdrop of the central Florida lake country. It should be on your reading list, even if it doesn't make Oprah's.

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April 1, 2000 in Mainstream | Permalink | Comments (0)

An Irish Lullaby

Author: Leta Nolan Childers
Genre: Romance
Reviewed by Elizabeth K. Burton

53There are lots of ways to introduce yourself to a handsome Irish college professor but dumping a cup of scalding coffee on his clean white shirt probably isn't one of them. Unfortunately, that's exactly how Maeve Steward met Sean O'Flynn in the student union.

Sean was instantly attracted to the tiny, blushing redhead with the deep brown eyes, and he thought he could ease her embarassment by stripping off the damaged shirt and jokingly demanding that she launder it. His flamboyance, however, only made Maeve feel more humiliated, and her own attraction to Sean only made matters worse.

Yet despite its inauspicious beginning, the relationship between Sean and Maeve begins to develop despite their best efforts. For both of them harbor a dark, secret guilt that has driven them to avoid closeness with others, and the inexorable pull of their mutual attraction goes against everything they have come to believe about themselves. Inevitably, they must make a choice between life as they thought they would always live it and each other.

Leta Nolan Childers is well-known for just this kind of easy-reading romance that challenges while it entertains. Relying on her own Irish legacy for this latest story of two people whose self-imposed loneliness shatters under the weight of an emotion stronger than guilt and shame, she has created characters whose misguided stubbornness ring true from start to finish. The story is well-plotted, focusing on the two protagonists without adding a lot of outside subthreads that would only in trude, while the savage storms that drive Sean and Maeve to their final confrontation are almost characters in themselves.

An Irish Lullaby is pure entertainment, yet with a quiet lesson that love and truth are the best weapons against self-delusion and loneliness. Enjoy it.

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April 1, 2000 in Romance | Permalink | Comments (0)

Echoes

Author: Saiba Cassone
Genre: Poetry
Reviewed by Phillip B. Burton

56Romantic poetry, poetry of love and yearning. The best of it struggles with the duality of the presence/absence of the beloved one. Presence is many-splendoured: casual proximity, fond memory, or sexual intercourse. Absence is separation, abandonment, and death. The poet explores all of this and comes to some kind of resolution.

A particular resolution may or may not be comforting to the reader. Tristan/Isolde and Romeo/Juliet are examples of extreme resolution which offers the onlooker no consolation. That is, the poet says: "This is Love. Can it be suffered?" It is easy to casually be "in love" but difficult to actually Love, as the fact of Love is none other than the fact of death. To Love in its fullness is to lose one's life.

Echoes by Saiba Cassone is a worthy attempt to capture the multivalence (indeed, ambivalence) of genuine Love.

I know that nature can be cruel and in this way are her creatures; where I would like to see only beauty are happening frightening things ... ("The Last Goodby")

A false or immature lover would like to bind the beloved object and make it fulfill all desires. But Life does not allow this, at least in the long run. For every ecstasy there is a corresponding hangover. Pleasure and pain are inextricably joined.

So much love, so much love thrown at the wind, trampled, Tortured and finally after killed, buried and transformed in the dust. ("The Dust")

In Echoes Cassone begins the cycle of poems by exploring suffering.

Emptiness will become clear into the time of living; sadness will not be mortal into the time of loving. ("Useless")

In the acceptance of Love, transcendence is possible.


Let me not take, but let me give, and after I cross the desert, love
will Glorify in the infinity .... ("Small Growth") In the heart of
man there is a rose, a thorn; The rose is love, thorn is sorrow,
that together are taking us through the course of this life ....
("Man's Heart")

This collection includes a number of real gems, one of my favorites being "I Begin to Know You":

When you hold me in your arms I take the picture of your eyes and deliberately let it go to the freshness of your purity; and when you hold me more intensely my female nudity flies rapidly and enters in a fascinating world.

Also "With You":

In serenity, the universe seems to be a part of our cells.

The cycle here goes from an initial sadness through the give-and-take of romantic involvement, and through a shock back to anguish and torment. The joy and elation of love dissolve in a trauma:

Only an instant, and an atrocious contusion opened in my heart. ("A Moment")

The final note being:

I wish to die! ("Sadness")

What I enjoy in this poetry is its very complexity, which includes simplicity and lyricism as well as ambiguity.

There are a few weak moments: lines like"when the anatomy/accepts the physical connection" ("Obscurity") seem a little redundant. But overall this collection is to be highly recommended for its fascinating depth and diversity.

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April 1, 2000 in Poetry | Permalink | Comments (0)

Dune: House Atreides

Author: Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson
Genre: Fantasy
Reviewed by Elizabeth K. Burton

52Frank Herbert's Dune has always held me in awe, in large part because of the incredible amount of research and thought that had to have been done before a single word was ever set to paper. The scope and depth of knowledge that went into creating the desert world of Arrakis, the stern society of the Fremen, the sweeping tentacles of the Empire and the Spacing Guild are what make Dune a classic and its sequels compelling.

Unfortunately, none of that kind of depth and scope is evident in Dune: House Atreides, the "prequel" to the original novel written by Herbert's son, Brian, and Kevin J. Anderson. Although apparently based on the elder Herbert's own project notes, this attempt to add to the saga that is Dune seems more an attempt to cash in on the original's existing base of fans.

Despite the title, Duke Paulus Atreides and his son, Leto, are only two in a mass of characters, the existence of more than a few of which are totally extraneous. The actual plot of the book--an attempt by the Harkonnen House to destroy House Atreides--doesn't come out until two-thirds of the way through and then seems to have been hauled completely from Star Trek VI : The Undiscovered Country. Worse, the mystery and mysticism that were the underlying framework of the original books is totally absent, replaced with a repeated wallowing in the perversities of the Harkonnens, the imperial family and just about everyone else.

The writing style has none of the poetry and music of the originals, either. Information is repeated over and over, as if the two authors had to keep reminding each other what had already happened. Situations are contrived, dialogue boring and the final resolution anticlimactic. The Fremen lack all nobility, becoming Hollywood-style natives traipsing after Kynes's White Bwana instead of the hardened warriors who overthrew an empire. Indeed, at one point, Herbert and Anderson have a wormrider shout "Hai-yo!" as he speeds across the desert. One can only be grateful they had the good sense not to add "Silver!"

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April 1, 2000 in Fantasy | Permalink | Comments (1)

Sound of Laughter, Taste of Tears

Author: Gene-Michael Higney
Genre: Short Fiction
Reviewed by Elizabeth K. Burton

A young actor sits alone in a park, debating whether to end a
relationship despite his deep love for his partner. A wealthy
intellectual seeks to improve his young lover and is astonished when his
"gift" is rejected in favor of love. A man lost in grief for the death
of his beloved is taught the way back to life and happiness by a friend
who has suffered the same pain. A bereaved, guilt-ridden lover flees
into the desert seeking redemption for his sins.

Gene-Michael Higney's Sound of Laughter, Taste of Tears is a collection
of short stories that looks at the issues of love and loss and
redemption from as many viewpoints as there are tales. In "Who Is Hansen
Waiting For," a handsome, much-desired man sits in a club night after
night, politely refusing all offers of intimacy. The story's narrator,
like the rest of the club's patrons, wonders what Hansen is holding out
for. When the answer finally arrives, the conclusion it brings is
drowned in irony. The title story is about loss, the pain of loss, and
the many ways there are to deal with it. For a bit of sad comic relief,
there is "Dialogue Overheard by Accident," which owes much to Robert
Burns's fieldmouse.

There is an underlying sense of sadness in most of these stories.
Sadness about loves lost--and sometimes found. Regret for roads not
taken or which ultimately led in the wrong direction. Higney has a sharp
eye for the ways in which we stand in our own way, ruin our own chances
and avoid the very thing we claim to want most. With the sadness and the
irony, however, there is also a sense that hope remains as long as there
is any chance of finding true love and friendship, and that sometimes
they can be found in unlikely places.

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April 1, 2000 in Mainstream | Permalink | Comments (0)