Guest blogger and reviewer Veronica here for my first time post. Because Emma can’t have the time to read EVERYthing. Though she comes pretty darn close.
(Emma: I wish!)
Thumbs up for The Very Best of Tad Williams by Tad Williams. Fantasy short stories.
I’m not a scary stalker rabid fangirl who knows everything about an author’s personal life outside of their books. I’m more of a rabid fangirl who will read anything with an author’s name on it if I know I will never, ever, ever be disappointed by that writer. And Tad Williams is one of those who has never, ever, in any genre, disappointed me. I fell in love ages ago with the high fantasy trilogy Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn. Then was intrigued, yet reserved about his science fiction Otherland books, till they sucked me into that world as well. Even enjoyed some of the scattered individual novels whenever they crossed my path, and then back to high fantasy with the Shadowmarch series. Recently I came across the Bobby Dollar novels and was blown away yet again by the complete change of genre, but the retained mastery over every word. Ok, so I’m a bit of a fangirl.
But this review isn’t about those. It’s about me coming across more Tad Williams, not knowing a thing about this new endeavor, and going, “Huh, short stories, hmm? Well, why not?” And again being blown away.
Every single story is either delightful, frightful, thoughtful, or downright fanciful.
We do get some slightly familiar items in this collection, “Child of an Ancient City” which has previously been released as a stand alone volume. And “The Boy Detective of Oz: An Otherland Story.” Which, as advertised is an Otherland story. Then there’s some of the aforementioned fanciful, and some chilling as well. And then there’s my favorite category in this collection. The thought experiments drawn out almost purely for the sake of the writer’s own curiosity of, “Hmm, what would happen if…?” or even, “I wonder if I could get away with…?” The answer to that last question, is yes. He gets away with, carries away with, and generally has a fine romp through some very intriguing ways of thinking about what counts as a story, how stories are told, and possibly a general thumb-bite towards what may be blandly called “conventional storytelling” or merely “conformity.”
There’s the not-what-you-expected tale of “Three Duets for Virgin and Nosehorn.” Where I was expecting humor and possibly parody (and maybe music?), instead we are delivered a series of tales with a much older feel that are both sweet and thought provoking. Then the terrifying, funny, fast-paced story/thought-experiment carried out through an online message board, “Not with a Whimper, Either.” And the adventures of a little girl let loose while the Universe is being Created, and makes some very interesting creative decisions, which in later literature are all credited to her father anyway.
Another bit of creative word-fun comes in “A Stark and Wormy Knight.” Which is both a fun story, and simply fun to read with a lot of inventive vocabulary and grammar. A lovely example from the very beginning as a Mother dragon admonishes her young, “Hungry? Told you not to swallow that farm tot so swift. A soiled and feisty little thing it was, but would you stop the chew carefulish? Oh, no, no. You’re not hungry, child, you’ve simpledy gobbled too fast and dazzled your eatpipes. Be grateful that you’ve only got one head to sleepify, unbelike some of your knobful ancestors, and go back and shove yourself snorewise.”
Yup. I desperately want to incorporate “eatpipes” and “snorewise” into my vocabulary.
Closer to the horror category, there’s the play or screenplay format of “Black Sunshine” which would be fascinating to see represented visually, but frankly doesn’t need to be at all. It’s all in the stage direction.
“And Ministers of Grace” has a more “traditional” format, and is also among my favorites in this collection as I dearly hope it is a world that Williams will explore further. One of the reasons I have come to prefer science fiction over other genres is because it offers a way to both distance ourselves from, and bring terrifyingly close, the problems and issues of the current day. Whichever day is current at the time. Cloaked in the guise of “other” a sci-fi writer can play with ideas, and offer the reader a way to examine elements of history and humanity, abstracted, augmented, and taken to galactic proportions, and limitations. This story is intense, and sad, and hopeful, but best of all, thoroughly thought-provoking.
One of the bits that made me laugh out loud was a little bit of exposition from the narrator, allowing a little of the author to shine through amusingly.
“Partly out of pity, we took Nagy to the 24-hour coffee shop across the street and bought him a Grand Slam Breakfast. (There is no time in places like that, so you might as well eat breakfast. Actually, there is time, but only the waitresses experience it, which is why they’re all about a hundred and four years old. I’ve always thought someone should write a science fiction book about this paradox.)”
Well, maybe one day Mr. Williams should do just that. He seems to have built fascinating narratives from less.
All in all, I’d have to say that The Very Best of Tad Wiliams is an aptly named collection. But then again, I think everything I’ve read of his deserves that title too. But that would be redundant and not nearly as creatively interesting. As many thumbs as I’m legally allowed to have are all firmly in the “up” position.
Disclaimer: We received this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. The quoted section HAS NOT been checked against the final print edition because…we don’t have a copy.
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