From Modern Mythcraft to Magical Surrealism

Getting To Know You by David Marusek, Season of the Witch by Natasha Mostert

GETTING TO KNOW YOU by David Marusek
Subterranean Press, 297 pages, $40

Short fiction is a marvelous venue for practicing elements of craft and for trying out new things, and the pieces in this collection document my development as a writer,” David Marusek says in his introduction to his first collection. That’s very apparent in the five (of a total of ten) stories that are set in the world of Marusek’s recent novel, Counting Heads. While well-written and jam-packed with ideas, they seem mostly to be vehicles for exploring that world, and have the self-referential feel of artists’ studies: accomplished works that don’t really stand on their own. This is especially true of “Getting To Know You,” which is built around a signature piece of Marusek technology; “Cabbages and Kale,” which illustrates a pivotal historical event; and “A Boy in Cathyland,” an outtake from a longer work that reads like the fragment it is. The two novellas have more independent presence. “We Were Out of Our Minds With Joy” portrays two people struggling to maintain a relationship amid the technological complexity of the far future; the world building is dazzling, but its extravagant strangeness places the characters in situations so alien that it’s difficult to feel sympathy for them. In “The Wedding Album,” a simulated bride and groom, created at the peak of their originals’ wedding-day happiness, witness drastic changes over the course of periodic re-awakenings–the dissolution of the real-life version of their marriage, the breakdown of society. Of the five pieces set in the same world, this one works best, perhaps because artificial Anne and Ben are as much strangers to Marusek’s bizarre futurescape as the reader is. Of the stories that don’t share a world, “VTV” is a nastily effective piece about media voyeurism gone amok, and “Listen to Me” is an equally cynical exploration of the ugliest aspects of cabin fever. “Yurek Rutz. Yurek Rutz. Yurek Rutz” puts an amusing spin on a tale about one man’s peculiar idea of immortality. The very short “The Earth Is on the Mend,” in which a lone survivor of disaster debates how to deal with a new neighbor, packs a lot of story into a few pages, and another short, “My Morning Glory,” takes the idea of personalized computer utilities to its farthest limit. A consistently challenging, if not always satisfying, collection. (ISBN 978-1-59606-088-3)-Victoria Strauss

SEASON OF THE WITCH by Natasha Mostert
Dutton, 416 pages, $24.95

Mostert mixes just about every genre imaginable and comes up with a captivating “non-genre” novel. Despite the protagonist’s science-fiction connection — Gabriel Blackstone’s a hip hacker info pirate with a psychic talent for “remote viewing” — the novel is drenched in gothic atmosphere and is, at core, a cross between a mystery and occult thriller about the achieving the alchemical dream of gaining universal enlightenment and supernatural power. Blackstone is approached by an ex-girlfriend who was involved in a past period of his life when he was actively involved with remote viewing. Now happily married to an older man, she asks Blackstone to again psychically “slam a ride” and investigate her stepson’s disappearance. The young man was somehow involved with Minnaloushe and Morrighan Monk, sisters who live in a brooding Victorian mansion in Chelsea and claim descent from John Dee. Blackstone is entranced by the mysterious sisters. Reading a computerized journal he falls in love with its writer. He does not know which sister is the writer, but does know the sister who is not journaling is a murderer. Meanwhile they show him how to push the envelope and live with an intensity he never knew existed. Mostert’s Monk sisters are bewitching characters and her (their) mix of modern technology, ancient alchemy, and the esoteric Art of Memory becomes a convincing commentary on how our modern memories “have become flaccid because of all the technological tools we use.” We have laughably short attention spans, are “increasingly incapable of internalizing knowledge,” and “forget what we’ve read almost as soon as we’ve read it.” Since we suspect this may be true, the rest, no matter how fantastic, seems plausible. (ISBN: 978-0-5259-5003-5) –Paula Guran

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