From Modern Mythcraft to Magical Surrealism

Shadowbridge by Gregory Frost, Wastelands: Stories of the Apocalypse, ed. John Joseph Adams

Shadowbridge by Gregory Frost
Del Rey (255 pages) $14

There’s a chance that not long ago Gregory Frost’s Shadowbridge would have been published as a single volume. Nowadays, with many fat fantasies vying for shelf-space, it is a duology. Luckily part two will be published mid-year — which is plenty long enough to wait for more of Frost’s splendid prose that conveys a highly imaginative world peopled with convincing characters and fascinating creatures. Shadowbridge is a watery world that offers limitless possibility. It is spanned by countless bridges and filled with endless stories. We travel with Leodora, a shadow puppeteer and story teller as she looks back at a life filled with high adventure and great peril. Her apparent companions are a manager-mentor, Soter, an old drunk who knew the orphaned Leodora’s parents, and Divernus, a young man gifted (or perhaps cursed) by a god with a musical talent that is a match for Leodora’s skills. Disguising her sex and adopting the name Jax, Theodora tells stories, collects more stories, finds myths and legends, mixes them together, and performs with a brilliance that attracts danger. She is also discovering (as are we) her own story and that/those of her world(s). Revelations are made through the tales told within the novel and all interweave into a whole that may be greater than its parts. Its a good bet that the second half, LORD TOPHET, lives up to the first and together they may amount to one of the best fantasies of the year. But until we cross that bridge, we can’t say for sure. (ISBN 978-0-345-49758-1)

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Wastelands: Stories of the Apocalypse edited by John Joseph Adams
Night Shade (352 pages) $15.95

If you are looking for a perky, uplifting read, you’d best avoid Wastelands: Stories of the Apocalypse. But if you are interested in a wide variety of end-of-the-world fiction, you shouldn’t miss it. A handful of Adams’s selections will resonant with a majority of readers; the rest will elicit varying emotional responses from different readers. But –how else could it be? No matter what tack a writer takes, doom and disaster is a disturbing business and if strong feelings are not involved, then the job hasn’t been done. (In this respect, despite some hopeful stories, this might be considered a horror anthology as well as science fiction.) One of the most likely candidates for universal effectiveness is “The People of Sand and Slag” by Paolo Bacigalupi, a brilliant consideration of humanity’s proclivity to opt for immediate gratification. The gracefully written “Speech Sounds” by Octavia Butler offers a world ended by the lack of words. Cory Doctorow’s “When Sysadmins Ruled the Earth”, although perhaps less graceful, will satisfy most appetites with a knowledgeable look at an easy-to-accept premise: some computer nerds will survive. Nancy Kress’s well-crafted “Inertia” packs multiple thought-provoking strands into an entertaining whole. “Judgment Passed” by Jerry Oltion, a wryly subversive post-Rapture look at religion (and other things), is another crowd-pleaser. For this reviewer there was delight in most all of the remaining dread, but the average reader might debate such appreciation of the diversity Adams has compiled. Stephen King’s “The End of the Whole Mess”, for example, will be seen by some as a boffo story combining “Flowers For Algernon” with “our own good intentions will kill us”; others will scoff that it is old hat. Gene Wolfe dazzles those with the taste and maturity to appreciate “Mute”, a subtle story of two young survivors and how they adapt; others will be baffled by its nontraditional style and subtlety. But, as some folks these days forget, science fiction should stimulate, start arguments, and incite discussion. Adams has done his job well. (ISBN 978-1-597-80105-8)

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