Shock Value By Jason Zinoman Penguin Press, 2011 ISBN: 978-1-59420-302-2 $25.95 Shock Value: How a Few Eccentric Outsiders Gave Us Nightmares, Conquered Hollywood and Invented Modern Horror Jason Zinoman’s new book attempts to examine the cultural foundation of modern horror films. Zinoman, a theatre critic for The New York Times, acquits himself nicely in… Continue reading Shock Value: The Cinema of the ’70s and Why it Matters
“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”
– Arthur C. Clarke
Like Water for Quarks is an anthology which aims to display the synergy between the Magic Realism literary movement and modern science fiction. In his introduction, Elton Elliot explains his goal of bringing the awe and wonder back into the genre. The secret to this, he believes, is to embrace cutting edge physics in a way that allows the author to truly speculate with unbounded imagination. “The boundaries between the real and the unreal are blurring,” he said in a recent conversation. “Who is to say that science won’t allow the future to seem magical?”
For those unfamiliar with the Magic Realism movement, Bruce Taylor’s closing essay outlines a brief history. He further expounds on modern science fiction and how he sees the two commingling. Magic Realism began as an artistic movement in Europe post-World War I: It involved incorporating subject matter containing a “magical” element in an otherwise realistic setting. Shortly after the War, Latin American writers (such as Gabriel García Márquez, Arturo Uslar-Pietri, Julio Cortázar, and Alejo Carpentier) began borrowing the ideas after visiting Europe. They adopted the term to describe fiction in which the bizarre seems very real.
It is apparent that a lot of care went into the selection of the stories, and like many classic vinyl LPs, the order of the selections provides an overall flow giving the reader a real journey through the content. This book should be read cover to cover.
“Fishin’ Off the Starry Stream” is a beautiful vignette by Bruce Taylor about a father who takes a day off from work to be with his son. The magic of the story is not just in the premise (the father works as a “dimension slider”), but also in Taylor’s amazing prose which transcends mere English into near star stuff.
“In the Garden, a Late Flower Blooms” by Jerry Oltion is a winding tale about an older woman that begins with the mundane task of going to the store for paint. As the story progresses, so does the breakdown of reality. The character becomes more and more confused in her quest, conveyed in dreamlike prose with a humorous tone. The payoff is unexpected and satisfying.
“Once We Were Dragons” by George Zebrowski supposes a world where humankind suddenly awakens to find themselves as dragon creatures rather than naked apes. This is told almost entirely through the voice of the masses (“What has happened to us!” cried the people.) It is an entertaining juxtaposition of crowd mentality and personal identity.
Greg Bear’s “Petra” begins with the death of God. The rift in reality caused by His departure spawns forth creatures who are not entirely human. A boarded up church becomes a refuge for the remaining humans, other beings which are living statues, and their illegitimate “flesh and stone” offspring. Inspired by the clandestine love affair between the Bishop’s human daughter and a winged statue half-breed, our hybrid protagonist quests to redeem the church’s occupants who are in a constant state of civil war. Even Christ himself makes an appearance.
“The Fountains” by Ursula K. Le Guin is a short piece written in 1960 about a political prisoner who escapes his custody and creates his own asylum walking through the streets of Versailles.
William F. Nolan’s “Coincidence” is a clever tale about a man who is literally his own worst enemy. Nolan refers to this as his “Möbius Strip” story. The tension and build-up are masterful and the ending isn’t the end.
In “Excerpts from ‘Sidney’s Comet'” by Brian Herbert, Sidney is an AmFed bureaucrat in a polluted, wasteful future. He is the unlikely hero, being set up to fight an impending alien invasion, and his superiors are counting on him to fail.
“Crater the Earth” by Kathleen Alcalá is a more traditional story, less science fiction than the rest. The main character has a spiritual moment, but then comes to doubt that it happened after the revelry of the evening leading up to it causes a wildfire resulting in her family’s evacuation.
Kevin J. Anderson’s “Drilling Deep” would have made an excellent episode of The Twilight Zone. The story centers around a man whose recent visit with his archaeologist son sets him to imagining that digging below the ground is really a trip back in time. Or was he imagining?
“The Scenery of Paradise” by Patrick Swenson is a fun world-jumping story. “One man’s paradise is another man’s…” or so the saying goes.
Ray Vukcevich’s “Going Places” is a very inventive tale told from multiple viewpoints. A woman’s neighborhood seems different. Not quite the way she remembered – or was it? She doubts her own recollection but then discovers that her neighbor is behind some strange happenings. When she confronts him, he explains that he just wants to make his business trips as convenient as possible.
In “Blood Tunnel” by Tamara Kaye Sellman, it’s going to take some magic and a leap of faith to escape the bible-thumping rednecks and the bloody weeds. Anyone who’s spent a length of time near Pasco, Washington can relate to this post-apocalyptic civil war story.
Robbi is the title character in “A Special Child” by James Glass. Although he can’t speak, he has an amazing ability which allows him to warp reality. Remarkably, he is able to bond with his teacher, who is also paranormally gifted: she can communicate through mental images. In some ways, this story is reminiscent of the Twilight Zone episode “It’s A Good Life”, except that the child in this story is never malevolent.
“The Dead Man’s Child” by Jay Lake is one of the best pieces in the collection. In a futuristic space vernacular, Lake gives us a single scene that tells a complete story through superb characterization and dialog.
In Robert J. Sawyer’s “Lost in the Mail” a letter carrier delivers more than just junk mail. A man’s past choices actually come back to haunt him, merging timelines cause freewill and destiny to clash, and an alternate history is diverted.
“The Man Who Loved Lightning” by Mary E. Choo is a tender tale of a special gift that estranges a man from reality – and his wife. The descriptions are colorful and delighting.
In the vintage Martian Chronicles era story “Night Meeting” by Ray Bradbury, a truck driver has a strange encounter driving through a Martian hillside. As one might expect, this piece is superbly written – a true Bradbury treasure.
Jason V Brock’s “Where Everything That is Lost Goes” is a great story with a nod to The Twilight Zone and modern science. Brock captures the characters beautifully through wonderful dialog and astounding circumstance.
In “At the Rialto”, Connie Willis confirms what all Southern Californians know: It’s true, the standard laws of physics don’t apply in Hollywood. The frustration of a physicist at a quantum theory conference turns out to be a fruitful experience, once she just gives in and lets things be as they are meant to be.
Pamela Sargent’s “The True Darkness” is thought provoking and thoroughly frightening. As a mysterious power outage becomes more ominous, a couple and their neighbors try to escape their ever-darkening neighborhood.
“A Quantum Field of Ghosts & Shadows” by Elton Elliott & Doug Odell is likely one of the most out-there science fiction/fantasy stories written in the last decade. By using multiple viewpoints and converging perspectives, the authors weave together a text that is self-evident of the progressing plot. It may have too many fantastical elements for some tastes, but those who appreciate an imaginative tale with an outstanding delivery will love the wild ride.
This anthology shouldn’t be missed by anyone who truly loves science fiction and appreciates the magic of the mind’s eye.
- Magical Realism (annmariebanks.wordpress.com)