(Eos, $15.95, 346 pages, trade paperback; published in May 2005.)
Ontario writer James Alan Gardner is best known for his series of novels chronicling the adventures and travails of the Explorer Corps. In fact, all of his novels are part of this series, a very Canadian take on familiar US science-fiction tropes: space opera de-emphasizing arrogant heroism and heavy on beauracracy; military science fiction without the gung-ho patriotism.
Readers of this series will be surprised by the range of his first collection of short fiction, Gravity Wells. Gardner shows himself to be a versatile writer with a confident command of diverse narrative voices. And he slides back and forth between various genres of fantasy and science fiction with equal assurance.
A few of the fourteen stories collected here take place in the same future history as the author's novels, including "The Last Day of the War, with Parrots," in which a video crew on a shoot on an abandoned planet fall prey to the vestiges of an ancient war, and "The Young Person's Guide to the Organism," a deft and intriguing mosaic of multiple perspectives to a startling event. Both of these stories are psychologically astute, with large casts of characters, all of whom ring true.
The highlight of the collection is "Muffin Explains Teleology to the World at Large," a fantasy tale about the end of the world. It's recounted from the point of view of a baffled little boy whose younger sister is perhaps the wisest person on the planet. This already beautifully conceived story is further enlivened by a non-stop flow of hilarious quips, witty dialogue, and clever scenes.
The stories in Gravity Wells are all crafted with a careful attention to voice. Thus every story carries it own sounds, creates its own finely honed reality.
Claude Lalumière's Fantastic Fiction
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© Claude Lalumière 25 June 2005, 29 October 2005