infinity plus - sf, fantasy and horror non-fiction: reviews, interviews and features
infinity plus home pagefictionnon-fictionother stuffa to z

Brighten to Incandescence

by Michael Bishop

(Golden Gryphon, $24.95, 295 pages, hardcover; 2003.)

Review by Stuart Jaffe

There are so many authors writing good work out there that it is near-impossible to read every one. Until reading this collection of short stories, cover scanI had never once read anything by Michael Bishop. Well, that's the way it goes. I've discovered there's a reason this man has been getting his stories published since the late 1960s: he can write. Pretty obvious, really...

Brighten to Incandescence is a collection of seventeen short stories that mostly appeared in small press magazines (a few are from The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction and one is original to this collection). The tales leap from one end of the genre to the other with seeming ease and impressive skill, so you never know quite what you're in store for, but almost always you're satisfied.

Stories such as "Thirteen Lies about Hummingbirds" and "A Tapestry of Little Murders" grab hold with fine storytelling and a clear, artistic flair. Each is worthy of an award or two, and having both in one book makes the hardcover price a good value. Add to this "Chihuahua Flats", a love story surrounded by bizarre dog racing, and you've just got a nice return on your investment.

By far the story that still resonates within me is, though, "Tithes of Mint and Rue". Bishop follows an overweight woman as she escapes her going-nowhere life and joins the circus. Here she meets an incredible character billed as ten performers in one, and eventually takes over as the fat lady. The sensitivity, humility, and ultimate understanding of these two people, the wannabe and the consummate performer (it goes much deeper than those terms imply), gives the story a purpose beyond the mere ideas presented.

And that, in the end, is what makes this collection worthwhile. Because, even though some of the stories fall apart (including a hit-you-over-the-head 9/11 piece), they do so by reaching for a higher standard. Yes, you'll be treated to aliens and distant planets and ghosts and other fantastical elements, but they exist in these stories with more purpose than just to be gawked at. This is literature meeting genre in the best sense of both words.

According to Bishop's endnotes, this is his seventh book of collected stories without repeating a single work. That's impressive enough but, if you add in the high quality of this seventh book, it is downright stunning.

If you're already a fan of Bishop's, then dig in and enjoy. If, like me, you're only just getting around to this well established author, this is a pleasurable place to start that promises greater discoveries down the road.

Elsewhere in infinity plus:

Let us know what you think of infinity plus - e-mail us at:

support this site - buy books through these links:
A+ Books: an insider's view of sf, fantasy and horror (US) | Internet Bookshop (UK)