Journeys into Limbo by Chananya Weissman
(Infinity, $11.95, 118 pages, paperback; published January 2001.)
Time was, a few decades ago, that a prominent element of the paperback racks consisted of single-author (almost always American) collections of short stories that happily occupied a territory overlapping sf, fantasy and horror; these collections were epitomized by authors like Richard Matheson and Robert Bloch and Fredric Brown. Every now and then one of the stories would be a real knock-your-socks-off blockbuster, but that wasn't what you expected when you bought the collection; what you were expecting was good, solid light entertainment.
This first collection by a new young author harks back to that era, and quite consciously -- in one of his sporadic auctorial glosses Weissman states:
I generally don't get too involved in characters, since my primary goal is simply to tell a good story. I think this can be achieved without creating complex characters that the reader feels he knows intimately; besides, real people are far more complex than can ever be portrayed in a work of fiction...
It's a statement that may come as something of a shock to many more experienced short-story writers, but in fact it concords perfectly with the Mathesons and Blochs and Browns of yesteryear: the tale is the thing. The statement also of course, through its cockiness, reveals that this is a young man's collection -- which is probably, on the whole, no bad thing.
A few of the fifteen stories in this slim volume (some are short-shorts, all but one are hitherto unpublished) are fairly humdrum -- "Solitary", for example, has a narrator who proves, exactly as one had guessed with a yawn by about the fifth line, to be an unborn fetus -- but none fail to meet the basic standard of adequate light entertainment, and some achieve more than that. I liked especially "Dream Slave", the recurring dream of whose central character features a dream creature who has become so established as to be a fully independent entity and in fact to dominate and control the dreamer's dreams. "Cogs" is a nice multiple-universe story. And "Rent-A-Friend" strays into early-Bradbury territory, albeit without the sensitivity of language, in its tale of a company that rents Best Friends to the friendless.
In short, this is a very promising first collection. Once Weissman has perhaps lost a little of that awestruck sense of exploring for the first time virgin domains that have in fact been well trammeled by others before him, we can expect great stuff; in a few years' time the contents pages of The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction may well be peppered with his name. In the meantime, Journeys into Limbo serves as an intriguing taster of what may well be to come.
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© John Grant 5 May 2001