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Journeys into Limbo by Chananya Weissman
(Infinity, $11.95, 118 pages, paperback; published January 2001.)

cover scanTime 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A few of the fifteen stories in this slim volume (some are short-shorts, all but one are hitherto unpublished) are fairly humdrum -- "Solitary", for example, has a narrator who proves, exactly as one had guessed with a yawn by about the fifth line, to be an unborn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.

Review by John Grant.

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© John Grant 5 May 2001