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The Moon Maid and other Fantastic Adventures by R García y Robertson (Golden Gryphon Press, $22.95, 275 pages, hardback. ISBN 0-9655901-8-6. Published 23 March 1998.)

The name of R García y Robertson has been familiar to this reviewer for some time, but The Moon Maid is the first of his books that I have read. For two reasons I was pleased to have had no previous encounters. The first of these reasons was that I could look at The Moon Maid with completely clear vision, unprejudiced by any opinions that I might have formed by reading (for example) the wonderfully-titled The Virgin and the Dinosaur (1996). And the second reason - it being far more important - was that I could discover this fresh and breathtaking talent completely anew.

What a nourishing collection of stories The Moon Maid is! Truly wonderful stuff. At times he writes a little like Heinlein, at times a little like Asimov; but equally, at times he writes like any of the amphetamine-wired iconoclasts of the New School. His style is adaptable, malleable... and in a funny sort of way, kind of beautiful.

I used the word nourishing, and nourishing I meant. This is an extremely worthwhile collection, brimmed to breaking with good work. It is so rich that the reader cannot believe that he will require more of the same for some time. The first story, "Gypsy Trade", is a densely cinematic piece, which indeed has attracted some studio attention. It is also a story that delves into Spanish influences, which might or might not (judging the author by his surname) be relevant to García y Robertson's heritage. In this long tale, a time- travelling good Samaritan (a misplaced Jimmy Savile figure) helps those who need his assistance. It comes as no surprise to learn that García y Robertson was trained to be a professional historian; his stories are saturated in learning - and "Gypsy Trade" is no exception. I discovered much about the racism that certain Romany tribes have endured down the ages, and if I were to offer one small complaint (about this story and a couple of others) it would be this: that occasionally it seems as though the author is proffering a fact too many. I was reminded of that old cliché: "I've suffered for my art. Now it's your turn."

But I stress, it's a small complaint, this question of balance. And it's entirely a subjective point anyway; another reader might enjoy all of García y Robertson's factual interjections. Personally, the intricacies of a fast- placed plot were very much to taste. One character takes a weapon back in time in order to strike a bargain with the captor of a young woman. The weapon is regarded by the captor as a wonderful thing to have for looming conflicts; but little does he know, he has not been left any extra ammunition... Other characters visit old cellmates, decades on. And all the while, some art thieves (who are after a few of the Dutch masters) are at work. "Gypsy Trade" is a story that involves a great deal of things going wrong; not to mention the plan to disguise the selling of paintings. Interrogations occur. The ugly skull of Nazism, taken backwards through time, is given flesh and blood, in more ways than one. And a concentration camp looms...

There is more travelling - more arrival - and more deliverance into an unwanted destiny in the collection's second story, "Four Kings and an Ace". From Hong Kong to San Francisco a young girl of fifteen years - named (ahem) Boy Toy - is travelling in order to find the place of her wishes and dreams. Needless to say, San Francisco ("a strange name, neither Cantonese nor English") coolly disillusions her. Her all-engulfing innocence does not see the trap of prostitution that is waiting for her. But as the story's title might lead one to believe, this is actually a tale about gambling. As García y Robertson puts it in his Preface, "the main purpose of the story was to remind the reader that slavery existed in California long after it ended in Alabama and Mississippi".

"Cast on a Distant Shore" contains some nice imagery and some great ideas. The perils of diving are held up for inspection; the claustrophobia of being under water is as frighteningly portrayed as it is in (say) Doris Lessing's "Through the Tunnel". The sentences and paragraphs seem nicely balanced and timed. Furthermore, this reviewer particularly enjoyed the notion of mankind being low on the food chain for once, and the fish that chameleon themselves into nastier beasts when in the presence of a predator - these fish were also well-described. But this story's strong point is the developments in the relationship between two divers, one male and one female.

The collection's title story, "The Moon Maid", is not at all what this reviewer expected. Which is a good thing. R García y Robertson explores the reality of Amazon women - or the reality, at least, as he as an historian has interpreted it. It is a fascinating piece. Forget about coiffured man-tamers in some of the Tarzan stories! García y Robertson has written a tale from the point of view of an intelligent and feisty woman whose skills reside in the understanding of lions. Bizarre and beautiful...

Elsewhere (for by now, only half of this book has been looked at) there are plenty of other treats. "Gone to Glory" is slightly weaker than the rest of the book's contents, but is still interesting. "The Wagon God's Wife" is a brilliant title and an intelligent inspection of Norse mythology; and "The Other Magpie" contains many sentences such as the following: "Plenty Good entertained the women by telling them how the Long Knives had gotten lost, mistaking Prairie Dog Creek for Little Goose Creek." It takes a look at the struggles between white men and Crow Indians, circa Little Big Horn. And "Werewolves of Luna" is (in the author's words) "a rip-roaring science-fiction tale, with rocket ships, aliens, space werewolves, and virtual vampires". Containing strong female characters and endearing plots, The Moon Maid is a hypermarket of fresh ideas - a one-stop shop for the exotic.

The Moon Maid and other Fantastic Adventures is published by Golden Gryphon Press, 3002 Perkins Road Urbana, IL 61802, USA.
UK Representative: Cold Tonnage Books (Andy Richards).

Review by David Mathew.

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© David Mathew 11 April 1998