This is the third book of Ford’s that I have read in the last year. I have had a chance to read a few of his short stories on his web site, before coming across this collection. One of them is actually in this collection (”At Reparata”).
Here is a list of the stories included:
“Out of the Canyon”
“The Fantasy Writer’s Assistant”
“The Far Oasis”
“The Woman Who Counts Her Breath”
“The Honeyed Knot”
“Something by the Sea”
“On the Road to New Egypt”
“Floating in Lindrethool”
“High Tea with Jules Verne”
The first thing I found interesting was how Ford likes to use himself, in a way, as a character in the stories. Quite a few of the stories feature the lead character as someone very similar to himself. He even went so far as seemingly using himself as the main character (using first person) in “Bright Morning”, but then having himself (Jeffrey Ford, the author) show up as another character he has a bidding war with over an antique edition of short stories by Franz Kafka.
First the bad, or at least to me. “The Delicate” was downright weird. I had no clue what was going on, but it had something to do with a highly ferocious being that would kill people, named the Delicate. And then there was “Pansolapia” which has many things happening at once, but at different sections of time. Meaning that all the events of time are actually played out at once. Too much for me to understand.
Also, I didn’t like “Out of the Canyon” too much, but mostly because I didn’t understand how the curse worked, which is the center of the story. The writing and the story itself was interesting and well written.
The rest of the book was great. “Exo-Skeleton Town” was very tragic and sorrowful. And very captivating. “Malthusian’s Zombie” was a great combination of mystery and spookiness, along with humor and everyday life, all mixed together with a very surprising end.
“At Reparata” was a rather funny, but also a deep and serious story of a king that gives society’s outcasts positions in his court. The position titles are ridiculous and sometimes without meaning. But after the king’s wife dies, he falls into a deep depression. To rescue him and the kingdom, these subjects of the court find themselves actually taking up their posts, no matter how ridiculous the title.
Two other highlights are “On the Road to New Egypt” and “The Fantasy Writer’s Assistant”. In “New Egypt” the main character (Ford himself again) picks up a hitchhiker, who turns out to be Jesus. Down the road a bit, they then pick up another hitchhiker who turns out to be Satan. Then Jesus and Satan wager up Jeff’s soul on a bet that a woman in Florida can make miracles happen, and she has to before the night is through. It is blasphemy, but funny. “The Fantasy Writer’s Assistant” has different levels of emotion, and is a good kick in the pants at epic fantasy writers around the world.
Overall this was a real enjoyable book. Ford is part of a new wave of modern style fantasy writers out there, or ones that blend the genre with science fiction, along with Jeff VanderMeer and China Miéville.