Saturday, August 21, 2004


I've now read Al Sarrantonio's blithe introduction to this anthology of "Extreme Visions of Fantasy" and I've read two stories. The introduction is harmless but facile, eager to claim that any mantel of "the new dangerous visions" must be decided by the readers, but equally eager to bandy that term about in a way that is either arrogance or simply a lack of grace.

But, on to the two stories, prefaced by equally harmless (and yet oddly annoying) introductions, in which claims are made for both tales that they don't live up to.

"The Sorceror's Apprentice" by Robert Silverberg commits fully to neither its exotic fantasy setting nor to its lust story. Silverberg, often reliable, lost me on page three of his story with this weary paragraph of exposition:

"He could see right away that that attraction [for the sorceress he's serving as an assistant to] was in no way reciprocated. That disappointed him. One of the few areas of his life where he had generally met with success was in his dealings with women. But he knew that romance was inappropriate, anyway, between master and pupil, even if they were of differing sexes. Nor had he asked for it: it had simply smitted him at first glance, as had happened to him two or three times earlier in his life. Usually such smitings led only to messy difficulties, he had discovered. He wanted no such messes here. If these feelings of his for Halabant became a problem, he supposed, he could go into town and purchase whatever the opposite of a love charm was called."

Etc. There are many somewhat leering descriptions of the sorceress, who keeps fending off Our Hero's advances, until finally he tries to kill himself by diving into a river, she saves him by turning them both into otters and for no particular reason, she, exhausted (and there is an over-long paragraph about the fact that male otters are stronger than female otters and that is why Our Hero isn't exhausted), is saved by Our Hero who then, with her enthusiastic permission, fucks her on the river bank. After which the relationship returns to normal, she shows him a really cool sorceror's trick, and he, emboldened, "knew now that he would go on searching, forever if necessary, for the key that would unlock her a second time."

Which, frankly, is all just a bit smarmy. We never see any real reason why she should succumb to Our Hero's non-existent charms. Most of their interactions is conveyed through summary, so we get no hint of Our Hero's possible Wit or Wisdom, or of any spark of chemistry between the two of them. In short, there's no wizardry in the tale, but no real romance either, and, caught between those two possibilities, the story just feels...flat.

The second story, Kit Reed's "Perpetua" begins with a wonderfully audacious first paragraph:

"We are happy to be traveling together in the alligator. To survive the crisis in the city inside, we have had ourselves made very small."

I happily anticipated further wonders, but the story becomes smaller and smaller as it progresses, and less ambitious, from that opening gambit. We are told of anonymous catastrophies in the modern world outside. Telepathies between the narrator and the alligator ensue, as does some complaining about having to leave boyfriends behind in order to be miniaturized and saved from said catastrophies...and I couldn't help thinking that Reed had completely betrayed the sense of wonder inherent in her opening...still--those are great lines with which to begin.

More tomorrow.



At 9:43 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm enjoying this close reading! Keep it up, please. :)

in Atl

At 6:05 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks, Mike!


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