Sunday, May 25, 2003

Winter, Douglas, Editor. Revelations. New York: Harper. 1/1998. 496pp.

You-all may have noticed that I tend to read a lot of anthologies of short fiction. Well, that's true and there are two very good reasons for that. First of all, I commute a lot and I generally have a book going just for my travel time. I hate reading novels when I commute; It just takes me too long to read a novel at 20-30 pages a day. So, short fiction fits the bill. Second, for many years I tended to read hardly any short fiction at all, so I feel that I'm sort of catching up. The third of my two reasons is that, for some reason, I don't like reading the fiction magazines: maybe it's the format, the variability in quality, I don't know. It's just the way I am. So, short fiction anthologies play a large part in my life. Which brings me to Revelations, a long book of long short fiction. The novella (stories between 17,500 and 40,000 words) is a venerable form in science fiction. Many, myself sometimes among them, consider the novella to be the ideal format for sf: long enough to develop both a convincing science fictional setting and a good story but not so long to become boring or repetitive. Not too hot or too cold, but just right. Great taste and less filling. Revelations qualifies on all counts. It is an excellant collection of ten dark fantasy stories revolving around a rather loose theme. The theme is that the century we are just finishing has been a long and bloody one, with many more dark and evil moments that moments of happiness and light. The stories make a very convincing argument: each one is set in a different decade of the century, starting with the 1900s and ending with the 1990s. The lead-off story is one of the strongest: “The Big Blow” by one of my favourite writers of gonzo, over-the-top horror and mystery, Joe R. Lansdale. The setting is Texas, the event is a boxing match between a decent black man trying to make a life for himself in the post-slavery south and a hired-gun killer sent to teach him a lesson. Then comes the storm of the century to mix it all up. This story is so wild and crazy it was almost a shame that it was the leadoff. None of the other stories really live up to its promise. This is not to say that there are no other good stories in the collection. Canadian David Morrell gives us a great story set during the influenza outbreak just after WWI. F. Paul Wilson's tale of the rise of Nazism in 1920s Berlin is equally mesmerizing and frightening. Poppy Z. Brite and Christa Faust take us into the mysterious world of Chinese opera at the outbreak of World War II; this story's bizarre mixture of gay passion, transvestism, organizied crime and drug running is something to behold. Whitley Strieber's “The Open Doors” is about the long shadow of the Manhattan Project and how one particular scientist learns to live (and die) with himself. Elizabeth Massie's and Richard Christian Matheson's (yes, he's the son of Richard Matheson of Twilight Zone and The Omega Man fame) take their inspiration from the hippie paranoia and rock & roll culture of the sixties and seventies. David J. Schow and Craig Spector's story, while ultimately disappointing, is a chilling look at the rebirth of the Nazi Movement in Germany. Finally, the 1990s story is of particular interest to us sf fans. Ramsey Campbell's “The Word” is a devastating look at fandom and how we are all a bunch of deluded losers who give up way too much of our lives to the worship of fivoulous pastimes. He casts a rather critical look at a guy who writes a fantasy novel that really does change the world and the loser fanzine editor and book reviewer (cough, cough) who hates and haunts him. Bizarre but fun, in a masochistic sort of way. What this collection really shows is how the Holocaust and Second World War, with its fifty million dead, really define this century. The first half of the century fans the flames of the conflict, the second half is still living with its consequences: frequent and ever bloodier genocides, Bosnia/Kosovo, nuclear terror, neo-nazis taking over the Internet. The list goes on. Read it and weep.


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