Trabuco Road, March 2007

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"Redshift Dreamer" by Danny Adams

Trabuco Road’s new format is giving reader’s more to play with. The March issue features four distinctly different tales, three of which dwelt with the realm of dreams and shifts in reality.

"But She’s Only a Dream" by Nisi Shawl is all about a muse, the living, breathing personification of beauty and the danger found in getting what you wish for. Laura haunts the smoky dives of Kansas City, moving her head in time with the soul-drenched strains of jazz. Always ladylike and always immaculately groomed, no one really knows much about her beyond her appreciation for the music. One young man is fascinated enough with Laura to listen to the strangest rumblings and follow her home to find out the truth. The young protagonist gets way more than he bargained for.  For once in a piece of speculative fiction, the surprise is actually pleasant.

From the start, Shawl paints a portrait of a woman so beautiful and mysterious you want to get close to her, regardless of the consequences. That ultimately makes Laura, if that’s indeed her name, fascinating. I imagined all the jazz men being torn over wanting to touch her to know she’s real and not wanting her to disappear forever like a puff of smoke. The speculative element of "But She’s Only a Dream" starts off subtly and builds to a fine finish. It’s a progression that seems natural and fits in well with the flow of the story.

I really enjoyed the pacing and the allusions to a golden age past. You can almost hear the jazz wafting in the background. I suspect most readers will enjoy the journey as well.

I expected "Excerpts from The Traveller’s Guide to the Lake Nyassa Region" by Lavie Tidhar to be a bit strange. I wasn’t disappointed. Using nicely flowing prose interspersed with dreams, journal entries, and smatterings of poetry, Tidhar weaves an interesting world for his protagonist, Tyler. Tyler is backpacking his way through Africa, lighting down in the places that will provide the best buzz (evidently marijuana and other substances are both cheap and plentiful). When he lands in Malawi, he starts to have weird dreams. Rather than being disturbed by them, he embraces them and lingers in the area, experiencing a different flow of life with other fellow travelers. Tidhar’s Africa I’ve never really thought about or even imagined. There is a freedom in the backpacker’s seeming randomness that seems like it would be a heady, liberating thing, especially in a realm of the world so different from the one most of us inhabit every day. Tyler’s world is a place most readers would enjoy exploring.

The speculative element is subtle. In fact, the way it is explained leaves everything to interpretation. Still "Excerpts from The Traveller’s Guide to the Lake Nyassa Region" is a vivid slice of life laced with elements of other. The different story elements work well together even though, on the surface, they seem disparate.

I’m turning into a fan of Lavie Tidhar. His writings tend to be offbeat and a little cerebral. I have yet to find a common thread in any of his stories beyond that. I think it’s the mark of a good writer when they can constantly keep you guessing and still leave you wanting more. He’s definitely one to watch. Start with "Excerpts from The Traveller’s Guide to the Lake Nyassa Region" if you haven’t discovered him already.

It’s obvious from the very first page—when the tuxedo-clad antihero dispatches a robot-shark—that Ian Tregillis’s tongue is firmly lodged in his cheek in "Come Dancefight, My Beloved Enemy." Henchmen, evil lairs, mad scientists, and a sexy pirate wench named Zuleikha all figure prominently in a tale that will get readers itching to watch equally ridiculous bids at subterfuge and world domination like old episodes of the Avengers, an Austin Powers movie or the Venture Brothers cartoon series on Adult Swim. All that was missing from "Come Dancefight, My Beloved Enemy" were waves of maniacal laughter and a weapon of mass destruction—although the lair could be one—poised on the brink of destroying/changing the world. But who knows, Tregillis might be saving that for the sequel.

Considering the style the story follows, it would have been easy to go too far over the top. Tregillis keeps the tone just right, moving deftly through a tale that alludes to glories past and the encroaching realities of real life and what it means to approach middle age. Our protagonist reminisces a lot. So much so that I kept thinking how intriguing it would have been to see Zuleikha in her finest form. Alas, that doesn’t happen. It might be because things are different than they were when she and our antihero first kept company. It’s also quite possible that the Zuleikha we meet is it, or even better. The thing about the good old days is they always seem so much grander whether they really were or not.

"Come Dancefight, My Beloved Enemy" is a fun ride that alludes to marvelous adventures past and is an interesting adventure present. Definitely check it out.

"Redshift Dreamer" by Danny Adams is concrete, an abstract, present, and not, flowing much like a dream. The concrete part of the story deals with what has become of the human race, specifically originating from Australia. Driven away from Earth billions of years ago by a conquering race called the Dendri and run to ground near a barely habitable planet, most of humanity lives on the fringe in Arnhem Outstation, and a few braver souls eke out an existence in the Twilight on the surface of the plant, Ngintaka, which the outstation orbits. The abstract part is the shifting of time and reality that occurs throughout.

Told through the eyes of engineer Thomas Kinder, "Redshift Dreamer" describes a human race that has evolved onto a shadow of itself. Paranoid colonists forever fleeing through space, led by a broken down, even more paranoid government—constantly running in fear of something they have never tried to understand and are too frightened to face. The only ones in the story who seem to be at peace are the colonists of aboriginal ancestry, like his friend, Matthew, who are more spiritually aware and balanced.

Adams blends physics, philosophy and a smattering of fantasy to craft a distinctly nonlinear science fiction tale. I didn’t quite get where he was going with the spinners until a second reading. But that is a minor quibble. Although "Redshift Dreamer" wasn’t really my cup of tea, I still enjoyed it. It made me want to know more about aboriginal religion and wonder a bit about the nature of reality, which is what the best speculative fiction is supposed to do.