SCI FICTION, January 19, 2005

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"The Five Cigars Of Abu Ali" by Eric Schaller

ImageEric Schaller's novelette, "The Five Cigars Of Abu Ali," is a modern day tale-within-a-tale in celebration of Scheherazade and Ali Babi, and yes, even Aladdin of Disney fame.  Abu Ali is a traveling rug dealer with a penchant for cigars.  On one of his rug acquisition trips, he discovers a strange Coca-Cola bottle in a tiny shop, and when he uncaps it, a djinn, in classic storybook tradition, emerges.  The djinn presents his rescuer with a gift, in this instance a magical cigar, which will impart untold riches when smoked.  But djinn-kind are known to be tricksy and wicked.  What cost to smoke the cigar? 

Schaller's story is a fusion of the old storyteller's voice with a modern narrative style.  He does an excellent job bringing the themes and content of an ancient tale into the present, without sacrificing the integrity of anything in the mix.  In keeping with classic themes that delight in displaying how a clever man may outwit a creature of evil, Abu's tale presents a clever solution to a sticky supernatural problem.  And, like similar tales of yore, it demonstrates that greed and vice are traits best eschewed to maintain life and limb.  But in the end, "The Five Cigars" has another moral, another question to pose which makes it a fully resonant tale: what makes a man rich?

Charming and introspective.