Like Water for Quarks
Elton Elliott and Bruce Taylor
(April 29, 2011, 312 pp.)
“Fishin’ Off the Starry Stream” by Bruce Taylor
“In the Garden, a Late Flower Blooms” by Jerry Oltion
“Once We Were Dragons” (2010) by George Zebrowski
“Petra” by Greg Bear
“The Fountains” (1976) by Ursula K. Le Guin
“Coincidence” (1974) by William F. Nolan
“Sidney’s Comet (excerpt)” (1984) by Brian Herbert
“Crater the Earth” by Kathleen Alcalá
“Drilling Deep” (2010) by Kevin J. Anderson
“The Scenery of Paradise” by Patrick Swenson
“Going Places” by Ray Vukcevich
“Blood Tunnel” by Tamara Kaye Sellman
“A Special Child” by James Glass
“The Dead Man’s Child” by Jay Lake
“Lost in the Mail” (1995) by Robert J. Sawyer
“The Man Who Loved Lightning” by Mary E. Choo
“Night Meeting” [The Martian Chronicles] (1950) by Ray Bradbury
“Where Everything That Is Lost Goes” by Jason V Brock
“At the Rialto” (1989) by Connie Willis
“The True Darkness” (2010) by Pamela Sargent
“A Quantum Field of Ghosts & Shadows” (2010) by Elton Elliott and Doug Odell
Reviewed by Joseph Giddings
Magic Realism is the intrusion into our normal world of the very essence of magic and mystery, however it is couched in such a way as to make it seem normal to those caught up in its embrace. Even technology itself can make something seem magical. Arthur C. Clark himself stated that “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”
The editors of this anthology, Elton Elliot and Bruce Taylor, both believe that the future of science fiction resides in Magic Realism. To illustrate this point, they have collected stories from recent authors as well as masters of the genre from the past. They hope to give us a glimpse into the wonderful and strange worlds that their imaginations can show us. Modern day with magic seeping into the edges, dulling the senses and making something different. Or, we look at the future with strange technologies that no one understands but yet can make everything change in an instant, like magic itself.
This book starts off with “Fishin’ Off the Starry Stream” by Bruce Taylor, an odd but short story that puts us in the shoes of a galactic creation, watching its child as it learns to make stars and other objects with the raw materials of the universe. A good story, if a little confusing as the lead story.
“In the Garden, a Late Flower Blooms” by Jerry Oltion, is next. A woman, who seems to have misplaced her husband in the garden, wanders into another world as she enters said garden to locate him. It’s a world that at first seems like her husband’s fantasy land, but as she wanders the world and learns of its contents, finds that it may be a world that belongs to someone else. A fun story, worth reading.
“Once We Were Dragons” by George Zebrowski is one of those stories that you have to just slog through to get to the end. It’s not a bad story, but it’s a bit slow to develop and I found it hard to get into the story since there were no characters and was just full of exposition. In the end, I found that I could have just skipped it and I wouldn’t have missed it.
I found “Petra” by Greg Bear to be a very interesting and powerful story about the death of a god and the birth of a new one. A man of stone and flesh, knowing that the world can be a better place than it is now (a world of dangerous nightmares made real), braves certain death to make the truth known. At the end, we feel complete, like the story has run its course, and we cannot question anything else. Except, of course, a follow up.
“The Fountains” (1976) by Ursula K. Le Guin is next up. A scientist visiting France is being tailed because his home country fears he will seek political asylum. He stops to look at a fountain, and the world changes around him, granting him freedom. This a very short story but packs a punch in very few words, letting you rejoice in the freedom the man now enjoys. Well worth reading.
“Coincidence” (1974) by William F. Nolan takes us on an odd time travel journey. A man and a wife spend a night in a hotel, overhearing a man in the room next to them talking about how he’s killed someone. They ignore it and go on with their lives, but the truth of the situation becomes more and more apparent as you continue reading. It becomes predictable pretty early on, but it keeps you reading, wanting to know what exactly happens. Decent enough, and you won’t be disappointed.
“Sidney’s Comet (excerpt)” (1984) by Brian Herbert is a collection of excerpts from the novel of the same name. Alone they make sense, but you should read the book to get a better idea of what is going on.
“Crater the Earth” by Kathleen Alcalá takes up on a journey with a group of people who set up homemade fireworks in an old quarry. It seems the magic in this story derives from the power used to ignite the final display, and how it changes the lives of everyone present, be it for better or worse. A highly imaginative story and fun to read.
“Drilling Deep” (2010) by Kevin J. Anderson is one of those stories that catches you by surprise. The protagonist’s father is a geologist, who describes how, when you take a core sample of the earth, you uncover history from millions of years ago. When he needs a new well dug, a power long buried in the earth is released, and the past comes present. Highly recommended, especially if you like dinosaurs.
“The Scenery of Paradise” by Patrick Swenson explores what happens to us after death, and how we can all perceive paradise in different ways. However, as we move through the tale, we find that maybe these people weren’t actually dead, but rather kidnapped by another being. By the end, the protagonist is back with his family, but the world is different, and he sees it all in a new light. A well written story, but it just didn’t appeal to me. I would say give this one a miss.
“Going Places” by Ray Vukcevich shows us that the mind is susceptible to magic, causing us to lose focus and our sense of self. Kendra, while going for a walk each day, has to figure out if she is losing her memory, or if the world is changing around her too fast for her to keep up. Blaming it on her pregnancy, we actually find there is a person causing the entire neighborhood to shift around to new locations in the world. When she confronts the man, he packs up and leaves, and the story ends in a way you wouldn’t expect. An intriguing story, worth reading.
“Blood Tunnel” by Tamara Kaye Sellman felt more like a small part of a larger story than a short story. In our not too distant future, the United States has devolved into factions, and a thistle plant has overrun most of the uninhabited areas, threatening the few remaining cities and towns. As a woman and her child try to find their way to the fabled “Blood Tunnel” to go to more friendly lands, they find themselves in a strange town where not everything is as it seems. Losing her daughter, she begins a frantic search for her, and in the process finds much more. A stunning story, but it felt like there was so much more before and after it that would have made it all make more sense.
“A Special Child” by James Glass, is a touching tale about a special needs boy and his empathic teacher. Created by the government in some sort of dark experiment, the boy isn’t the only one of his kind. They can all meet in another place, where they are free of their disabilities and can be happy and free. I found the tale heartwarming and engrossing. A good one for anyone to read.
“The Dead Man’s Child” by Jay Lake lives up to the storytelling prowess that Lake has given in the past. A girl who’s father used to “ride the high lines” before he vanished, finds it hard to live in his shadow, especially since she doesn’t understand what he did. Only when she is about to come of age and she questions what it all means does she finally come to understand, and along with her teacher, finally can meet her father. A strong message of faith and understanding lies in these pages, and I highly recommend this story to everyone.
“Lost in the Mail” (1995) by Robert J. Sawyer asks the question “What if I made a different choice in life at that point in time?” A man opens his mailbox to find mail that is addressed to him, but yet isn’t his at all. Delving into it, he finds that the person who shares his name also shares the life he would have lived had he made a different choice. Confronting the mailman, he finds that the truth is far more stunning, and that your friendly postman may be a great deal more than just a mail carrier. A fun story, making all of us wonder the same question at its end.
“The Man Who Loved Lightning” by Mary E. Choo takes us along with a man who, after struck by lightning, finds he can commune with the plants and help them grow. Wishing to take it further, he submits to the lightning again, and becomes one with the essence of nature. Unfortunately, it leaves behind his wife, who misses him dearly, and will do anything to have him back, or to join him in his new life. The gardener in me really enjoyed this story, and I look forward to seeing what Ms. Choo may have next.
“Night Meeting” (1950) by Ray Bradbury takes place in the same story universe as The Martian Chronicles. A chance meeting with a Martian on human inhabited Mars takes an unexpected twist as we try to decide if the Martians and the humans inhabit the world at the same time without knowing it, or if an unusual twist in time and space brought these two unlikely beings together for this meeting. I found it thought provoking, and a good example of Bradbury’s genius.
“Where Everything That Is Lost Goes” by Jason V. Brock challenges what we know of the progression of time, and asks if we can overcome something as simple as aging if we simply choose to believe that we will not age. When a man runs into an old friend, and finds that he hasn’t aged a bit since their last meeting decades ago, he looks back on his own life and wonders if this man is for real, and by the end, if he can reclaim his own lost youth. This is a good story, but it can be a bit confusing at times.
“At the Rialto” (1989) by Connie Willis, is confusing and frustrating at best. Despite knowing pretty quickly that the story is a play on topics from physics like Schrödinger’s cat, chaos theory and the Heisenberg uncertainty principle, it can be hard to follow. While the story doesn’t require knowledge of physics, I get the feeling it would help. At the end of the story I felt like I had been left out of a joke, or that maybe the joke was on me. While I suggest you read it, pay close attention lest you get lost in the shuffle.
“The True Darkness” (2010) by Pamela Sargent, is one of the more intriguing and disturbing stories in this book. A couple, at home watching TV, experience a blackout so profound that they can see nothing at all and it cancels out all forms of light. As they try to figure out what happens, the true terror of the situation comes to light, and leaves the reader hanging at the end, knowing that it is, indeed, the end. An incredible story, one worth reading.
“A Quantum Field of Ghosts & Shadows” (2010) by Elton Elliott and Doug Odell is the final story in this collection. Despite this being a book about Magic Realism, this story read more like a regular science fiction story involving powerful technology thousands of years beyond our comprehension. Placing it at the end of the book was a poor choice to finish off this anthology.