Northwest Passages: A Cascadian Anthology, edited by Cris DiMarco

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“Free Range” by Suzanne Church
“In the Chief’s Name” by Bruce Holland Rogers
“Feeding the Eagles” by Donna McMahon
“Forget Me Not” by Mary E. Lowd
“Still Life, with Wine Bottle” by Jake Bartelone
Image“Truer Love” by Edd Vick
“Wonderfreaks” by Jan Wildt
“Dance of the Cube Farm Dreamers” by A. Leigh Jones
“Mountain Man’s Toothpick” by Susan Urbanek Linville
“The Pulse of the Sea” by Dr. Philip Edward Kaldon
“An Incident at Agate Beach” by Marly Youmans
“A Debt to Collect” by Ruth Nestvold
“Jacob’s Tree” by Ken Staley
“A Thin Line” by Joe Murphy
“Transubstantiation” by Derwin Mak
“General Density” by Uncle River
“Real Virtuality” by Jetse de Vries
“Rewind, Replay” by Mercurio D. Rivera
“Them” by Jacques L. Condor
“Nanuq” by John Kratman
“Squatch” by Rhea Rose
“Slimed” by Louise Herring-Jones
“Sister’s Story” by Krista Dietrich
“You Can Hardly Wait” by Bruce Taylor
“Plot Device” by Eric Choi

The first story in Northwest Passages:  A Cascadian Anthology edited by Cris DiMarco is “Free Range” by Suzanne Church.  It is the tale of a chicken named Cluck and his quest for love and freedom in a world that considers him property.  The premise—and a note in the introduction—sets up the expectation for a really funny story. 

“Free Range” is funny, but it’s also bittersweet.  In spite of the fact that Cluck is relatively well-treated by his human master, he is unhappy because he isn’t free to live the life he wants to with his girlfriend, Henni. 

Church’s careful and almost loving treatment of her characters sells the story.  She makes us care about what happens to a chicken without resorting to the most obvious path of making him dinner.  Well done.

“In the Chief’s Name” by Bruce Holland Rogers deals with the interpersonal dynamics of Wolf, Peach, and Raven.  The three share a need to protect the environment that comes off as endearingly earnest as well a bit naïve and idealistic.  They want to return the city of Seattle to nature, and they co-opt the words of Chief Seattle to make their points, then abandon each other when they are caught disabling a bulldozer.

Wolf is arrested, and later that night receives a visit from Chief Seattle which causes him to reassess his motives.  Holland Rogers takes Wolf from a kid who is somewhat annoying to a person with potential.  Wolf doesn’t completely change in front of our eyes, but at the end of the story, we feel his potential.

“Feeding the Eagles” by Donna McMahon is the story of Dezi, a young woman who lives on a barge full of women and children who are the indentured servants of a pharmaceutical company.  Dezi finds a sick eagle and discovers that her own survival is related to the eagles falling ill.

While an interesting and even touching story, so much happens in “Feeding the Eagles” that it drags a bit.  Much of the story’s focus is centered on keeping the events straight resulting in the characters getting a little lost.  Still, not a bad story.

“Forget Me Not” by Mary E. Lowd is the story of a woman who discovers her fiancé has decided to erase his past when he can’t deal with his grief over a friend’s death.  She then finds out that it isn’t the first time he’s done it, and she must decide if she wants to be a part of his future or be erased as well.

Though some of the punch of this story is stolen by sharing similar elements with the popular movie, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Lowd still manages to convey the tragedy of not only the end of a relationship, but its complete eradication.

In a future where the news has become a constant obsession and small helicopters swarm the skies looking for a story, “Still Life, with Wine Bottle” by Jake Bartelone looks at the relationship between Still, a garbage man who sorts trash into separate recyclable categories, and Shaun, a helicopter reporter.

Bartelone effectively plays with the structure, but ultimately the story falls flat.  In all the switching back and forth between the two characters, it was difficult to care about either one.  Considering that this is a story about human interaction, the lack of connection with the characters made it seem hollow.

“Truer Love” by Edd Vick takes place in a future where a virus causes people to fixate on another to the extent that their only desire is to search that person out and make them happy.  Unfortunately, it is very rare that the object of affection fixates on them in return.  Ideally, they arrange themselves into circles where everyone’s idol is present. 

The first object of Carl’s affection dies before the story begins, and he runs from his circle to a place where he attempts to raise those children abandoned by their obsessed parents.  At the opening of the story, Carl’s lover, the person who fixated on him, shows up to bring him back to reforge the circle.

This story’s central concept is intriguing, even if the underlying message isn’t particularly surprising, and is entertaining enough to satisfy.

“Wonderfreaks” by Jan Wildt is the first story in the collection that really caught my attention.  Steve is a wonderfreak.  He searches for others like himself to share his knowledge with, in an almost sexual experience.  The problem is that there is only so much information a wonderfreak can take on before they lose it and commit suicide.

Steve feels the end coming when he meets Joan, a non-wonderfreak who is searching for McD, the greatest wonderfreak of all, who has supposedly figured out a way to survive.

Wildt illustrates Steve’s deterioration to effectively ramp up the tension while still keeping a strong connection to the character.  “Wonderfreaks” is a well-written story that I recommend checking out.

In “Dance of the Cube Farm Dreamers” by A. Leigh Jones, Cirri is a young woman who creates virtual personas from an office cube.  She has become accustomed to the lifestyle a steady paycheck offers, but when her ex-boyfriend comes back into her life, he tempts her with her more carefree past.

While not a bad story, “Dance of the Cube Farm Dreamers” lacks any real tension.  Cirri must decide between her current life and her past, but the outcome is telegraphed from the beginning.  The concept of Cirri’s job is interesting, though, and the story is well-written.

“Mountain Man’s Toothpick” by Susan Urbanek Linville deals with Preston’s inability to impregnate his wife, Jenny, due to impotence.  Preston loves Jenny, but if he can’t get her pregnant, she will be taken away from him and given to someone who can.  Preston will do anything to keep her, including going to The Doc, a local medicine woman, even though Preston’s faith prevents him from using traditional medicine, and even The Doc’s cures are frowned upon. 

“Mountain Man’s Toothpick is an amusing story peopled with colorful characters.  A fun read with a more serious undertone.

“The Pulse of the Sea” by Dr. Philip Edward Kaldon opens with Cari waking in a hospital and told that she has been in a terrible train accident from which she suffered multiple serious injuries.  The doctor reassures her that she will be rebuilt using machines.

Cari’s body is put back together and her heart is replaced with a mechanical one that does not beat, so she has no pulse.  Not only must she deal with the deaths of her parents and brother, but also that she is fundamentally different from nearly every other person she meets.

“The Pulse of the Sea” is a sensitive tale of death and rebirth that examines how humans connect with each other.  A beautiful tale, very well done.

My favorite story in this collection is “An Incident at Agate Beach” by Marly Youmans.  Marsha and her husband, Jim, are spending their honeymoon on Agate Beach.  While Jim is off searching for agates, Marsha meets a young boy who calls himself Bramble at first—and gives himself a new name each time they meet—who tells her that his brother is in love with her.

Marsha and Jim spend three weeks at the beach, and Marsha becomes more and more attached to Bramble.  When she is preparing to leave, he gives her several stones and tells her to plant them if she needs him or his brother.

“An Incident at Agate Beach” is a melancholy story that deals with the depth of a person’s grief and how that grief can be overcome.  The tone is reminiscent of the original Hans Christian Andersen story “The Little Mermaid”—the happiness is short-lived and the ending doesn’t make any promises of happily ever after.

In “A Debt to Collect” by Ruth Nestvold, Elisabeth Hoffmann is a lonely woman who devotes her time to studying and protecting seals.  One day while visiting one of the seals’ haul-out spots, she discovers that the local fishing companies have received permission to kill off the seals.  Elisabeth comes across them just after they have killed a seal that she named Jane.  Soon, Elisabeth meets a handsome man named Dan who sweeps her off her feet.  Elisabeth’s landlady believes Dan is a selkie, and she gives her a jacket made of sealskin that is supposed to bind him to her. 

“A Debt to Collect” is well-written and engaging.  Nestvold creates a situation that is both heartbreaking and liberating.  Satisfying and well worth a look.

In “Jacob’s Tree” by Ken Staley, a pregnant woman encounters the Cheshire Cat-like Old Jake while picking cherries in an orchard.  Old Jake is a charming character who is not the least bit ashamed of who he is.

Unfortunately, the end of the story is not quite so charming.  I found it just plain silly.  Up until the last few lines, I enjoyed the story, but the ending came out of nowhere—a letdown that ruined my enjoyment of the piece.

In “A Thin Line” by Joe Murphy a mixed group of Martian and Terran soldiers are sent to the Cambrian period to build a base for future research.  While I normally like Murphy’s work, and this story has much to recommend it, it didn’t stand out.  The characters were a little hard to keep straight and the inclusion of the Martians in the expedition seemed random.  I did like how it took very little to put the group at the mercy of their surroundings. 

“Transubstantiation” by Derwin Mak is another stand out story in this collection.  Taking place on the Space Station, Troika, orbiting Mars, a disaster has taken place on the surface at Redsands Base and all the settlers have been killed.  Paul Devane attempted to save one of the settlers using the teleporter, even though it isn’t safe for human use.
A few days later, a teenaged girl steps out of the teleporter booth claiming to be the second coming of Jesus Christ, sent to start a chain reaction that will lead to life on Mars.

“Transubstantiation” is an entertaining story about faith that manages to avoid preaching or disrespect.  Especially charming is the essence of the Christian savior filtered through a teenaged girl without stepping over the line.  I recommend this one.

In “General Density” by Uncle River, Agamemnon Teresticu, a drunken genius and ex-priest, is recruited by Dr. Carol Kaprinov to help create a Low-G Metabolic Stabilizer. The story, while interesting, consisted mostly of scientists discussing their work and, in the end, the philosophical and metaphysical implications of that work.  A reasonably good story that raises some interesting issues.

“Real Virtuality” by Jetse de Vries tells of one man’s experience with a wave that warps spacetime and throws humans into an alternate reality for eight hours.  The situation is explained in the introduction, thereby erasing any tension—a major flaw in this piece; we know exactly what will happen from the beginning.  The main character’s story is alternated with what seems like passages from a biography of the alternate timeline’s Richard Feynman.  There were interesting parts to “Real Virtuality,” but clunky dialogue and distance from the action lessened my enjoyment.

“Rewind, Replay” by Mercurio D. Rivera is a quiet tale that deals with Wynn, a man whose life changed when he was paralyzed in a boating accident.  He relives that day over and over with a shunter, a device that allows him to hop into parallel realities. This story has a neat science fiction premise, but it is Wynn’s personal trauma that lies at the story’s heart.  He is in pain, his entire life has been taken from him, and he uses the shunter to hide from reality.  Rivera does a great job balancing the characters with the story’s cool idea.

“Them” by Jacques L. Condor is essentially the story of a family’s run-in with a tribe of sasquatch.  It opens with Billy Jonas traveling to Seattle to fetch his new wife, Lorna, and bringing her back to live in the nicest house on Guilford Island.  When they move in, they discover that large beams have been nailed over the back door.  Lorna has Billy remove the beams, but later comes to realize that they were there for a reason.

“Them” is an entertaining story, but there was way too much examination of Billy and Lorna’s everyday life.  There is so much setup before the real meat of the story, that the whole thing dragged.  Lorna’s dialect was also distracting.

“Nanuq” by John Kratman takes a father and son on a quest to capture a polar bear and return the spirit of their wife and mother.  The son, Arwela, has drifted away from the traditional ways of his people, and the father hopes to bring him back.  Along the way, Arwela becomes ill, and the nanuq attacks.

Unfortunately, the mother’s situation is given short shrift, with the story’s focus being the quest, and the father/son bonding makes the ending feel like it comes out of nowhere.  In spite of that, “Nanuq” is a nice survival tale with compelling characters.

In “Squatch” by Rhea Rose the title character is a young man who gained his nickname due to his obsession with sasquatch.  He and his family are trapped in the wilderness when one of the tires on their SUV pops.  They meet up with a hiker named Billy Jackson who promises to bring back his aunt’s tow truck.  He takes Squatch on a wild adventure that brings him face to face with his obsession.  “Squatch” hints at greater depth without getting too wrapped up in it.  Though the story wasn’t earth-shatteringly original, it was certainly entertaining.

“Slimed” by Louise Herring-Jones is a fun story that harkens back to the science fiction movies of the ’50s.  In trying to keep snails out of her garden, Alice Ann asks a local garden shop clerk for hints.  The clerk recommends trying sugar.  Because Alice Ann refuses to have sugar in her house, she uses a popular sugar substitute.  It seems to work at first, until Alice Ann notices that the snails have grown.

“Slimed” is delightfully silly.  The only quibble I had was in wondering why the ultimate solution wasn’t suggested in the beginning, since it seemed the most logical way to deal with the problem. 

I really wanted to like “Sister’s Story” by Krista Dietrich.  It has a lot going for it.  Sister is the daughter of God and the sister of Jesus Christ.  She’s an immensely likable character whose father has promised her to Satan as his wife.  Ultimately, it is her destiny to bear the Antichrist.  She spends the remainder of the story trying to figure a way out of this deal.  However, Sister’s solution didn’t satisfy; she makes demands that aren’t remarkable enough to require the quest she goes through to settle on them, and in the end, she doesn’t really escape her fate.

In “You Can Hardly Wait” by Bruce Taylor, Mr. Taylor is an elderly man who lives in a nursing home.  Through a series of overheard news broadcasts, he discovers that a strange virus has wiped out the colony on Mars and could possibly be present in Martian soil samples on Earth.

This story started out with one strike against it; it is written in second person, but the “you” is actually named Mr. Taylor.  Still, this story could have overcome this if some of the action had happened on-screen or the ending had been more original.

“Plot Device” by Eric Choi deals with a relationship that is falling apart.  Sean works for Lagoda, a company developing a computer program that generates stories.  His girlfriend, Kathy, is a writer who has an obvious problem with the technology.  She tries to get Sean to quit, but he actually likes his job.

“Plot Device” is an interesting story with a frightening premise, especially for writers.  I enjoyed how this story turns the usual convention—a creative person neglecting their significant other for their art—on its head.  

Publisher: Windstorm Creative (Presented by Cascadia Con, 2005)
Price: $15.99 USD; $23.99 AUD; $22.39 CAD; £8.79 GBP
Trade Paperback: 470 pages
ISBN: 1590921852