Panverse One

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Panverse One: Five Original Novellas of Fantasy and Science Fiction
Edited by Dario Ciriello

“Waking the City” by Andrew Tisbert
“Shiva Not Dancing” by Uncle River
“Delusion’s Song” by Alan Smale
“Fork You” by Reggie Lutz
“The Singers of Rhodes” by Jason K. Chapman

Reviewed by Maggie Jamison

The novella seems to have the reputation of being the complicated and sometimes rebellious middle-child of the publishing world. Short fiction magazines find them too long; book publishers find them too short. And yet novellas often capture the strengths of both forms, melding a shorter time investment for readers with the creative depth and development required to give back a greater sense of satisfaction. A novella can be the most efficient form of storytelling, and has often proven its grit within the science fiction and fantasy communities.

Panverse One is editor Dario Ciriello’s attempt to put novellas back in the publishing spotlight at a time when selling a novella can be particularly challenging. The five novellas contained within this collection run the gamut from heartwarming to grim, from relatively hard science fiction to expansive fantasy. As is often the case with any publication, some of the tales are more successful than others, but overall this collection takes a solid, noble stand for the novella form.

Panverse One begins with Andrew Tisbert’s “Waking the City,” in which young Kuyo embarks upon a physical and mental journey through the wilds of the jungle to the mysterious, technologically-advanced City in the hopes of finding his stolen lover, Liana. In the process, he must confront the technology within himself, which is akin to the secrets of the City and the key to controlling it.

It is clear that Tisbert is an expert world-builder: his untamed jungle beasts, his civilizations, and his wanderers are all ripe with life and imagination. The themes of nature and technology, of civilization and control, are explored in-depth without becoming overworked. The plot moves along at a solid pace, fast enough to keep the reader’s interest without devolving into a rush. The ending is a little predictable, and the author seems to know it: he introduces several red-herring explanations for the story’s events, but in the end settles for the most obvious. The main weakness of this story, and the one thing that perhaps kept this good story from being a great one, is the narrative perspective. The point-of-view—Kuyo writing to Liana, post-action—tends to interrupt the flow of the story, and keep the reader at arm’s-length, sterilizing the emotional impact certain scenes could have had.

“Shiva Not Dancing” by Uncle River takes a complete about-face from Tisbert’s bizarre far-future tale, and brings the reader into the heart of Arizona small-town politics and the quaint, Hindu-esque Temple of Shiva Not Dancing. While entrepreneur Henry Pindon attempts to manipulate the folks of the Turpentine in order to turn a dime on his Turpentine Ranchettes development project, the citizens of the tiny, conflicted community experience a supernatural event, though many of them never know it for what it is.

“Shiva Not Dancing” starts off a bit slow, with an explanation about the water rights of the Turpentine, and the ensuing lawsuit for those rights, which drives the conflict of the story. However, after those first few scenes, the short “chapters” keep the tale moving forward at a brisk pace, and by the end, the reader may not even realize how fast they’ve gone by. The tale itself is on the very edge of classifying as fantasy (or science fiction, as it also walks that fine line), and is practically straight realism with a tinting of supernatural study, less than exhibited in some works of mainstream magical realism. The vernacular voice Uncle River utilizes is pleasantly reminiscent of a grandfather sitting down to “tell a tale,” which while entertaining, is occasionally clunky, making one wonder if the story might be better spoken aloud than read.  

“Delusion’s Song” by Alan Smale introduces Emily, her two living sisters, and her drunken, disturbed brother as they attempt to survive in Haworth, England, (circa 1846) after it is mysteriously cut off from the rest of the world. While the universe expands around them, increasing distances that were a mere hour’s walk upon the heath into a day’s journey and more, Emily takes it upon herself to determine its cause, and its relation to herself and her family, living and dead.

In many ways, “Delusion’s Song” is an example of what writing is all about: the cannibalization of the works created by the great writers who came before us, and the merger of real people and fictional worlds. Readers of classic English literature will appreciate the historical and literary references that form the backbone of this powerful and thought-provoking tale. It is a heavy story, and it will weigh upon the mind long after its tale is told. “Delusion’s Song” is one of the strongest stories in Panverse One.

In “Fork You” by Reggie Lutz, a ragged, wild girl with a magical set of utensils emerges from the woods and is taken in by the untraditional, inbred Johnson family clan. As Gladiola settles into her new surroundings, only slightly tamer than the woods she lived in before, she gets too close to an ancient family secret, one that only the Magic Man of the woods—who made her silver fork and spoon—knows anything about.

“Fork You” is an imaginative story with a strong, irreverent voice. It has a pleasing mix of humor and lurking dread. Its weakness is its ending. While this tale appears to be one of a series following the life and times of Gladiola Johnson, the end of this particular tale seems to sprout from the strong stalk of the opening into a tangle of wild roots, losing much of its strength in the process. Lutz seems to leave the initially strong voice behind to fall back on a simpler, less engaging style. After the power of the beginning, the ending left this reader unsatisfied.

“The Singers of Rhodes” by Jason K. Chapman is the most straight-forward science fiction tale of Panverse One. Conner Hammond, a member of the Space Dynamics corporate colony and one of the first humans to inspect the mysterious alien space station named “Rhodes,” reunites with an old friend from his troubled past. As Conner attempts to rectify a mistake he made all those years ago, one that has haunted him since, he discovers the secret of Rhodes and of the music-speaking aliens who linger in the long-abandoned station.

“The Singers of Rhodes” is a fun read with delightful world-building, well-imagined aliens, and memorable characters. Rhodes, with its spinning torus rings and bizarre technologies, is a classic intergalactic station, rife with mysteries to decipher and the remnants of alien cultures to explore. Conner and his compatriots are endearing, as are the blue, alien Singers. The resolution of the interpersonal conflict between Conner and Davey, however, is obvious from the start, and certain “heart-felt” moments feel forced and verge on cheesy. Still, the tale is an enjoyable read and a strong end to the collection.

Publisher: Panverse Publishing (2009)
Price: $14.95
Paperback: 283 pages