Sympathy for the Devil, ed. Tim Pratt

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Sympathy for the Devil

edited by Tim Pratt

(Night Shade Books, August 2010)

“The Price” by Neil Gaiman
“Beluthahatchie” by Andy Duncan
“Ash City Stomp” by Richard Butner
“Ten for the Devil” by Charles De Lint
“A Reversal of Fortune” by Holly Black
“Young Goodman Brown” by Nathaniel Hawthorne
“The Man in the Black Suit” by Stephen King
“The Power of Speech” Natalie Babbitt
“The Redemption of Silky Bill” by Sarah Zettel
“Sold to Satan” by Mark Twain
“MetaPhysics” by Elizabeth M. Glover
“Snowball’s Chance” by Charles Stross
“Non-Disclosure Agreement” by Scott Westerfield
“Like Riding a Bike” by Jan Wildt
“Bible Stories for Adults, No. 13: The Covenant” by James Morrow
“And the Deep Blue Sea” by Elizabeth Bear
“The Goat Cutter” by Jay Lake
“On the Road to New Egypt” by Jeffrey Ford
“That Hell-Bound Train” by Robert Bloch
“The God of Dark Laughter” Michael Chabon
“The King of the Djinn” by David Ackert and Benjamin Rosenbaum
“Summon, Bind, Banish” by Nick Mamatas
“The Bottle Imp” by Robert Lewis Stevenson
“Two Old Men” by Kage Baker
“…With By Good Intentions” by Carrie Richardson
“Nine Sundays in a Row” by Kris Dikeman
“Lull” by Kelly Link
“We Can Get Them for You Wholesale” by Neil Gaiman
“Details” by China Miéville
“The Devil Disinvests” by Scott Bradfield
“Faustfeathers” by John Kessel
“The Professor’s Teddy Bear” by Theodore Sturgeon
“The Heidelberg Cylinder” by Jonathan Carroll
“Mike’s Place” by David J. Schwartz
“Thus I Refute Beelzy” by John Collier
“Inferno: Canto XXXIV” by Dante Alighieri

Reviewed by Rena Hawkins

While goodness is an admirable trait to read about, it’s evil that truly fascinates us.  So who could possibly be a more fascinating main character for a collection of short stories than the Devil himself?  I don’t envy what editor Tim Pratt must have gone through in choosing the 35 stories presented in his outstanding anthology Sympathy for the Devil, but I definitely approve of the final result.   Pratt offers readers stories that portray the Devil in his many classic and modern incarnations; the horned beast of nightmares, the smooth-talking con man, the trickster, the tempter, the prankster with a wry wit, the regular Joe just trying to make a living.  

Reading Sympathy for the Devil isn’t just entertaining–it’s a cultural and historical lesson in how our view of the Devil has changed and evolved over time.  Dante Alighieri’s “Inferno: Canto XXXIV” gives us what is probably the most enduring version of Hell and the Devil, that of damnation and eternal suffering.  The classic “Young Goodman Brown” by Nathaniel Hawthorne, is an allegory about the discovery of evil, of the true (and in Hawthorne’s hands, disappointing) nature of humanity.  A new story for me was Mark Twain’s “Sold to Satan,” written with Twain’s trademark wit and a surprising level of technical knowledge.  Also included is the Hugo award winner “That Hell-Bound Train” by Robert Bloch.

Some stories are just plain scary.  In Stephen King‘s “The Man in the Black Suit,” a little boy has a terrifying encounter with the Devil that haunts him well into old age.   “Details” by China Mièville is one of the creepiest stories I’ve ever read and has made me completely paranoid about my habit of finding images in random patterns.  “The Professor’s Teddy Bear” by Theodore Sturgeon will make you reconsider allowing your child to sleep with a stuffed animal.  Once you read “The Price” by Neil Gaiman, you’ll never again hear a cat cry out in the night without shuddering.

Not all of the stories are classically frightening.  Several are funny and offbeat, such as the young woman trying to save her dying dog in “A Reversal of Fortune” by Holly Black.  A goat is given the power of speech, then won’t stop talking in “The Power of Speech” by Natalie Babbit.  Other stories, like “The God of Dark Laughter” by Michael Chabon, are witty, yet disturbing and a little twisted.

Several of my favorite stories in the collection defy classification. “Lull” by Kelly Link is an odd tale of a man who calls a sex line for a story about the Devil and a cheerleader and gets a very different story than he expects.  “And the Deep Blue Sea” by Elizabeth Bear places the Devil in a post-apocalyptic Las Vegas.  The Devil and Jesus go for a ride together and stop for fast food  in “On the Road to New Egypt” by Jeffrey Ford.  What happens when Hell runs low on storage space?  Find out in “The Heidelberg Cylinder” by Jonathan Carroll.  “Two Old Men” by Kage Baker combines the Devil, Jesus, and one of modern history’s biggest unsolved mysteries.

It’s the rich variety of stories contained in Sympathy for the Devil that make the collection so worthwhile.  No two writers view the Devil in exactly the same way, except for the idea that an encounter with the Devil, in whatever form he chooses to take, leaves one forever changed.  Tim Pratt’s collection truly “gives the Devil his due.”