Review: Paths to the Stars

Edward Willett
Shadowpaw Press, 2018

Many students get their start as serious readers of science fiction and fantasy (SFF) in junior high or early senior high. Often they read the classics in the genre without ever realizing that SFF authors are alive and producing right here in Canada. Paths to the Stars offers readers a sly and good-humoured introduction to the work of Saskatchewan-based, award-winning writer Edward Willett, best known for his novels Marseguro and Terra Insegura. The twenty-two short stories in this collection, compiled from two decades of writing and publishing, feature prairie characters and landscapes, comical scenarios, thought-provoking moral conundrums, and more — situating imaginative writing with a clear sense of place.

With their compression and light literary touches, these stories may nudge readers into reading more short fiction in SFF — and what a bounty is available today! They may also be a sneaky way to encourage less avid readers to explore the structure and features of literary short stories in a more palatable and accessible form. Paths to the Stars should have broad appeal and would make an excellent addition to a classroom library and a fine recommendation from a trusted reader. I really enjoyed this book.

 

This review was originally published in Resource Links, December 2018.

 

Review: Hamburger

by Daniel Perry
Thistledown Press

hamburgerHamburger, Daniel Perry’s new collection of short fiction published by Saskatoon’s Thistledown Press, is loaded with clever, provocative, thoughtful tales.  Perry’s stories span moments from comedy to horror to pathos, and the collection explores familiar themes such as travel, discovery, loss, and false belief. But Perry’s fresh voice, narrative twists, and playful telling will keep readers turning pages.

Even the briefest of Perry’s stories are peopled by ordinary folks at unusual, sometimes awkward moments. Some involve little epiphanies, such as “Rocky Steps,” which features a single mother with thwarted dreams. Some reveal universal human failings, such as “Gleaner,” which looks at small-town life and how rumours work. Several stories involve dying parents and how their families are affected by grief and change. What stands out about these stories is their emotional core: the basic humanness of characters in stark circumstances.

Also impressive is Perry’s reach. Some of the stories take experimental forms, from the second-person address of the title story to the alternating narration of “Pleasure Craft,” in which waterskiing becomes an opportunity for remaking a relationship. There’s also the short speculative fiction “Aria di Gelato,” which explores the tiny important moments of a life, and “Be Your Own Master,” a twisted noir-ish story in which a program of self-improvement goes horribly wrong. The self-consciously David Foster Wallace-inspired “Vaparetto,” in which a writer traces the extremes of personal attachment and intellectual detachment, is written with a wry voice and a dab hand. It’s tight, sly storytelling.

Speaking of writers, quite a few of the stories in this book are about writing and the privilege and costs of the writing life. Perry has said that the arc of the volume reflects the development of a young writer, from aspiring to accomplished. The final story, “Three Deaths of James Arthur Doole,” uses various forms of storytelling, including a professional writer’s take, to explore how people create the stories they need from the materials they have. It’s admirably done.

From witty micro-fictions to fully developed short stories, Perry’s narratives are engaging, appealing, and surprisingly emotional. Hamburger is a rich, tasty pick!

 

This review was originally published on http://www.skbooks.com.