Buy F&SF • Read F&SF • Contact F&SF • Advertise In F&SF • Blog • Forum

July 2002
Book Reviews
Charles de Lint
Elizabeth Hand
Michelle West
James Sallis
Chris Moriarty
Plumage from Pegasus
Off On a Tangent: F&SF Style
Kathi Maio
Lucius Shepard
Gregory Benford
Pat Murphy & Paul Doherty
Jerry Oltion
Coming Attractions
F&SF Bibliography: 1949-1999
Index of Title, Month and Page sorted by Author

Current Issue • Departments • Bibliography

Books To Look For
by Charles de Lint

Counting Coup, by Jack Dann,
Forge Books, 2001; $24.95

There are actually three stories at work here in Jack Dann's Counting Coup (originally published in Australia in 2000 as Bad Medicine). Which one you find will depend on what you bring to the table when you read it.

The obvious story is that of Charlie Sarris and John Stone, two old men, one white, one Indian, having a last hurrah of a road trip. Sarris has emphysema and a drinking problem. He's a handyman with no real work, no prospects, a wife and family to support, and little to show for all the years he's been in the world. Stone is an alcoholic medicine man, usually too drunk to practice healing. Together they bring out the worst in each other as they steal cars, rob liquor stores, drink too much whiskey, smoke too much dope, and generally careen their way from Binghamton, New York to southern Florida.

This isn't a happy-go-lucky story. It's one of desperation and despair. But there's another, less obvious story present as well, relevant only in how much you're willing to suspend your disbelief. It's never laid out in simple black and white--not for the characters, not for the reader--but it lends another level of explanation to the journey Sarris and Stone undertake.

In this story, shortly after a healing sweat ceremony that goes wrong, the two men end up on the receiving end of bad medicine cast by Joseph Whiteshirt, an evil shaman who was once a friend of Stone's. The drinking stays Whiteshirt's power over them. The trip south is to confront Whiteshirt and deal with his threat. And in this story, Sarris and Stone bring out the best in each other.

Nothing turns out quite as anyone might expect--either the characters or the readers. And depending on which of the above stories you accept, you'll consider this to be either a depressing book, or a poignant and, in the end, even uplifting one.

Or you can view it as the third book I mentioned above: a combination of those two storylines, each existing separately and simultaneously, which is what I did. In this third book, Dann has pulled off a very difficult task: he's made us care about people we don't necessarily like, understanding actions we don't agree with. He has combined earthy decadence and selfishness with high spirituality and leaves us with the uncomfortable thought that they might always be entwined.

But then we're all like that. We all have a body and a spirit. We all have weaknesses and strengths. And in the end, like Sarris and Stone discover on this journey that we vicariously take with them, perhaps the true test of our mettle isn't who we think we are, but who we allow ourselves to be.

I didn't always like this book, but it's one I'll reread and highly recommend.

*     *     *

Aria: A Midwinter's Dream, by Brian Holquin,
Image Comics, 2002; $4.95

In the Garden of Poisonous Flowers, by Caitlín R. Kiernan,
Subterranean Press, 2002; $20.00

Consumed, Reduced to Beautiful Grey Ashes, by Linda D. Addison,
Space and Time, 2002; $7.00

A steady stream of booklets and chapbooks makes its way into my post office box, but I never seem to have the time to discuss many of them. So this month I'm determined to consider at least a few.

On its back cover, Aria: A Midwinter's Dream is blurbed as an ideal introduction to the comic book Aria, a series featuring adult, new-told fairy tales in a contemporary setting. And perhaps it is, but it also stands admirably on its own.

We're given four short vignettes, each dealing with a principal character from the comic. Three are in prose and one in verse, with "The Pug's Tale," in which a test of loyalty bangs up against a take on Billy Goat Gruff set in WWII, being my favorite.

The art is by Jay Anacleto and while it's as good as we've come to expect from him, it does appear to be old spot art, recycled for use here, as none of it seems particularly specific to the material on hand. But for under five dollars, the booklet is a great package.

Caitlín R. Kiernan's novella is a strange and fascinating piece of Gothica, apparently giving us a glimpse into the life of one of the characters from Kiernan's novel Threshold, before the events in that book take place. (I don't know because I haven't read the novel; it's still sitting on a shelf with far too many other unread books.)

In it we're introduced to Darcy Flammarion, an orphaned albino girl who hunts monsters at the bequest of the angels that only she can hear. Unfortunately for Darcy, she gets picked up while hitchhiking in south Georgia by a carload of those monsters who deliver her to a mansion of even more demented women.

Not a great deal happens in its few pages, but In the Garden of Poisonous Flowers is a like a necklace of dark jewels that's been dropped in blood. The prose is rich and evocative, delivering shadows and grotesqueries, each a little darker than the one preceding it. It's not a particularly pleasant journey, but it's certainly an unforgettable one.

Lastly we have Linda A. Addison's poetry collection, Consumed, Reduced to Beautiful Grey Ashes, which is easily my favorite of the three booklets under discussion here.

The appreciation of poetry is highly subjective and, frankly, difficult to discuss without resorting to scholarly analysis. So let me just say that much of what's collected here is genre-specific poetry (by which I mean, the subject matter fits into a certain genre), but Addison manages to keep the spirit of poetry foremost. In other words, she brings a tight focus to small, intimate details which in turn illuminate and echo larger concerns. It just happens that some of the subjects contain elements of fantasy, myth, or horror.

What I like about her work is that it reads like the observations you might get from a friend--albeit a friend with a gift of language and insight, who's been let into a few more secrets about what's out there in the world than the rest of us might have experienced. Her style appears simple, even conversational, but the reader--or at least this reader--keeps coming back to this phrase, or those lines, savoring their utter suitability.

And that's actually harder to pull off than you might think.

*     *     *

Myth & Magic: The Art of John Howe
HarperCollins-UK, 2001; Cdn$43.95

I hope it won't be considered a conflict of interest (Howe has done the dust jackets for a few of my books and I have a brief appreciation of his art in the book), but I couldn't resist making mention of this new monograph. Considering how much I like his work, and how interest in Lord of the Rings is so high these days, it seems entirely appropriate to bring it to your attention. And it's not like I would benefit personally from any of its sales.

Howe, along with Alan Lee, was one of the chief designers for Peter Jackson's film adaptation of Tolkien's trilogy. As Lee says in his afterword, "Our labours seemed to divide quiet naturally, with John concentrating on the darker aspects of Middle Earth . . . while I kept mainly to the safer side of the Anduin."

There are many reproductions of Howe's Tolkien art collected here--both earlier work and paintings for the film. But there is also a wealth of other artwork taken from book jackets and games, a few sketches (Howe apparently doesn't like to sketch), autobiographical material from Howe, and a number of appreciations of his work by authors lucky enough to have it on their book covers.

It's a lovely package, one that should find an appreciative home in the library of many fantasy art lovers.

*     *     *

Offerings: The Art of Brom,
Sterling Publishing, 2001; $29.95

But while Howe also does lighter work, the subject matter of the artist known as Brom definitely stays on the dark end of the spectrum. The art collected in Offerings originally appeared as book covers and illustrations for comics, movies, computer games, and collectible cards. It's unabashedly grim: a carousel of goths and ghouls and demons, slinky ladies, brawny barbarians, and dragons.

What I find most interesting about Brom's work is that unlike that of many of his peers in the illustrative field, his subjects usually remain individual. Their features have edges and character. I also like the rich background texture in many of the pieces.

The book is short on text, but makes up for that with plenty of reproductions, printed on good heavy stock and vibrant with color. And while I can't imagine having many of these paintings on my walls (just saying I could afford such a thing), that's only because the subjects of too many of them give me the distinct impression that they're considering me to be their next victim.

*     *     *

Material to be considered for review in this column should be sent to Charles de Lint, P.O. Box 9480, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada K1G 3V2.

To contact us, send an email to Fantasy & Science Fiction.
If you find any errors, typos or anything else worth mentioning, please send it to

Copyright © 1998–2020 Fantasy & Science Fiction All Rights Reserved Worldwide

Hosted by:
SF Site spot art