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BOOK REVIEWS: March 2001
By Paula Guran

DARKNESS DIVIDED
By John Shirley
Stealth Press/ 337 pages/ $29.95
ISBN: 1-58881016X

book cover The opening story, "My Victim," in John Shirley's new collection is about bonds between fathers and sons. Horror may be a metaphorical point, but the tale reveals more of the truth of family relationship than most Ann Beattie or Michael Chabon stories do. Yet (so far) you've never seen a John Shirley story in "The New Yorker." This is, of course, a shame, because he certainly deserves to be read as "literature" as much (or more than) as horror or science fiction or new noir or whatever. Not that you can keep Shirley in one box. Story-by-story he defies such containment. Perhaps more than in previous collections, each story in DARKNESS DIVIDED reveals Shirley's surprising (to some) range as a writer while still retaining his essence. Part of that essence is characterization. As Poppy Z. Brite says in the book's introduction, this author's "work is populated by unforgettable characters trapped in (often trapping themselves in) inescapable circumstances..." Essential, too, are the constant themes of redemption, responsibility, addiction, and a seeking of "that which is beyond." You'll also find stories here that require more than superficial understanding, that are almost multi-dimensional in meaning. And you'll find a quirk or two that are simply, well, uniquely Shirley. The twenty-two stories (five previously unpublished) of DARKNESS DIVIDED are presented in two sections: one featuring stories set in the present or the past, the other set in various futures. They make up a stunning collection.

PERDIDO STREET STATION
By China Miéville
Del Rey/ 720 pages/ $18 (trade paper)
ISBN: 0345443020

book coverYou faithful readers first met author China Miéville with his debut novel KING RAT in October 1999. With PERDIDIO STREET STATION (just published in the US, but out for a year in the UK) Miéville ascends from the status of "talented author to be watched" into the rarefied air of "legendary author in the making." Yes, PERDIDO STREET is that amazing. With any luck it may even help drag the mostly moribund categories of fantasy, science fiction, and horror screaming into the 21st century. Although any of those categories -- and probably a couple more -- can fairly claim PERDIDO and influences like Charles Dickens, Philip K. Dick, Mervyn Peake, M. John Harrison, and Michael Moorcock are apparent, the novel is sui generis. The plot is contained only by its setting -- the sprawling squalor of a fantastic city, the grimly mythic metropolis of New Crobuzon: gloriously vile, richly corrupt, and oozing with the pollution of political, industrial, and sorcerial effluvium. A blend of magic (thaumaturgy) and steampunk science (airships, artificial intelligences, Babbage engines, bio-magical engineering) fuels it all. A debased government and cruel militia control the teeming city's downtrodden denizens -- both human and "xenian" ( like cactus-people, watery blobbish sentients called the vodyanoi, beetle-headed khepris, the winged garuda...) Yagharek, a garuda who has been stripped of his wings as punishment for the crime of choice-theft, arrives in the city searching for a way to restore his power of flight. Among the marginalized outcasts of a decadent society, he finds rogue scientist Isaac Dan der Grimnebulin who takes on the challenge. Meanwhile, Lin, Grimnebulin's secret khepri lover, grudgingly accepts an artistic commission from a crime lord. These threads and others converge as Isaac's dabblings inadvertently unleash the slake-moths, creatures so appallingly monstrous that even demons won't deal with them. Grimnebulin, Lin, Yagharek, an underground journalist, a Remade (beings organically or mechanically altered -- usually horrendously -- as criminal punishment), a spider-like Weaver, and other incredibly imagined characters must deal with the disaster. Miéville leaves the reader awestruck with wonder and pain as he mixes politics, sex, sociology, science, love, philosophy, myth, and more with vivid imagery. Even at 720 pages PERDIDO STREET STATION leaves you gasping for more.

THE CROW: WICKED PRAYER
By Norman Partridge
Harper Entertainment/ 295 pages/ $13 (trade paper)
ISBN: 0061073490

book cover Yes, Norman Partridge succeeds in searing the beast of the Crow legend (at least as defined by Edward R. Pressman Film Corporation) with his unique brand. He also manages to explore its foundations in Native American myth while adding elements of another great all-American allegory - The Road Trip. WICKED PRAYER is (as any Crow story should be) a bloody tale of love, vengeance, and redemption, but Partridge adds some interesting curves to the highway. Modern western loner Dan Cody must right the wrongs not only of his own death and that of his intended bride -- the half-Irish, half -Mountain Clan Crow Leticia Dreams the Truth Hardin -- but correct a wrong done to the supernatural Crow itself. His nemesis is the unredeemably wicked Kyra Damon who is hell-bent on stealing the black bird's power and gaining immortality. Kyra and her henchman Johnny Church are guided by a wise-cracking, trash-talking shrunken human head, Raymundo, who dangles from the rearview mirror of a cherried out '49 Merc painted the color of spilled lamb's blood and as demonic as the hellfire flames painted on its hood. The trip leads to a Las Vegas wedding chapel and finally the Big Sur home of Erik Hearse -- ex-Jersey punk rocker who fronted The Blasphemers and lately made a comeback -- and his second-generation scream queen consort Lilith Spain. Partridge's wry dark humor and edgy violence is definitely more muted than usual, and writing a series tie-in means he must have pulled more than a few punches. Still there's a poignancy, a cynical twist or two, a true touch of the macabre, and a large dose of the gothic in WICKED PRAYER that make more than just entertaining.


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