DarkEcho Horror
deccoclock by Rick Berry
Book Review

One Day Closer to Death
Bradley Denton
St. Martin's Press/ pp. 337/ $23.95
ISBN 0-312-18150-7

Genre writers are often considered second class citizens in the literary world --as if they aren't real writers (whatever that means.) The truth is that people who use the framework of speculative fiction to expose their emotional truths, exploit their imaginative ideas, and explore their psycho-sociological agenda are often exemplary writers. Genre fiction takes the reader into an otherwise unknowable world -- perhaps one set in the future or a past contrary to fact; perhaps a world of supernatural phenomena or reality-based darkness the reader could not safely experience him- or herself. It is this freedom to invent these worlds that make those who write SF, fantasy, horror, and mystery some of the most outstanding writers today.

Bradley Denton's short stories have appeared in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, Amazing, Asimov's, Pulphouse, The Year's Best Science Fiction,and The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror and have been collected in two limited-edition volumes from The Wildside Press, The Calvin Coolidge Home for Dead Comedians and A Conflagration Artist, winner of the World Fantasy Award for Best Collection. His novel Buddy Holly Is Alive and Well on Ganymede (Avon) won the John W. Campbell Memorial Award for best science fiction novel of 1991, and Blackburn(Picador) was a finalist for the 1993 Bram Stoker Award. His first novel was Wrack & Roll (Warner) and his most recent is Lunatics (Bantam.)

That makes him a genre writer, right? Wrong. It's just further proof that writers who cannot otherwise be defined often find their best outlet under genre labels. Like Dan Simmons and Marc Laidlaw, the only thing that defines Bradley Denton's writing is his ability to brilliantly and repeatedly redefine its direction based solely on his distinctive voice and immense talent.

All but two of the stories in his new collection, One Day Closer to Death, were published in the dual limited editions from Wildside, so the book is almost a "best of the best of" by Denton...and what a "best" it is.

The stories of One Day Closer to Death are strikingly individual, and each deals with not so much final mortality as the path of life that leads to the eventual balance of death. These are tales of vitality, not morbidity.

Denton plays with history in the first novella, "The Territory." Sam Clemens, driven by revenge and guilt, rides with Quantrill's Raiders during the American Civil War as they travel from Missouri to lay waste to Lawrence, Kansas and he is transformed by his experience. "We Love Lydia Love" takes a cyberpunkish premise and looks at the lengths to which the music industry will go to keep a rock megastar producing platinum and an individual musician will go to get a recording contract. Transformed by a chip and direct-brain-wired instruction, Willie becomes a stand-in for Lydia's dead lover. The idea is that Lydia will again produce songs the world loves (as well as buys) and Willie will get to record his own music. The unexpected outcome provides more insight into the transformative process we call life. The protagonist in "A Conflagration Artist" is a performance artist with a well-paid, annual gig: setting herself aflame before taking a high dive into a small tank of water as a packed stadium and pay-for-viewers the world over watch." Tightly written, the story evocatively reveals the artist's motivation for her art and her life.

In the other stories we discover that it may not be such a good idea to kill your worst enemy; that it may be an equally bad idea to kill coyotes; that even killing weeds is not as simple as we might think; and that life after death is not a joking matter, especially for comedians.

Perhaps the highlight of One Day Closer to Death is it's single original entry, "Blackburn Bakes Cookies," a novella sequel to Denton's 1993 novel Blackburn. Ten years after the execution of serial killer Jimmy Blackburn, his now grown-up little sister, Jasmine, is beset with a phone-calling sicko who wants the dead killer's ashes for a particularly unsettling purpose.

Before getting to the final story in the collection, you'll be convinced that Denton is an amazingly accomplished writer; when you finish it you'll be awestruck.

Denton looks at death and affirms life, he looks at the darkness and reveals the light. This is the miracle of great dark fiction and Denton is a miracle worker of the highest order. -- Paula Guran

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Copyright © 2002 Paula Guran. All Rights Reserved.