by Michael Swanwick
Reviewed by SA
I’m a sucker for short fiction done well, and so many of my Scifi loving friends have been recommending Swanwick to me over the years. So I thought, what the heck? Here’s a chance to read some – and the title’s not bad either. Oh boy, was I pleased.
The master of short science-fiction follows up his acclaimed collection The Dog Said Bow-Wow with feline grace, precision, and total impertinence. Michael Swanwick takes us on a whirlwind journey across the globe and across time and space, where magic and science exist in possibilities that are not of this world. These tales are intimate in their telling, galactic in their scope, and delightfully sesquipedalian in their verbiage.
Join the caravan through Swanwick’s worlds and into the playground of his mind. Discover a calculus problem that rocks the ages and robots who both nurture and kill. Meet a magical horse who protects the innocent, a confused but semi-repentant troll, a savvy teenager who takes on the Devil, and time travelers from the Mesozoic who party till the end of time…
Wow, this man really knows how to write short fiction! Each story is exquisite, the perfect density of plot, carefully crafted, beautifully executed. I love these self contained universes that seem to extend beyond the small glimpse we see here, making me feel like I am both content with that I was given and yet dreaming of reading a full novel.
It’s inspiration fodder. The author never goes deep into exposition, meaning you have to work for the story you get, filling in the blanks, the aspects he doesn’t show you, as well as imagine the consequences at the end. It had my mind racing the entire time, and i might have gone “Woah”, “No way”, or gasped out loud more than a few times in reading it.
Most stories are Science fiction, some with more or less of a fantasy element to them. And while they’re all memorable, a few of them stood out to me: “Of Finest scarlet was her gown” – from which the title is extracted – tells the story of a teenger who must deal with the devil to get her father back. Brilliant story, completely unexpected, out of nowhere. Or “The She-Wolf’s Hidden grin”, in which two rich girls try to grow in a restrictive home while trying to discover if they have alien genes in their DNA. I don’t want to give anything away.
The author frequently returns to the theme of colonization (which is why some of his fiction reminds of of Bradbury, I think). In quite a few stories, we are either colonizing or have been colonized: we’re either living with the colonists, or being them ourselves, for better or for worse. Not everyone is always happy with the outcome, and sometimes revenge can take years to emerge. I loved how the author presented so many facets of this heavy problem.
All in all, a fantastic collection. Some are more memorable than others, and some will stay with you forever. Definitely a fantastic read.