Tangent Reviews

Crossing The Line:
Canadian Mysteries With A Fantastic Twist
Edited By Robert J. Sawyer and David Skene-Melvin

from Tangent online

Everybody loves a mystery. Writers especially. Crime and punishment form the basis of humanity's earliest myths (think Prometheus stealing fire from the gods and being eternally pecked for his deed) and some of its greatest works of fiction (think Crime and... you get the point).

Writers are always tempted to throw some of this primal magic into their tales, no matter what else the stories might be about, or what genre they nominally belong to. I once edited an anthology of mystery parodies written by the world's top humorists after noticing that every humor collection on my shelves seemed to hold at least one. Rob Sawyer and David Skene- Melvin must have had a similar epiphany about their shelves of Canadiana, because they've put together an entire anthology of sf, fantasy, and horror stories, each of which contain an element, large or small, that is part of that big tent known as the mystery.

With mystery containing as many feuding sub-cultures as does science fiction, the spectrum of stories that can be included is multi-hued with a vengeance. They range here from several straightforward stories about cops to Robertson Davies' ghost story, where the mystery is what the mystery is.

By reviewer's luck, a couple of the most fun stories were brand new to me. Edo van Belkom is represented by "The Rug," a delightfully whimsical, Gahan Wilsonesque horror story about, really, an old woman and her rug. James Powell, an offbeat virtuoso of the short story, unfortunately far more familiar to readers of Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine than to sf, knocks home one of those impossible tours de force that lesser writers conceive but can never bring to print. In "Dark Possessions," the furniture of a deceased Sherlock Holmesian detective talk amongst themselves to solve the mystery that will allow his ghost to rest. Each piece, from bookcase to writing desk, is perfectly characterized. Masterful.

Half the book is standard anthology fare, competent if not exciting. Andrew Weiner's "The Map," is that standby about a little store that isn't there, this one selling maps to an alternate Toronto. "Dead Man's Shoes," by Charles de Lint shades to the horror side, with a nasty murderer testing the limits of superstition and belief. The aforementioned Davies story, "The Ghost Who Vanished by Degrees," is a shaggy dog tale of a ghost who wants his PhD - but can't remember his field of study. Tanya Huff writes the energetic and enjoyable "This Town Ain't Big Enough," although it leads me down unresolvable philosophical paths like, why, when we know the hero is always going to win in the end, do some stories maintain suspense and other stories not? "Barking Dogs" allows Terence M. Green to indulge in some sharp speculation about the place of truth - and lies - in our lives.

Every anthology must have its clinker. For me it was Spider Robinson's "God Is an Iron," as thuddingly heavy-handed as a lead brick, and as dimensional as aluminum foil.

Three award nominees provide the anthology's solid core. James Alan Gardner's fascinating and thought-provoking "Three Hearings On The Existence Of Snakes In The Human Bloodstream" made the Hugo and Nebula ballots; Robert J. Sawyer's private cop in "The Hand You're Dealt," became a finalist for the Hugo and the Canadian Arthur Ellis Award; and William Gibson's classic "Burning Chrome" was on the 1982 Nebula ballot, although that is not credited here. How far we've come from the early days of cyberpunk. Despite the faux and phony tough-talk noir atmosphere that grates even more today than it did when first published, Gibson's story is that ultimate rarity in sf: a future world so detailed, so thought-through, that the narrative seems stolen from that alternate reality. Few people, including Gibson himself, have been able to duplicate that feat since, and all sf - with or without a mystery element - is the poorer for it.

Copyright 1999 by Steve Carper

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