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.
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.
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