Asimov's SF Review

If Ray Bradbury at his prime had been hired to script his own macabre version of The Happy Hollisters YA series of my youth, for a film to be directed by David Lynch, the results might dimly resemble in an inferior fashion the novella titled "Botch Town" which appears as the beating heart of Jeffrey Ford's fantabulous new collection, The Empire of Ice Cream (Golden Gryphon Press, hardcover, $24.95, 319 pages, ISBN 1-930846-39-8) — and only here, since it's original to this volume. In this tale, three children growing up in the bygone era of Ford's own youth face not only a mysterious prowler who might be Death himself but also a plethora of lesser, "mundane" challenges that, due to Ford's magical paintbrush, emerge as utterly fantastical. The result is a sense of childhood as a realm of dark mysteries, both beautiful and tragic.

But every story in this essential collection conveys Ford's perception of how magic arises from the quotidian. Whether a mural in a shabby bar ("A Night in the Tropics"), a boring lecture in a civic center ("The Weight of Words"), or a leaky clamming boat in a storm ("The Trentino Kid") is the touchstone, Ford can evoke the transcendent out of the common soil of our existence. But even in those tales seemingly far removed from our familiar lands, the palpability of everyday accoutrements grounds the narratives. For instance, I can practically touch the giant empty skull of a slain god inside which lives Charon, the mythic protagonist of "Boatman's Holiday."

Jonathan Carroll introduces this collection with typical grace and insight and appreciation. Good choice of fellow traveler. Indeed, I'd lump Ford in with Carroll, VanderMeer, Blaylock, Wolfe, Powers, Shepard, Waldrop, and Link as American Gods of Fantasy, a pantheon whose full significance we all won't fully appreciate for generations to come.

But, lucky us, we can read and enjoy Ford and his peers right now.

— Paul Di Filippo, "On Books, " Asimovís SF, March 2007


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