Locus Magazine Review

The Fiction Factory, Jack Dann (Golden Gryphon 1-930846-36-3, $24.95, 310pp, hc) October 2005. Cover by J. K. Potter.

Jack Dann explains in his Introduction to his new Golden Gryphon Press collection, The Fiction Factory, that the book's title refers to a phase of his career when he and close friends in the SF community would sit down, chew a concept over together, and turn it into a collaborative story, Dann usually typing out the opening pages before handing the text over to another for further development. Of course, Dann wrote collaboratively with George Zebrowski very early on, and is still collaborating from time to time now, notably with Barry Malzberg; but his best and most frequent sharings of creative duty occurred in the 1980s, when this so-called Fiction Factory, focused in Philadelphia, operated with exceptional fluency and grace. The Fiction Factory consists of the pick of the resulting stories, with a few from the '70s and '90s for added savor; it is thus the second collection of collaborations Golden Gryphon has published, after Howard Waldrop's exceptional Custer's Last Jump (2003). And rather good it is too, with one notable reservation.

The writers represented in The Fiction Factory are amongst the best in short SF, fantasy, and horror: Gardner Dozois, Michael Swanwick, Gregory Frost, Malzberg, Dann himself; all are highly distinctive voices, and although they synergize well here, some individuality is lost when they do so. As Dozois says in one of his commentaries (all the living contributors have written very interesting notes on the genesis of their stories), he would often perform a final "homogenizing draft" to prepare a collaboration for publication; and of course homogeneity tends to smooth out characteristic, but disharmonious, authorial flourishes. So slickness can displace inspiration from time to time. Yet most of the stories featured are excellent; they are triumphs of collective expertise, strikingly conceived and finely honed.

Dann's collaborations with Dozois and Swanwick are particularly impressive: "Touring," a superb vision of Buddy Holly performing with famous others on a posthumous stage; "The Gods of Mars," an elegant tipping of the balance between rigorous SF and wishful fantasy; "Golden Apples of the Sun," which puts a computer salesman on a beat in Faerie; "Afternoon at Schrafft's," a mischievous magical whimsy; "Ships" (with Swanwick alone), an astonishing eschatological voyage aboard a depraved Hell-ship; "Down Among the Dead Men" (with Dozois only), involving a vampire in a Nazi death camp; and several others with Dozois solus, such as the moving alternate-worlds tale "Playing the Game," and the quite funny "Time Bride," an ingenious send-up of the American Jewish marriage market. "The Clowns," authored with Dozois and Susan Casper, is a very chilling psychological horror story; "Art Appreciation" and "Blues and the Abstract Truth," co-written with Malzberg, have a pungently Malzbergian flavor, pondering carnivorous masterpieces of painting and lamenting the rapidity of aging; and Gregory Frost and Dann do a creditable reincarnation-and-lampoon job on a famous killer in "The Incompleat Ripper." "Yellowhead," with Zebrowski, is a retelling of the Orpheus myth set against a dazzling, but probably too rapidly described, anarchic future New York; and "High Steel," with Jack C. Haldeman II, the opening chapter of a well-regarded collaborative novel, resonantly places a Native American in orbit, lending fresh nuances to the concept of "Frontier."

The Fiction Factory is a strong collection, and additionally provides invaluable technical insights into the storytelling process. Put so much talent together, and good results can only flow — if a little homogeneously.

— Nick Gevers, Locus, September 2005


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