Locus Magazine Review

The Silver Gryphon, Gary Turner & Marty Halpern, eds. (Golden Gryphon Press 1-930846-15-0, $27.95, 330pp, hc) May 2003. Cover by Thomas Canty.

The Silver Gryphon is the 25th book published by the excellent small press Golden Gryphon; to mark this "anniversary," Gary Turner and Marty Halpern have compiled their imprint's first full-dress original anthology, and an impressive souvenir it is too. Every writer on Golden Gryphon's list contributes, excepting Tony Daniel; given the publisher's general emphasis on short fiction, this means that nineteen of the twenty items in The Silver Gryphon are by authors of at least one solo story collection (the single exception is Warren Rochelle, whose novel The Wild Boy was issued by Golden Gryphon in 2001). It would be hard to go wrong with such a distinguished and experienced line-up; and, in a year dominated by slipstream or cross-genre anthologies, Silver refreshes with its straightforward commitment to good, solid fantasy and SF.

That said, a couple of the entries fall fairly clearly outside the bracket of the fantastic. Lucius Shepard's "After Ildiko" is a moody tale of a no-good "American fool" idling his way through Central America, where he competes with the captain of a river barge for the affections of a beautiful European woman; although supernatural imagery abounds, the protagonist's reality is prosaic. "Cowboy Grace" by Kristine Kathryn Rusch, about a professional woman's flight from responsibility, and eventual vindication, is purely mundane. Fair, these two, but beyond proper Locus remit.

The remainder is subject to no such prohibition. By some chance or synergy, Silver contains a cluster of excellent stories taking complementary approaches to the matter of time travel and closely parallel worlds. George Zebrowski's "Takes You Back" is an ingenious and sensitive look at how an infinitesimal change in a loved one might compromise love forever; a husband slips backwards or sideways in time, and can never return to his emotional starting point. Ian Watson limns a similar assumption in "Separate Lives," only here the lovers are sundered into different universes by penalty of dystopian law. Watson and Zebrowski are articulating highly serious points about human relationships by means of these transtemporal metaphors, assessing the fragility and permanence of romantic bonds. Geoffrey A. Landis follows a more sardonic route in "The Time-Travel Heart," but his moral — the ineluctability of conscience — is no less considered. Kevin J. Anderson returns to his Alternitech series with "An Innocent Presumption," also raising concerns of conscience, although too fancifully to make his indictment of obsessive prejudice stick. Kage Baker's "A Night on the Barbary Coast" is, on the other hand, earnest behind a flip facade: the play of paradox and anachronism is as stressful, as alienating, as in any of the other tales, and cyborgs — agents of the Company, sojourning yet again in Old California — are cool only on the surface.

Spinning off from perplexity of time is perplexity — distortion — of history and memory. Several writers opt for alternate history. There is Richard A. Lupoff, speculating daftly on another outcome between George Dubya and Al Gore, to no great effect; there is Warren Rochelle, more pertinently postulating a contemporary Earth where the Faery Folk are real, and duly ghettoized. There is the ever-entertaining R. Garcia y Robertson, sending yet another knight to feisty damsel's rescue in Lands of Never, or, in this case, in "Far Barbary," rocs and Tartars in aerial pursuit. Chief merit award in this department however goes to Michael Bishop who, in "The Door Gunner," his best story in some time, reimagines, or simply discerns, the Vietnam War as a portal into Hell; an undying soldier, and a redrawing of the Pacific Ocean according to the precepts of infernal cartography, make Bishop's counterfactual, or surreal, nightmare one to remember.

But what if it is individual memory alone that is perplexed? Jeffrey Ford's "Present from the Past" is another of the author's mnemonic jigsaw puzzles, a randomized flow of reminiscences from which the perceptive reader may assemble the speaker's portrait, darklingly; this is baffling enough, but pity the protagonist of Howard Waldrop's head-scratchingly odd "Why Then lie Fight You," an antediluvian film star blundering about in his memory palace — or should that be memory shack?

Emerging from such confounding mazes into the reassuring linearity of extrapolation, there is to hand some clearly recognizable SF, pointing unambiguously futurewards (or, in a couple of cases, perhaps not?). "Mother" by James Patrick Kelly is a short, sharp portrait of natural urges striving against social engineering; "What's Up, Tiger Lily?" is Paul Di Filippo in manic neologizing mode, pitting a revolutionary genius of information technology against postmodern pretension and passions of a distinctly premodern sort; "Tropical Nights at the Natatorium" is Richard Paul Russo's glimpse into the reluctant dark future of anarchism; and "Kwantum Babes" is Neal Barrett, Jr.'s characteristically skewed take on nerdish astronomers and alien invasion. Of especial impact: "Night of Time" by Robert Reed, a new episode in the Marrow sequence, hinting at beginnings of Life in the immediate afterglow of the Big Bang, and the enormous, encrusted complexity of galactic history.

Any fine, varied anthology should throw up a couple of unclassifiables: here, they are "The Haw River Trolley" by Andy Duncan, a Charlie Poole story of grand Southern mischief, and "Fire Dog" by Joe R. Lansdale, also of acute Dixie inflexion, indescribable in its hectic genial cruelty. These are peculiar but wonderful cherries on top of a superlative assemblage of stories; fortunately, it'll only be three years or so till The Golden Gryphon comes round.

— Nick Gevers, Locus, May 2003


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