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Island Dreams: Montreal Writers of the Fantastic, edited by Claude Lalumière, Véhicule Press, 2003, 231 pp.
Island Dreams is a collection that could have been undermined by its ambitious but narrow focus: to showcase only writers from Montreal. Luckily, Montreal has more than its fair share of talented writers of the fantastic, and Island Dreams is a diverse, interesting collection. Some stories are rigorously constructed science fiction, others are canny inhabitants of the horror genre. All of the authors are from Montreal, and about half of the stories are set there as well, so that adds a element of locale-specific significance for those who might be curious. Lalumière provides an introduction to the volume, and each story has a few comments after it by the author. All in all, Island Dreams is a worthy collection.
The strongest story in Island Dreams is “Burning Day” by Glenn Grant, a novella that takes us to Toronto in the late 21st century. I love the amount of detail in this story! But the reader is not overwhelmed by exposition at any point: Grant throws us directly into a murder mystery, and then keeps us involved by way of some clever character development. A cogent named Gene Engine Mohad works as a police officer with a human partner, Daniel Aramaki. Cogents are artificial lifeforms, with brains grown from scratch, and bodies that have all kinds of advanced capabilities. The police are investigating a multiple murder: someone fired a grenade launcher from a nearby rooftop into the room where a cogent family was in the middle of an Upgrade Ceremony. Soon we learn about the troubled history between humans and cogents, and we begin to wonder why Mohad is ambivalent about advances from another cogent. “Burning Day” is a top-notch story with a satisfying conclusion.
Another interesting story is Yves Meynard’s “In Yerusalom.” Yerusalom is an alien city, plopped down somewhere in the middle of North America, and it’s a place where dreamweavers can go to impress the aliens. The alien dreamweaving technology lets the artist sculpt and share a dream; some do it solo, but others work in small groups. We follow a trio named the Brothers of Enceladus as they make their way through the streets of Yerusalom, praying to the entity known as Jesu even if no one has ever really seen him. Will they win the competition? What is the prize, if so many people strive so hard to win? Meynard writes a compelling story about the psychological effects of alien contact on human aspirations.
Other interesting stories in Island Dreams include “Carnac” by Martin Last, an atmospheric tale about an ill-advised trip to visit the ancient megaliths of Brittany; “The Strange Afterlife of Henry Wigam” by Linda Dydyk, an evocative look at what happens when cryogenically preserved people get revived after some problems in the process; and “Brikolakas” by Christos Tsirbas, a story set in Greece that makes some revelations about the nature of the Church in the case of a priest with personal problems. “Endogamy Blues” by Mark Shainblum closes out Island Dreams, and it’s also the longest story in the book (it’s one or two pages longer than “Burning Day”). Shainblum creates an elaborate future in which humans on Earth have been abandoned by those who have colonized other planets; political strife has overtaken most of the world, and a last stand in Montreal by a diverse coalition of Canadians has been overrun. Shainblum takes us into the life of two young people, Joanie and Mike, as they struggle to begin a normal relationship; it’s a heartfelt story, but it does have a few lumps of exposition that should have been smoothed out.
Island Dreams has a handful of stories that are on the horror side of the fantastic. That particular genre doesn’t seem to appeal to me as much as it may have in the past; the horror stories here are certainly effective but not to my taste. The stories are “Human Rites” by Elise Moser, a chilling tale about some homeless kids who use human parts in some rituals they believe they must do; “The Dead Park” by Dora Knez, a story set in a park in Montreal that will become a tense area of confrontation between humans and fleshys (a type of zombie); “Mrs. Marigold’s House” by Melissa Yuan-Innes, a story about the ruthless hold an old lady has on the kids in a small town and what the kids have to do to get out of her clutches; and “Carrion Luggage” by Shane Simmons, a story that starts out as a airport security satire of sorts and turns to a repressive houngan in Haiti and his fate (with a highly ironic twist ending that I liked).
Island Dreams also has two short-shorts, “Report on a Museum Incident” by Maxianne Berger and “The Ketchup We Were Born With” by Mark Paterson. Both are only one or two pages long.
Véhicule Press has put together a striking edition with Island Dreams. Gone are the days, happily, when most science fiction or fantasy books had the lowest of lowbrow covers. Some books with gaudy or glaring covers are still published, but my overall impression is that imprints in the genre give those kinds of covers to books that actually need such advertisement (my own tastes sometimes do run to blow-em-up space opera or cheesy fantasy, so it’s nice to be able to find that stuff easily). Island Dreams has lovely cover art, a ghostly silhouette against a row of houses and bare-limbed trees; somehow, it perfectly captures the feel of the Moser and Knez stories without being overtly narrative. Kudos.
Last modified: October 25, 2003
Copyright © 2003 by James Schellenberg (firstname.lastname@example.org)
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