The Physiognomy by Jeffrey Ford
Physiognomist Cley has been sent by Master Drachton Below, the evil genius who constructed the Well-Built City, to the faraway mining district of Anamasobia to investigate the theft of a fruit that’s rumored to have grown in the Earthly Paradise and to have supernatural powers. Upon arriving, the skeptical and arrogant physiognomist finds a whole town of morons whose physical features clearly indicate that they are all backward and generally pathetic. Except for Arla, whose beautiful features suggest that she is intelligent and competent, and who seems to understand the science of physiognomy (even though that’s impossible because she’s a woman). But Cley likes looking at Arla (women do have their place), so he invites her to be his assistant as each of the dimwits in the town comes one-by-one to disrobe, pose, and present their bodies for physiognomical inspection, measurement, and analysis.
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Jeffrey Ford(1955- )
Jeffrey Ford used to be a professor of writing and early American literature but now writes full time. His novel The Physiognomy won the 1998 World Fantasy Award and was a New York Times notable book of the year. The Girl in the Glass won the Edgar Award and The Shadow Year won the Shirley Jackson Award. Jeffrey Ford lives in Ohio with his wife. Learn more at Jeffrey Ford’s website
The Well-Built City — (1997-2001) Publisher: Offering a freshly-imagined world of bizarre creatures and strange customs, this unique and sardonic allegory explores the power and price of science and the ambiguity of morality. Humorless and drug addicted, physiognomist Cley is ordered by the Master of the Well-Built City to investigate a theft in a remote mining town. Well-versed in serving justice, arrogant Cley sets out to determine the identity of the thief using the pseudo-science of judging people by their features, but becomes distracted from his task by a beautiful girl from town. When the young-but-wise woman rejects him, he looses faith in his abilities, and in a drug-induced frenzy he “remakes” her features. The subsequent horror of what he has done, what he represents, and the shallow life he leads forces him to seek atonement and true justice, risking the Master’s wrath, which may entail death by head explosion.
The Physiognomy by Jeffrey Ford
Memoranda by Jeffrey Ford
In waking from a dream, we obliterate worlds, and in calling up a memory, we return the dead to life again and again only to bring them face to face with annihilation as our attention shifts to something else.
After the destruction of the Well-Built City (detailed in The Physiognomy), Physiognomist Cley has been living in a village in the wilderness, acting as herbalist and midwife. One day a mechanical bird, obviously built by evil Master Drachton Below, arrives in the village, explodes, and releases a gas that puts many of the villagers to sleep. Cley is the only person who’s equipped to find the antidote, so the villagers supply him with an old dog and an older horse and off he goes (looking a bit like Don Quixote) to the ruins of the Well-Built City.
The City is a real-life construction of Drachton Below’s Memory Palace, which is based on the mnemonic device called the Met... Read More
The Beyond by Jeffrey Ford
The Beyond is the last book in Jeffrey Ford’s WELL-BUILT CITY trilogy. This bizarre story began with The Physiognomy in which Cley, an arrogant and cruel physiognomist, is sent by the evil ruler Drachton Below on a mission to the mining town of Anamasobia. While there, Cley makes a bad decision which destroys the beautiful face of Arla, the woman he has fallen in love with. This humbles and devastates Cley (drastically changing his personality for the better) and leads to the destruction of Drachton Below’s Well-Built City.
In the second book, Memoranda, we find Cley in a new life — acting as herbalist and midwife in the village of Wenau. When Drachton Below, still living in the ruins of his Well-Built City, poisons the people of Wenau, Cley is the only person who can help, but he has to go into Below’s warped mind to find the antidote. He gets som... Read More
The Portrait of Mrs Charbuque by Jeffrey Ford
The best thing about being my own master when it comes to choosing what I want to read is that when I read a book I really want to talk about I can without feeling like I have to put aside any other obligations, and I really want to talk about The Portrait of Mrs Charbuque.
Piero Piambo, a portrait artist in New York in 1893, is currently in fashion and as a result also in high demand. Despite the financial security it affords him, he begins to wonder if he has not lost his way in regards to his art, and when he receives a mysterious commission from the blind Watkins, servant of Mrs Charbuque, he accepts it with the absurd condition that he must paint her portrait without ever seeing her. The one concession that she does make is that Piero can visit for an hour Monday through Friday and ask her any questions he wants as long as they do not pertain to her appea... Read More
The Drowned Life by Jeffrey Ford
Jeffrey Ford's The Drowned Life is as engrossing as his previous short story collections, immediately ensnaring the reader with his detailed prose and characterization. One noticeable trend is that while Ford dabbles in clear-cut fantasy with stories such as "The Manticore Spell" or "The Dismantled Invention of Fate," much of his work deals more with the mundane sprinkled with just the right amounts of magic and the surreal. The titular piece for example, "The Drowned Life," seems like the narrative of the common Joe, albeit one that utilizes Ford's excellent use of language and metaphor. However, it slowly steers itself into the territory of weirdness with its concept of an underwater afterlife but all this time, the reader isn't jolted from the experience.
What I particularly enjoy with Ford's writing is that the quality is consistent. E... Read More
The Shadow Year by Jeffrey Ford
The Shadow Year is a charming coming-of-age tale about the 6th grade year of an average American boy (we never learn his name) growing up in the 1960s. This year isn’t average, though, because there are some strange things going on in his small town. As he navigates his way around mundane matters such as an alcoholic manic depressive mother, a father who holds down three jobs, live-in grandparents, and unpleasant teachers, he’s also concerned with a prowler, a classmate who disappeared, and a strange suspicious man who drives an eerie white car. Things get really creepy when he realizes that the weird things happening around town seem to be linked to the way his possibly-autistic / possibly-savant little sister moves the cars and people around in his older brother’s replica of their town which he works on in their basement.
The Shadow Year fe... Read More
The Green Man edited by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling
In fairy tales, whenever someone journeys into the forest, you just know something strange is about to occur and that the protagonist’s life is going to be changed forever. The same is true of the stories and poems featured in The Green Man: Tales from the Mythic Forest. With this collection, editors Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling kicked off a series of young adult anthologies, each devoted to a particular theme. Here, the theme is wild nature, and most of the stories feature teenage characters who encounter the wilderness and undergo a coming-of-age experience there.
Of course, I have my favorites. Delia Sherman contributes a tale of the Faery Queen of Central Park, and the insecure girl who faces her in a battle of wits. ... Read More
Salon Fantastique: Fifteen Original Tales of Fantasy by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling
Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling are the two greatest short fiction editors of fantasy and horror of our time. Their annual collections of the Year's Best Fantasy and Horror provided us, for 16 straight years, with the best short genre and slipstream fiction from all sources. Their anthologies have defined cutting edge fantasy.
Salon Fantastique is more uneven than most of Datlow and Windling's collections. This themeless anthology, containing stories intended, as the introduction states, "to evoke the liberating, creative spirit of a literary salon," contains some very fine stories. It also, oddly enough, contains some very bad stories.
Delia Sherman's "La Fee Verte" opens the bo... Read More
Feeling Very Strange: The Slipstream Anthology edited by James Patrick Kelly & John Kessel
Is there really any difference between post-modernism, interstitial fiction, slipstream and New Weird? Does anyone know? James Patrick Kelly and John Kessel try to outline the boundaries of slipstream with their anthology, Feeling Very Strange: The Slipstream Anthology, particularly by including a learned introduction and excerpts from a discussion that took place on the subject on a blog a few years ago. Ultimately, like so many things literary, from science fiction to erotica, it comes down to this: slipstream is what I’m pointing to when I say “slipstream.” Yes, there are a few defining features. It’s fantas... Read More
The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year Volume One edited by Jonathan Strahan
My first and foremost complaint — and this is really a quibble more than anything else — is that the title doesn't tell you what year this anthology belongs to. Which isn't really a problem if you bought it recently but in case you find in the bookstore bin several years down the line, it's nice to know what era this collection represents (in case you don't know the answer, the book was printed in 2007). With that out of the way, The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year Volume One is a good collection that draws from both the fantasy and science fiction genres, and I'm really looking forward to the sequel.
Personally, however, because I read a large number of anthologies in 2007, I’ve seen many of these stories before because they’ve been reprinted in numerous anthologies. That's not a bad thing per se -... Read More
The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror 2007
In many ways, The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror 2007 anthology is a difficult book to review. For one thing, to me and a lot of my reading/writing circle, this is easily the definitive bible when it comes to short stories of the genre. For another, many of the stories that are included in this collection have been featured in other anthologies as well, so there's an overlap in terms of stories featured. But I'll try and talk about what makes this anthology unique from other similar anthologies.
The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror is quite comprehensive about its subject matter, not just featuring short stories but poems and articles. The first dozen pages are articles summarizing the important events that happened in the two genres including the obituaries of the previous year. That’s really quite valuable from an archiving standpoint, an... Read More
The Coyote Road: Trickster Tales edited by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling
Coyote Road: Trickster Tales is another thematic fantasy anthology by the trio of Ellen Datlow, Terri Windling, and Charles Vess. Coyote Road features twenty-six pieces of fiction and poetry. Each story is preceded by art by Vess and ends with a short bio and afterword from the author. In the Introduction, Windling gives us an extensive account of trickster tales around the world. The last few pages of the book consist of a Recommended Reading list of titles that tackle that subject as well.
Perhaps the best description I have for the stories here is that they're sophisticated and well-written. They're not easy reading and some have a slow pace, but they tend to leave a resonating emotion by the time you're done with them. This is probably one of the more "literary" anthol... Read More
The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year Volume Two edited by Jonathan Strahan
The Year's Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year Volume Two is one of several anthologies that collects the best science fiction and fantasy of 2007. I've read many of the stories included, yet revisiting them actually made me appreciate them more rather than feel exhausted. One thing I noticed is that there's a stronger science fiction balance in this anthology compared to the previous volume, although that might also be because the lines between science fiction and fantasy easily get blurry.
The opening piece, Ted Chiang's "The Merchant and The Alchemist's Gate," is a good example. This is easily my favorite story and arguably Chiang's most accessible piece. The physics of time travel is narrated with an Arabian Nights flavor and theme, appealing t... Read More
The Living Dead edited by John Joseph Adams
I never knew there were so many ways to tell a zombie story. I pretty much thought that the George Romero version was it — dead people wandering around holding their arms out in front of them and calling out “braaaaaaains,” looking to munch on the living. I never did know why they had to hold their arms that way, but they all did — I thought.
John Joseph Adams has chosen his material wisely in The Living Dead, a collection of short stories about zombies by some of the biggest and best names in the horror business, as well as the newest and hottest. I resisted this book for a long time because I’ve never been fond of zombies, but upon diving in, I discovered that the zombies aren’t really the point; the point is to tell a good story. And these authors do that, with a vengeance.
My favorite story is “Almost the Last St... Read More
The Very Best of Fantasy & Science Fiction: Sixtieth Anniversary Anthology by Gordon Van Gelder (ed.)
The Very Best of Fantasy & Science Fiction: Sixtieth Anniversary Anthology is an excellent collection of 23 stories picked from the treasure trove of short fiction that's been published in the eponymous magazine over the past 60 years. Editor Gordon Van Gelder — also the editor of the magazine since 1997 — has done an admirable job, picking stories that illustrate the diversity of both the genre and the magazine. As such, this is a great anthology for SF&F fans as well as newcomers looking for a taste.
The line-up of authors in this collection looks like a veritable Who's Who of speculative fiction: Ray Bradbury, Read More
The Book of Dreams edited by Nick Gevers
The Book of Dreams is a small but satisfying collection of short stories that are thematically, albeit loosely, connected by the theme of "dreams." The book features original stories by Robert Silverberg, Lucius Shepard, Jay Lake, Kage Baker and Jeffrey Ford, and was edited by Nick Gevers for Subterranea... Read More
The Faery Reel: Tales from the Twilight Realm edited by Ellen Datlow & Terri Windling
The Faery Reel is an indispensable tome for anyone who has a mania for faeries. Aside from the short stories in this anthology, the comprehensive introduction of Terri Windling on the fey and the illustrations by Charles Vess are worth the price of admission in themselves. Moreover, the last few pages feature a Further Reading section on the topic of faeries. The typography of the book is appropriate to the faery theme and makes the text quite readable. In other words, it's a really pretty book.
But The Faery Reel isn't just about exterior beauty, and I'd still buy the book if only for the story selections and the poetry. There are actually a lot of stories I liked in this anthology, and choosing a select few to talk about is quite difficult: "Catnyp" by Read More
Steampunk II: Steampunk Reloaded edited by Ann and Jeff VanderMeer
Steampunk II: Steampunk Reloaded is the second steampunk anthology edited by Ann and Jeff VanderMeer, following 2008’s first installment. It contains about twice as many stories as its predecessor, but unlike the first collection the quality is more uneven here, resulting in a less impressive but still fascinating anthology that should please fans of the genre.
While the first anthology only contained one story I was less than happy with, there are at least four or five in Steampunk II: Steampunk Reloaded that I could have done without. There are also a few stories here that are at best marginally connected to steampunk, although that probably depends more on how you define steampunk. After all, there are probably as many definitions of steampunk as there are readers. Maybe the best way to defin... Read More
Horrible Monday continues its look at nominees for the Shirley Jackson Awards. If you find something horribly good to read, maybe Monday won't seem so horrifying!
Supernatural Noir edited by Ellen Datlow
Ellen Datlow suggests in her introduction to Supernatural Noir that noir fiction and supernatural fiction, with its roots in the gothic, have a lot in common. The main character in each tends to be a hard-living guy, usually down to his last flask of scotch, haunted by a sexy dame whose middle name is trouble. So it seemed natural to her to combine the two genres for an original anthology.
Despite my general rule that any anthology edited by Ellen Datlow is one I want to read, I resisted this one for a long time. Detectives looking for ghosts? Eh. Not my thi... Read More
After: Nineteen Stories of Apocalypse and Dystopia by editors Ellen Datlow & Terri Windling
When I saw the new Datlow and Windling anthology After: Nineteen Stories of Apocalypse and Dystopia, I was so excited. I love YA fiction, I love dyslit, I love short story anthologies and I love Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling as editors, so I figured it was a match made in heaven. Unfortunately, my reading experience didn’t live up to my expectations.
After is an anthology of short stories set after. After what? Alien invasion, plague, environmental collapse, asteroid strike, it doesn’t matter. Just after. This leaves a lot of room for the authors to be creative, as they all can choose different afters to explore, and it leaves the anthology feeling a bit disjointed as you hop from one disaster to another. Technically, most of th... Read More
The Girl in the Glass — (2005) Publisher: The Great Depression has bound a nation in despair — and only a privileged few have risen above it: the exorbitantly wealthy… and the hucksters who feed upon them. Diego, a seventeen-year-old illegal Mexican immigrant rescued from the depths of poverty, owes his salvation to Thomas Schell, spiritual medium and master grifter. At the knee of his loving — and beloved — surrogate father, Diego has learned the most honored tricks of the trade. Along with Schell’s gruff and powerful partner, Antony Cleopatra, the three have sailed comfortably, so far, through hard times, scamming New York’s grieving rich with elaborate, ingeniously staged séances. And with no lack of well-heeled true believers at their disposal, it appears the gravy train will chug along indefinitely — until an impossible occurrence in a grand mansion on Long Island’s elegant Gold Coast changes everything. While “communing with spirits” in the opulent home of George Parks, Schell sees an image of a young girl in a pane of glass — the missing daughter of one of Parks’s millionaire neighbors — silently entreating the con man to help. Though well aware that his otherworldly “powers” are a sham, Schell inexplicably offers his services, and those of his partners, to help find the lost child. He draws Diego and Antony into a tangled maze of deadly secrets, terrible experimentation, and dark hungers among the very wealthy and obscenely powerful. As each cardinal rule dividing the grift from the real is unceremoniously broken, Diego’s education is advanced into areas he never considered before. And the mentor’s sudden vulnerable humanity forces the student into the role of master to confront an abomination that will ultimately spawn the nightmare of the century.
The Empire of Ice Cream — (2009) Publisher: Mixing the mundane with the metaphysical, the pairings of the everyday and the extraordinary in this collection of short fiction yield supernatural results — a young musician perceives another world while drinking coffee; a fairy chronicles his busy life in a sandcastle during the changing tide; a demonic 16th-century chess set shows up in a New Jersey bar; and Charon, the boatman of hell, takes a few days of vacation. Storylines both conventional and outlandish reveal humdrum routines as menacing and imaginary worlds as perfectly familiar. Allusions to authors such as Edgar Allan Poe and Jules Verne reinforce the fantasy tradition in these tales, while understated humor and moments of sadness add a quirky unpredictability. Each story is followed by a brief afterword that details its genesis, offering insight into the many autobiographical elements found within.
The Fantasy Writer’s Assistant: And Other Stories — (2009) Publisher: At times literary, at other times surreal, this collection offers a diverse range of stories that deal with real-life conflicts, human values, and coming-of-age experiences, all placed within fantastical settings. An author’s search for an elusive Kafka story leads to a potentially cursed book in “Bright Morning,” while in the award-winning “Exo-Skeleton Town,” humans dress in protective exoskins conveying the personas of bygone Hollywood movie stars in order to barter old Earth movies for an alien aphrodisiac. A young boy comes to term with “Creation” when he molds a man out of the detritus of a nearby forest, and in the title story, a great fantasy writer loses touch with the world he has created and pleads with his young assistant to help him visualize the story’s end and enable him to complete his greatest novel ever. An eclectic offering, these witty and modern fables blend mundane surroundings with eerie situations.
Crackpot Palace: Stories — (2012) Publisher: From the unparalleled imagination of award-winning author Jeffrey Ford come twenty short stories (one, “The Wish Head,” written expressly for this collection) that boldly redefine the world. Crackpot Palace is a sumptuous feast of the unexpected — an unforgettable journey that will carry readers to amazing places, though at times the locales may seem strangely familiar, almost like home. Whether he’s tracking ghostly events on the border of New Jersey’s mysterious Pine Barrens or following a well-equipped automaton general into battle, giving a welcome infusion of new blood to the hoary vampire trope or exposing the truth about what really went down on Dr. Moreau’s Island of Lost Souls, Jeffrey Ford has opened a door into a dark and fantastic realm where dream and memory become one.
The novella is the ideal length for a science fiction story. It’s long enough to allow a reader to become immersed in a scene and involved with the characters; and it’s short enough to allow a reader to suspend disbelief as to the more unscientific or strange aspects of a story without questioning them too closely. Kate Wilhelm’s “The Fullness of Time,” which forms the backbone of the July/August issue of The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, is a fine illustration of the strengths of the novella form.
“The Fullness of Time” is about a documentary film maker, Cat, who hires a researcher, Mercedes, the first person narrator of the tale, to work on a project about Hiram Granville, a famous inventor, now dead, about whom littl... Read More