Welcome back to the second half of my review of Lisa Mason’s Oddities, her new short story collection. Figure 1 was the “artsy” photograph of Lisa used in OMNI (December 1987), for the first publication of her first short story, “Arachne,” later to become a full novel. The accompanying illustration, I’m happy to say, was by Swiss artist H.R. Giger. Not a bad deal for your first story! Anyway, moving on from Part I, Yesterday, to the second and third parts of Oddities, I find myself constantly surprised by the breadth of styles, places and characters in this collection. Some writers have a—not necessarily monotonous—consistent style and tone, let us say, in their writing. Sometimes that’s what you want, but sometimes you want to be surprised; and that’s what Ms. Mason delivers in this collection (which also spans pretty much the whole timeline of her short story publications). Like Ray Bradbury’s short stories, these never fail to surprise you (well, me, anyway) with little sparkles and occasional rockets going off and spreading happy fireworks in your brain!
I don’t want to make this too long, but I have to give you at least capsule reviews of the remaining 18 stories, so let’s get to it, shall we?
PART II: TOMORROW
“Tomorrow is a Lovely Day,” published in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction (November-December 2015). Benjamin lives in a tomorrow that could be our tomorrow: acid rain, earthquakes, volcanoes, wars. He’s got a job as a security guard at a facility where a possibly mad scientist has invented a machine that tells the future. But time’s awry, and Benjamin lives the same day over and over, because time will stop tomorrow. Or will it? Can the machine answer a question that hasn’t been asked yet?
“Illyria, My Love,” published by Bast Books in 2015, is another time story, but this one’s a bit more timey-wimey. Maya lives in Ilyria, another planet after people fled Earth, and she lives with Yuri, who’s in the militia. War comes to Ilyria, but Maya just wants to live in her little cottage and raise produce. But time seems to be flowing the wrong way.
“Infringement,” from Bast Books, 2020, is about the multiverse and writing. One of the things some authors have to worry about is someone claiming plagiarism or copyright infringement, though that usually only happens when a writer is extremely successful. But what do you do when the person suing you is yourself? And what if they’re right?
“The Bicycle Whisperer,” from The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction (May-June 2018), is about the Lone Rangerette, finder of lost bicycles. What kind of person is needed when the bicycles themselves have AI? (Especially Shimano Stella.) A heart-warming little tale.
“Arachne,” Lisa’s first story, in Omni magazine (December 1987), is sort of more up-to-date today—what with telepresence and social distancing—than maybe it was in 1987. It’s kind of nice to find a 33-year-old techno story that hasn’t dated! I won’t spoil the surprise for you.
“The Hanged Man” is from the anthology The Shimmering Door: Sorcerers and Shamans, Witches and Warlocks, Enchanters and Spell-Casters, Magicians, and Mages (HarperPrism 1996)… whew! What a title! Snap works in telespace; he’s a programmer who’s never quite caught onto the corporate “how-to,” and although he’s a great programmer, he’s always broke. (I can relate; the best thing about working for a corporation or big government entity is the people around you. The corporate lifestyle sucks for someone like me.) When a mysterious “gridlock gypsy” offers to tune up his grid connection Snap is dubious, but she introduces him to the Tarot. An interesting meld of cyberpunk/technology and mysticism. A fun, well-written tale.
“Anything for You,” another from The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction (September-October 2016), is a bit familiar, like something you might have seen on the original Twilight Zone, with Rod Serling intoning “Submitted for your consideration….” Willem lives for his interactive TV, where he can choose at any time from a menu; choices for the main character of the show; choices that will determine how her life goes. For Willem, Virginia Isley, from the show Dr. Virginia Isley, is more real even than his own wife. He doesn’t see how these choices affect his own life.
Continuing the Beatles theme in titles (what? You didn’t notice Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow?) is the story “She Loves You” from Bast Books, 2020. Dr. Martina Hawke, psychologist, is called in (in Berkeley, California) to help with Jacob “Jack” Strathmore, who owns a pair of stores on Shattuck Avenue in Berkeley, offering vintage books and vinyl records. He’s suffering a mental fugue of some sort. I can’t say too much about this story without giving stuff away that’s crucial to the plot. (But I will say that seeing some of the place names took me back to the Bay Area in the late 1960s.) This is partially about music. And earworms. Well done!
“Taiga” is from a magazine called Not One of Us (Issue #61 April 2019), and is ostensibly about a bunch of Russian cosmonauts hijacked by an alien to an icy alien planet. Something goes wrong and the crew is killed except for Katarina. As the alien seeks to help and communicate with her, she recalls a Soviet invasion of Ukraine when she was a child, leading to her life in Lithuania. Sometimes communication requires both inwardness and outwardness.
“Teardrop” comes from The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction (May-June 2015). The editor, C.C. Finlay, obviously likes Lisa’s writing as I do! NanaNini is a “loke,” a local, an inhabitant of planet XYK-834. The lokes are classified as “Grade 12 primitives” who live on the mountains of XYK-834, which has two atmospheres: a dense “lowsky” and a lesser “highsky” which allows them to breathe; in fact, they can “surf” the lowsky on teardrop-shaped boards called “olos.” The lokes are not human; rather they are humanoid, but there’s a lot of interaction there. You’ll have to read this one to get it. Humans are again not necessarily the good guys here, but when they see The Sparkle, they can learn.
“Bess” was published online, at Daily Science Fiction (May, 2019). Bess is about a person captured by aliens (shades of “Taiga”), and kept pregnant by her captors. Just why they do it is the crux of the story. I didn’t get it early, which surprised me; I usually do.
“Tomorrow’s Child” is the last in the SF section of this book; it’s from Omni magazine (December 1989). Turner’s child Angela has always been a wild child. With more money and political clout than he knows what to do with, he’s let her do as she pleases and always bailed her out of trouble; but when she crashes her car, there’s little he can do to save what’s left of her. Except that there’s this stuff from what sounds like (to me) the Roswell “alien crash site,” and it includes something very much like a bandage. The story grows organically from that. It might be a feature film from Universal soon.
Part III: FANTASY
“Hummers,” from Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine (February 1991) (reprinted in The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror, Fifth Annual Collection, (St. Martin’s Press 1992), resonated with me, because we have hummingbirds (mostly Anna’s) that visit us daily. Many people don’t know about how many birds there are in San Francisco (including the wild parrot flocks on Telegraph Hill). Laurel is dying from cancer; she’s memorized Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’s “stages” and is fascinated by the Egyptian Book of the Dead. Her caretaker, Jerry, is no stranger to death himself; his partner is dying of AIDS. One day Jerry gives Laurel a hummingbird feeder (almost exactly like one I have), and she becomes enchanted by the magical little birds that come to it. Does the soul survive after death? Can the little hummers be psychopomps?
“Starfish,” from Bast Books (2020), reminded me a bit of a bad British horror film I was watching, where a werewolf’s cut-off arm was rampaging around a hotel. Hey, if you cut off a werewolf’s arm and it regrows on the werewolf, does the arm grow a new werewolf? Alice and Jonathan are not the ideal couple; in fact, she’s never been in an ideal couple. All the men in her life eventually break up with her. But she keeps busy with her life at the fertility clinic—she’s helping other women conceive. But something goes wrong. Oh, boy, does something go wrong. You might be surprised at what does.
“Riddle” is another story from The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction (September-October 2017). Edwin Ecco has been a famous artist in San Francisco; his painting adorns the front of Vesuvio, the club he frequents most often. Edwin’s not been too successful lately, but when he rescues a sphinx from an alley, his life takes a surprising turn. Good one!
“Aurelia” is the last one published in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction (January-February 2018) in this collection. Robert is a lawyer, and Aurelia hires him to stop someone from encroaching on her property. This property turns out to be a mansion on a rich bit of land in Sausalito, north of San Francisco, worth a bundle. Robert ends up marrying Aurelia. And he learns a few surprising things about butterflies, too.
“Mysteries of Ohio” like the last story, was published byBast Books, in 2020. Elizabeth Kovac recalls when she was a young woman in Russell Township, Ohio. She’s not sure where she is now, or who these women are who are caretaking her, but she has one clear memory of a day when she “stole” a horse from the stables where she was holidaying, and went for a ride. She’s going to find out what happened that day. Nice and creepy, this one.
“Crazy Chimera Lady,” also from Bast Books (2020), is about adopting animals. Not your usual animals, either. These are chimeras, and from the description, anyone who likes cats will love chimeras… if they can afford to build an aerie for them to exercise in. A fun, and cute, ending to a terrific collection!
Oh, and I was pleasantly surprised that Lisa quoted my Amazing Stories® review last year of her novel Chrome in the appendix to this book. You can preorder ODDITIES: 22 Stories as a Kindle book (publication date November 17. 2020) at US https://www.amazon.com/dp/B08GL2Q954, or order ODDITIES: 22 Stories (in print NOW in the US) at https://www.amazon.com/dp/B08GLSSNPS.
Comments? Anyone? Bueller? Comment (or quip, etc.) here, or on Facebook, or even via email (stevefah at hotmail dot com). Your comments, quips, poems, or brickbats are welcome! (Just keep it polite, okay?) My opinion is, as always, my own, and doesn’t necessarily reflect the views of Amazing Stories or its owner, editor, publisher or other columnists. See you next time!