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The Lives of Ghosts and Other Shades of Memory, by Loren W. Cooper Book Review | SFReader.com
The Lives of Ghosts and Other Shades of Memory, by Loren W. Cooper Genre: Mixed Genre Anthology Publisher: Silver Lake Publishing Published: 2000 Review Posted: 12/6/2004 Reviewer Rating:
Reader Rating: Not Rated
The Lives of Ghosts and Other Shades of Memory, by Loren W. Cooper
Book Review by Sean T.M. Stiennon
Have you read this book?
First off, I'll admit that I probably wasn't the right reader for this book. Many of the stories, although I could recognize the quality and emotional resonance they might have for some, simply didn't appeal to me or satisfy what I look for in my fiction. The writing was generally good, even if the tales it told were often confusing. The Lives of Ghost and Other Shades of Memory contains 11 short stories, most of them hovering around ten pages, and has a really cool title. It's also a thin book--only about 130 pages--but it makes up for that with cover art far better than most I've seen on small press titles. It's appealing to hold, certainly.
As I said above, the stories themselves were mixed. As the title would indicate, the collection roughly follows a theme of loss, regret, ghosts of the past, and memories that torment. This leads to many stories whose primary focus seems to be in stoking up emotion in the reader--rarely any particular emotion, at least for me, but just a general atmosphere of feeling. This seemed to lead to vague characters and vague stories. Most of them require a great many blanks to be filled in by the reader, and I wasn't up to task for all of them. It also frustrated me that the author obviously put a great deal of imagination into his settings and plots, but didn't flesh them out into more fulfilling and complete stories. Another problem I had was that, in a couple of the stories, obviously evil characters who do little to garner the reader's sympathy are portrayed positively, even as heroes.
A few examples: In "Agamemnon at Aulis", the viewpoint character is a sentient spacecraft who seems to be scattered throughout the rings surrounding a planet which he terraformed. This planet belongs to a stellar empire, and is being attacked by a foe known only as The Enemy. There are only two characters in this story-the sentient ship and the planetary officer who speaks to him--and neither of them are really sympathetic. The focus of the story is on the emotions the ship feels as he looks down upon a planet which he loves but cannot ever touch or enjoy. The story uses its six pages to convey one emotion, with one variation thereupon, and then it ends.
In the title story, "The Lives of Ghosts", a group of immortals with very familiar names (Hammurabi and Napolean being two examples) are "Players" in a game that is never precisely defined, but involves traveling between and manipulating various possible lines of human history. Now, a murderer is among the Players, and the first-person narrator (whose name, revealed later in the story, is critical to the plot) is accused. This is a strong story, and it was one of the few pieces in the anthology whose emotions rang true for me, primarily because they were more complex then those in most of the other stories. There are several layers to the action, and in the end the story is satisfactorily explained.
"The Fix" tells the tale of an unnamed first-person narrator who is continually plagued by The Hunger-an immense, driving need to go out and suck life force from people on the streets about once a week, killing them. He is one of the Forbidden, and lives in constant fear of being discovered by the Council-until he falls in love with a female member thereof. There is some character development, but overall this story didn't work for me-the scenario, obviously critical to the story, was never explained enough for me to comprehend what was happening, and the fact that none of the characters was ever named only increased the atmosphere of vagueness. Also, the problem of good and evil confusion was most prominent here.
"Heart's Reach" was quite possibly my favorite story in the collection, if only for its worldbuilding. Frekis, a half-man and half-wolf, is sent by Lord Moro as a gift to Leonidas, the lord of a fortress known as Heart's Reach. He meets Leonidas' daughter, Cleite, and affection springs up between the two of them. At first, it seems to all involved as though Frekis will serve as a loyal warrior of Heart's Reach--but he has his own agenda. The world has all the appearances of being a fascinating one, but the reader is given only hints into the setting and the conflicts. My mind was able to fill in enough blanks to make the story resonate with me, and I enjoyed the viewpoint character a great deal. The conclusion was genuinely affecting, and the writing was beautiful.
Overall, I think that there are many readers who will enjoy this collection a good deal more than I did--those who are more satisfied with the emotions than I was, or those who appreciate the opportunity to fill in the gaps on their own and figure out the story's puzzle.
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