Tales From the Whole Universe, edited by Catherine Shaffer

tales-from-the-whole-universe-edited-by-catherine-shaffer coverGenre: Mixed Genre Anthology
Publisher: Whole Universe Press
Published: 2002
Reviewer Rating: one star
Book Review by Paul Goat Allen

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Before popping the e-book anthology Tales from the Whole Universe into my computer, my expectations were high. As a dedicated fan and avid supporter of small presses — not only because they give unknown authors an opportunity to be read but also because the content and formats usually tend to be a lot less mainstream and a lot more creative — I was hoping for a collection of smartly packaged literary e-gems.

What I read instead was a confusing collection of stories that seemed to be edited and produced by junior high school students. To begin with, the cover and the introduction states that there are five stories of speculative fiction but the table of contents lists eight. I could even overlook the numerous typographical errors and over-utilized pull quotes (some of which took up half a page!) but the one thing that absolutely ruined this e-book for me was the unbelievably terrible and inappropriate illustrations that not only didn’t strengthen the stories but detracted from them. One story in particular (and one of the best pieces in the collection, “Blade of the Bunny” by Jim C. Hines) was actually illustrated by pictures of Lego toys!

It’s almost shameful because there were some really well written short stories in here, stories that I wouldn’t be surprised to see in a mainstream anthology. The horrendous illustrations and overabundance of pull quotes made this anthology not only hard to get through but even harder to take seriously.

Aside from that, most noteworthy in this collection were pieces by G. Scott Huggins, Jim C. Hines and M.L. Konett. “When the Half-Girl Met the Man Who Couldn’t Go Home Again” by Huggins was a surprisingly deep, well crafted story about Theo, a mysterious stowaway on board an immense spaceship, and his short but intense relationship with Gella, a spacer whose upbringing will lead her to make some difficult decisions. Another favorite was Konett’s “Georgia’s Touch,” a dark, melancholy tale about a woman (Gia) with the power to sense people’s emotions through contact with their hair. Pregnant with her own child, Gia learns from her grandfather that her power was passed down by her mother and grandmother, each who had deal in their own way with the strange ability. Hines has two offerings in this anthology, the aforementioned “Blade of the Bunny, ” an irreverent fantasy about two thieves and an unusual job they were hired to do for a wizard, and “Adventures of the Computer Wizard,” an inventive parody of sorts of role-playing and computer geeks.

While I can’t recommend this e-book anthology to anyone (unless they want to see firsthand how not to illustrate a book), I am looking forward to reading what some of these promising authors do in the future.

Paul Goat Allen is the editor of Barnes & Noble’s Explorations science fiction/fantasy book review and is the author of Burning Sticks, Old Winding Way and Warlock Dreams.

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