Subterranean Press Magazine: Spring 2007
Review: Jack Knife and Map of Dreams
By Virginia Baker (Jove/346 pages/$7.99)
MAP OF DREAMS
By M. Rickert (Golden Gryphon/310 pages/$24.95)
Reviewed by Dorman T. Shindler
Half of this latest entry in my reviews for Subterranean falls under the “books I overlooked” category. Both of the titles are by women writers fairly new to the genre scene, and both of them are worthy of your attention. The first, Jack Knife, by Virginia Baker (a Writers of the Future grand prize winner for “Rachel’s Wedding”), is an entertaining but familiar twist on the Jack-the-Ripper mystery, which has gotten a lot of play in the SF and fantasy field, with TV shows like Star Trek and Babylon 5 making use of it, and writers as varied as Robert Bloch, Harlan Elllison, Alan Moore and Karl Alexander using it for fictional fodder. Like Alexander (whose book Time After Time was adapted to film), Baker makes use of time travel in her novel, resulting in something both formulaic and original.
The formulaic part comes in the premise: two time travelers, Sara Grant and David Eliot—Americans both—are hot on the trail of time-traveling, continuum-changing rogue Jonathan Avery. The rogue is none other than the scientist who invented the time-traveling machine. Miffed because he wasn’t chosen to be the first time traveler (fellow scientist Grant got that honor), Avery violates protocol, commits an act of violence that takes someone’s life, and heads back in time. Special Ops Agent Eliot accompanies Grant back to the late 19th Century to capture Avery before he can do something to seriously alter the future. Once they arrive in London, the pair discovers Avery may be linked to the Ripper murders in White Chapel. That’s the hackneyed, derivative part—and it’s a lot—of Baker’s debut. What elevates the tale to the level of an entertaining, worth-at-least one read, novel is Baker’s sure-handedness in drawing scenes and creating characters from 19th Century London, as well as offering up obscure facts and suspects in the age-old mystery that still fascinates most everyone. Good fun!
It’s a rarely admitted but sad fact: most reviewers (and editors, and writers, etc.) in the field don’t have time to read everything that’s published. Somehow, I managed to miss all of M. Rickert’s poetic and powerful stories being published in various genre magazines, but fortunately the always excellent Golden Gryphon Press managed to remedy that situation by publishing Map of Dreams. And although I managed to set aside Rickert’s 2006 debut for far too long, it kindly waited for me. Good thing, too, because Map of Dreams is a must-read collection of stories by a writer whose growing body of work already puts her among the finest of her generation—genre and mainstream writers alike. The title story alone is worth the price of entry. It deals so unerringly with the grief of a parent that even those of us who haven’t suffered such a horrendous loss know this is so (like a character says in The World According to Garp, another piece of fiction that dealt with loss, “It’s just so true”). After Annie Merchant’s daughter is shot and killed by a sniper in New York City, life as she knows it ceases to exist (any loving parent will relate to this notion). Fending off those good-natured but ultimately annoying attempts by others to help her resume life, Annie commits herself to the possibility—via a vaguely magical, vaguely scientific method (think quantum physics)—of finding her daughter in time and space. Her relentless pursuit brings her to an island just off of Australia—where an author who lost his wife to the same killer supposedly resides. Once there, Annie meets a man named Herrick (who has also suffered loss), as well as Daisy and O’ Toole, two people who seem to have stepped out of a parallel universe—or something far more unfathomable. It’s a tour-de-force that sounds the territory of grief and, to use the author’s words, succeeds in “measuring the height of sorrow, the rivered depths of despair.”
Heart-wrenching, funny, poetic and damn-near perfect in execution, “Map of Dreams” is a piece of fiction that grabs the reader by his or her emotions and doesn’t let go until every last drop of blood, sweat and tears has been wrung out. That’s just the first story! There are fifteen more extremely well-written stories in this collection, including “Cold Fire,” “Moorina of the Seals” and “The Harrowing,” every last one of them engaging, well-crafted works of fiction.
Pick up this collection by Rickert and prepared to be enthralled and entertained, moved and maddened. Then make sure to shelve it next to works by Harlan Ellison, Luisa Valenzuela, Connie Willis, Angela Carter and Lucius Shepard. Right where it belongs.