Daydreams Undertaken by Stephen L. Antczak
Meisha Merlin / Marietta Publishing Trade: ISBN 1892669250 PubDate: 05/01/04
Review by Colleen R. Cahill
196 pgs. List price $ 14.99
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Daydreaming is something we all do at one time or another. Good authors take their dreams and share them with us, as Stephen L. Antczak has done in the first collection of his short stories, Daydreams Undertaken. These fifteen tales are a mix of science fiction, fantasy and speculative fiction (for want of a better term) that take you to inner space, outer space and all places between.
Antczak starts with a story set in Random, Oregon, a town that is dominated by an interactive sculpture. This story and the sculpture in the town are called “Reality,” and the art work seems to be a model of the universe. If anyone pulls a level or pushes a button, the world changes unpredictably. After three such changes, the town wants no more alterations, but Osgood Kramer is sure he can set things back to where they started. “Reality”sets the tone for the rest of the book: a sense of wonder, haunting events and glimmers of joy. Combined this with a bit of playfulness and you have some great tales. Two of the more playful are “Captain Asimov” and “Captain Asimov Saves the Day,” where a slightly mixed-up robot named Jeevs fights the forces of evil in a ski mask and hot pink cape. These two delightful stories not only combine super heroes and I, Robot, but include a main character who is a bit of Don Quixote. For more fun, try “Space Aliens Ate My Head”. A biker gang terrorizing a small town in Georgia discovers you don’t mess with the guys in flying saucers.
In “Way Down,” Antczak shows a darker side. Janny is living in a post apocalyptic world where women huddle together for protection, as they are replaced by “domesticated clones of the most beautiful women in history.” Scavenging on the edge of civilization, she finds a dead man with a strange helmet. Soon Janny will have to choose between a horrible physical existence and a heavenly virtual world. This is similar to the choice that Henri has to make in “Reed John-Paul Forever.” Antczak builds a gritty and real world where Henri is the ultimate effigy (or wannabe) of Reed John-Paul, the most super of the superstars. Henri’s talent for mimicry leads to an interesting choice, one that some of us might not have taken.
Many of these stories are centered around belief: in a god, in an idea or in oneself. “Virtual Day” is a vampire story that hinges on Katya longing to see the sun that would destroy her and her search for Sol through virtual reality. Mistaken belief is a central theme in “The Monster Lab,” where a mad scientist makes a bargain with his daughter, but at who’s cost? The wonderfully weird story, “The Deity Effect,” joins a dying ring world with a virus-ridden artificial intelligence who finds love is the answer. And my favorite story is “Be My Hero,” a tale of an older female adventurer who decides she just cannot face one more challenger and asks for her own champion. There is a bit of a twist in this one and that gives an edge to the story, an aspect many of Antczak’s works have to their advantage.
A bit of dark, bit of light, music, wonder, and fun are in this collection, all written with an artist’s eye for scenery, atmosphere and imagination. When you are in the need of a daydream, try these; they won’t disappoint you.