by Steve Rasnic Tem & Melanie Tem
Cover Artist: Howie Michaels
Review by Sam Tomaino
Centipede Press Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 9781933618562
Date: 01 April 2010 List Price $65.00 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /
In Concert collects the speculative fiction written by Steve Rasnic Tem and Melanie Tem (husband and wife) in collaboration from the 1980s to the present.
I have been reading the stories of Melanie Tem and Steve Rasnic Tem since the 1980s and when I came across a mention of the forthcoming publication of In Concert, a collection of all their collaborations to date, I started hinting that I would like a review copy. I was happy to hear that SFRevu had received a publisher's proof copy and looked forward to slowly reading (or re-reading) these stories for a review of the whole book. Their stories must be read slowly and savored like fine food. With In Concert, they have prepared a sumptuous feast.
The stories are printed (with one exception) in the order of publication beginning with their first collaborative effort, "Prosthesis", published in what was then Isaac Asimov' Science Fiction Magazine way back in 1986. Celia Candelaria is a reporter for Infonet on an unnamed planet. She is there to do a story on an establishment called Simms' Emporium that caters to the natives of the planet who are fascinated by prosthetic human body parts. He has on hand wigs, false breasts, artificial limbs, etc that the aliens attach to themselves in haphazard fashion. She meets the proprietor, Gordon Simms, and starts a relationship with him, learning something surprising.
Next up is an especially beautiful story, "The Sing", in which our unnamed narrator works for a mining company called Inter-Ore on the planet Matchhead. He mourns the long ago loss of his lover Rae. He deals with that by participating in the Sing with the Cleer, a race not native to the planet. The story was almost like a song in itself and a pleasure to read.
Things turn dark in "Resettling", Hannah, her artist-husband Perry, and their daughter Ashley live in an unusual house that Hannah has long been fascinated with. As time goes by, Perry becomes obsessed with fixing things around the house. Ashley just loves the house and has her own secrets. Hannah, who works with the mentally ill, knows something wrong is happening. All this leads to a truly unsettling conclusion.
"Kite" is set in some unnamed place in which children can change things with their dreams. Stuart is exceptionally talented and is fascinated by his kite that can become a dragon. Through the influence of the sinister Eliahedron, things change significantly.
Next up comes "The Tenth Scholar" (from The Ultimate Dracula). A pregnant young woman who calls herself Marie Bathory joins a group (called a scholomance) lead by Dracula and wants to become his special student called The Tenth Scholar. Dracula has his own ideas. These two stories well reflect the dark side of their writing.
The Dracula story is followed by "This Icy Region My Heart Encircles", which was for The Ultimate Frankenstein. An aged Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin Shelley is shown as her death approaches on Feb 1, 1851. She still misses her Shelley, whose heart she keeps wrapped up in a copy of one of his poems. She is haunted by ghosts of the dead and one very different one. While this one was dark, it was also very beautiful.
"Mask of the Hero" is dedicated to someone named Mark, with its hero having the same name. He is a young man who has special visions, seeing the masks that people wear and masks that just seem to be everywhere. He calls himself the Prince of Masks and is asked to wage a special battle.
In "Beautiful Strangers", Mary is down on her luck on a planet named Wheat. She is working as a whore and is drunk in a bar where she sees a strange man who no one else can see. This builds to a shattering climax.
"Safe at Home" is from the erotic anthology Hottest Blood) and was probably my least favorite in this collection. Mindy likes to go to horror movies with her boyfriend Charlie, but she holds a dark secret, her Uncle Pat sexually abused her when she was a child and she has terrible visions of white fluids and monsters. I was not a big fan of this series of erotic fiction but this was better than most of those stories.
"The Marriage" was from Love in Vein, another themed anthology. A nameless vampire is dealing with the last days of his dying wife. She has been with him for more than eighty years and she knew how to replenish her emotions and feed him. While this was also somewhat erotic it turned out to be a remarkably sensitive story.
In "More than Should Be Asked", George and Evelyn Klein have had trouble with their son Jake, even when he was in the womb. He kicked and maybe bit his mother inside. As an infant, he made her bleed when she breast fed him. He was even more trouble when he grew up. He is now 20 years old and has a son of his own. George and Evelyn have had enough. This was a particularly effective tale.
"Mama" features Elizabeth, a fourteen-year old girl whose mother died of cancer six month ago. Now, Mama seems to have returned but is a bit different. It is left to Elizabeth to deal with her.
A new concept is introduced in "Nvumbi". Jamie is a nvumbi. His soul has been taken from his body and put in a bottle by Dr Lazare. Later, he was reanimated in another body for Danielle Miller, who became his wife. They live with her mother Claudine and their daughter Eliza. Now, it is time for daughter Eliza to get her own nvumbi. The Tems wrote a good story, here, about something new to me.
In "The Perfect Diamond", when Christopher is released from prison, he still has his diamond, a gift from the mother who abandoned him. It used to be perfect but it had now been marred by all his misery in life. Can it be repaired? This is another of their especially lyrical stories.
More grim, in tone, is "Lost". Frank abandoned his life in Virginia and has been wondering the country, ever since. His car conks out on the town of Los Perdidos, New Mexico, and he decides to stay for a while, doing odd jobs. Long walks at night bring about the fate to which his life was always headed.
Jay Eric Bucher divorced his wife and decided to head "North", in the story of that title. He is looking for a man he says is his great-grandfather, a man the Eskimos call The White Man Who Doesn't Eat. His Eskimo guide is some help, but leaves him to complete his journey alone. How this all plays out makes for another great horror story.
In "Empty Morning" (from The Many Faces of Van Helsing), a woman with a secret seeks out the man who killed her Master. The man she seeks is Abraham Van Helsing, now an absinthe addict. You can probably figure out who her Master was. She wants Van Helsing to release her from the curse that she has tried to rise above. Their meeting makes for a fine little tale.
"Pit's Edge" is from a zombie-themed anthology. There has been a zombie plague that Alan's wife and son have succumbed to. He still keeps her bound but with him. Their daughter and he are still normal. He is going to leave the area with her but must go back to the city. It takes too long for him to get back in a very downer ending.
Things come full circle with the story that gives the collection it name, "In Concert", from the December 2008 issue of Asimov's Science Fiction. At the time, I reviewed it for SFRevu like this:
Inez is an old woman living alone who has been getting random thoughts from other people all her life. She suddenly worries that she has received a suicidal thought from her great-grandson, Daniel, and cannot get in touch with him. Then, she starts receiving messages from a man she has read about in the newspapers, an astronaut named Casey whose ship has been lost in space. All these come together in a beautiful story and one that I will remember when nominating for the Hugos next year.Well, I did include it in my Hugo nominations in 2009 and still think it should have been nominated. This story shows that the Tems are still at the top of their game.
The penultimate story is first published in this collection. "Bees from the Hive" features Xavier, who has been friends with Molly and Jillian since the fourth grade. All that time Molly has been the boss. Now they are in their twenties and Molly starts being really cruel. She starts taking away his senses: taste, smell, hearing, sight. This was another good example of their dark fiction.
The last story, "The Man on the Ceiling" was published in 2000 and is out of chronological order, but for a good reason. It is told in alternating voices, Steve, Melanie, and an omniscient one. Melanie first sees the man on the ceiling and Steve tries to deal with him, even when he steals one of their children. I won't go into any more detail, but this seems to be about their collaborations and ends the volume nicely.
As I only have a proof edition, I cannot comment fully on the illustrations, woodcuts by Howie Michels and full color reproductions taken from the paintings of Marc Chagall or the physical quality of the book itself. I can say this collection is worth whatever it costs and heartily recommend it.