Never Never Stories
by Jason Sanford
Cover Artist: Vincent Chong
Review by Sam Tomaino
spotlight publishing Paperback ISBN/ITEM#: 9780976846918
Date: 15 July 2011 List Price $15.95 Amazon US / Amazon UK
Readers of my reviews of Interzone magazine know well my admiration of Jason Stoddard and when he asked me if I was interested in reviewing his first collection of short stories, I leapt at the chance. Most of the stories in this volume were published in Interzone and I reviewed them at the time. So what I will do is just quote myself with those reviews and give you new ones for the stories I haven't read.
First up is "The Ships Like Clouds, Risen by Their Rain", first published in Interzone, issue 217, August 2008. Here's what I said at the time: The setting of "The Ships Like Clouds, Risen By Their Rain" by Jason Sanford is something like I've never encountered before. It's is a planet that seems to be a giant mud ball that is constantly bombarded with material from spaceships from above. This bombardment causes disastrous weather and the narrator of the story is a woman who is a weatherman that warns people of possible catastrophe. Her little sister was lost in one, 40 years ago. She wonders how the material of her world keeps just compacting and why their houses are built on top of older ones that have been buried in the mud. She finds out and all is explained in this poignant tale of hope.
Next up was one of my favorites, first published in Interzone, issue 219, December 2008. I said: The next story was something special and will be on my Hugo short-list in the future. Jason Sanford's "When Thorns Are the Tips of Trees" takes place in a future where a phage has killed much of humanity, but the victims have not died entirely. Their memories and personalities are preserved in thorn trees and it is possible to communicate with them. The phage is still active and can be activated by skin touching skin. People can't touch people because one day nothing might happen and the next, the phage might be activated. Miles Stanton is a young man who communicates with the thorn personalities of his mother and friends. One friend, Elleen is something different, more aware than other thorns. But all are endangered by marauding "thorn die" (infected people) who are destroying the thorns. I'll leave the rest of the story alone and only say that this is one that you will not forget soon.(Di I nominate it” See below)
Another special favorite, first published in Interzone, issue 225, November/December 2009: I have previously praised Jason Sanford before for his talent for invention and his ability to write a great story about what he has invented. With "Here We Are, Falling Through Shadows", he does it again. Our unnamed narrator is a fireman, answering a call one night. The difference here is that his world is one in which things they call rippers haunt any place that is in shadow. The rippers are beings that snatch people away into a dark dimensional portal, ripping them to shreds as they go. They won't enter houses that are sealed shut and can't enter places completely illuminated. They have taken many people, including our narrator's wife. At home, he finds out that his daughter, Sammy, has been communicating with one. She says it's her mother. Outside of his firehouse, he has a conversation with a something that says she's his wife. One night, when he is at the firehouse, his cell phone rings and it's his daughter saying goodbye before she is taken. This is the kind of story that would be difficult to end but Sanford nails it.
Oh, goody! Here's a story I haven't read "Rumspringa" from Orson Scott Card's InterGalactic Medicine Show, Issue 5, July 2007. Samuel Yoder is a young Amish on a planet called New Lancaster, a settlement some 400 years old. He spent his time among the English: and even had a socket implanted in his skull, one he can't use to access data without breaking Amish law. Some English arrive to warn of a comet impact near their community. It should cause only minimal damage, but they were offering temporary evacuation. Sam figures out there is more going on but can't be sure. The resolution here is very good and neatly done. I'm glad I had a chance to read this story.
I'll group the next three together, all published in Interzone, issue 231, November/December 2010: "Millisent Ka Plays in Realtime" posits a world in which people can become vassals to Lords for a certain amount of time. This debt is written into their genetic code. Millicent Ka is a young woman who is a vassal not to his Lordship but his Lordship's wife Lady Amanza Collins, an expert geneticist, has some special plan for her, making for another great story. "Memoria" in which the new idea is not just travel to alternate Earths, but the barriers that make this difficult. It seems the ghosts of everyone who has ever lived, famous or not, tries to stop such ships. The only way to get through is to have people act as shields, attracting the ghosts. The ghosts take away their memories and the people who volunteer for this are convicted criminals who will be set free after five such journeys. Our narrator refers to himself as 'Oil Can' because his ghost is Andy Kaufman (remember Mighty Mouse & Oil Can Harry?). On this voyage, one of the crew is possessed by an evil personality and therein lies our story. Sanford is especially good at coming up with some entirely new idea and writing a great story about it. In "Peacemaker, Peacemaker, Little Bo-Peep", the new idea is a strange movement that has been spreading across the world, coming at people through their dreams. The dreams cause people to want to kill anyone who does any kind of violence. This is not limited to just criminals, but also soldiers, policemen, firemen and even their families. Sergeant Ellen Davies is a policewoman who has just captured a serial killer named Victor when the local church pastor declares war on the violent. Part of the cult is the trilling of the word 'Peace', and the cultists are called 'trillers'. Davies must make common cause with Victor and she finds out something about what is really going on.
The last Interzone story was in #226, January/February 2010 and I did nominate it for the Novelette Hugo, this year. The opening line is quoted on Sanford's website: Interzone is really spoiling me when it publishes Jason Sanford so regularly. As far as I'm concerned, they couldn't publish too much of this author if the named it Jason Sanford's Science Fiction Magazine . His contribution to this issue, "Into the Depths of Illuminated Seas" would be more properly described as dark fantasy. Amber Tolester lives in the port town of Windspur and has a unique ability that could be described as a curse. The names of sailors who would die at sea appeared on her skin. If no one was in immediate danger, the names were cold and blue. During a gale, the blazed red. When a sailor died, the name would blaze hot. She wore clothes to cover her skin as best she could. Once a month, she'd disrobe for the town's oldest widow, who would compare the names on her skin and see if any more were added. This would affect how people would live their lives. One day, the name David Sahr appeared on her skin and no one knew who that was, Sanford tells us a wonderful story here, filling in details of her life and how she is regarded in the town. Once again he shows how he can come up with an entirely new idea, and write a good story about it. Well, it's a new year and this one will be the first 2010 story that will make my Hugo short list when I nominate in 2011.
The book concludes with two more stories I have not read. The first is "A Twenty-First Century Fairy Love Story" from Tales of the Unanticipated, issue 30, spring 2010. Aithne anf Gilkl are fairy lovers living on Chicago. One night Aithne is killed by an iron crow bar. Before she dies, she is able to give her fairy heart to Gill. Gill is, then, able to implant it into the body of a human baby girl who has just died. The girl is now fairy. He starts watching over her and develops a relationship with the baby's biological mother, Ria. She winds up calling the baby Aithne but Gill realizes that this child is not his Aithne, but her own self. The story continues and becomes a lovely fantasy and a surprising love story.
Last of all, there is "The Never Never Wizard of Apalachicola" from Orson Scott Card's InterGalactic Medicine Show issue 20, December 2010. This, too, is a modern-day fantasy focused on Sol and Diane whose parents had rejected magic and a wizard named Chapél. When their parents die, they return to Chapél and Diane pays a price for his help. Sol becomes a famous astronaut but a vision causes him to return to Chapél. Things are not what they seem as Sol, and we, find out in this fine fantasy and a nice ending to the book.
As I said, I've been a fan of Jason Sanford for some time and this volume will help you enjoy many of his best stories. Buy it, hold the book in your hands, read it and find out what I am talking about.