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Hart & Boot & Other Stories by Tim Pratt
Review by Ernest Lilley
Night Shade Books Paperback  ISBN/ITEM#: 1597800538
Date: 15 January, 2007 List Price $14.95 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /

We interviewed Tim Pratt when his first novel (The Strange Adventures of Rangergirl) came out, and I made mental note to keep track of the further adventures of this talented new author. His writing is everything I look for in fantasy, sharp, insightful, a bit urban but wandering often into the desert, and providing a nicely balanced between laughter and sorrow.

The problem with reviewing fantastic fiction is that if it's good, it can't be condensed into a few lines about plot, character and prose. If it's good, and Pratt's is, then it expands in directions that pretty well defy description. So don't take these bits too seriously. The story isn't in them, it's what the author conjures up through them.

In the title track, "Boot & Hart", we meet Pearl Hart, an eighteen year old marriage escapee who's gone south from Canada to find adventure among the rough characters in the old west. She swears a lot for a woman, or as she notes, for anybody, and it's precisely this fiery streak that gives her the strength to twist men and reality around to her liking. Not that folks are inclined to believe a pretty gal could be the mastermind behind a series of stage coach robberies, but that's the least of what she can do when she puts her mind to it.

"Life in Stone" is a well realized story about an assassin hired by an immortal to find the vessel that holds his life force so that he can destroy it and release himself from the weary march of eons. The only problem being that his mind is somewhat gone, and he can't remember which of his magical fortresses he hid it in. We'll, that's not the only problem, but it will do for a start.

"Cup and Table" begins with the world in flames and the end of a quest in sight, then pops back (or forward) in time to the beginning of the quest for the "cup", not the grail, but something much older...and like the stone in the previous story, it's been mislaid over time. Sigmund, whom the secret organization dedicated to finding the cup recruited off the streets, can see into the past, and when amped up on meth...he can see much further. Fortunately (for their purposes) the organization has "vast quantities" of meth. It's interesting to note that the story previsages the story line of the series "Heroes" as well as includes a vaguely "Who like" succession of characters, including an Old Doctor and a New Doctor. Though if anyone here is a time lord, it's Sigmund. I like Pratt's observation, made by a character made of pure evil to Sigmund, "You're made mostly from carbon atoms...but you don't spend all your time thinking about forming long chain molecules...there's more to both of us than our raw materials." Exit argumentum ad hominem abusive, stage right.

So, this stuff is fantasy, full of bad dreams and urban landscapes and coffee houses and sex and drugs and people looking for some kind of connection with each other, or at least with themselves. And dangers to fight off, with whatever they can find, be it a Philips head screwdriver or raw courage.

"I don't get a magic sword or some stalwart companions to help me, do I?" asks the protagonist in "Romanticore". Not a chance. "This is real life...even if parts of it do look like special effects."

I think that sums up Pratt's stories nicely. They are real life, even if it comes at you in fantastic ways. And ultimately all you have to deal with it is what you bring to the table.

All in all there is a baker's dozen of stories in the collection, dating from 2003 to the release of the book with both "Impossible Dreams" and "Dream Engine" appearing for the first time in the book. I could go on a tell you about each, but honestly I'd rather you read them for yourself. There's not a single one I didn't enjoy, and I'd hate to have to choose a favorite. Though I did find a certain resonance in "Impossible Dreams" where two people from different worlds find that they have movies in common, sort of. And "The Tyrant in Love" has some pretty remarkable stuff going on when a bored tyrant looks for something to amuse himself and discovers love and sorrow in the bargain. Or "Dream Engine," which closes out the collection in a bizarre chase for a lucid dreamer caught in the web of in impossible world.

I rather like author's notes before each story, and got all the way to the end before I realized that there hadn't been any, at least until the end. Pratt includes them as an afterword, though he says he sees them as "self indulgent." Well, considering the job well done, he deserves a bit of indulgence. And we get to enjoy the results.

Recommended.

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