Otherworldly Maine. ed Noreen Doyle, Down East 2008

Otherworldly Maine. ed Noreen Doyle, Down East 2008.

So what strange forces were at work for this tome from a small press US publisher to come to my attention? Well, they got in touch to see if I would like a review copy. A glance through the list of contributors would have had me errer on the side of a refusal on account of there probably being not enough SF in there, but what with the likes of Dozois, Stephen King, and a couple of stories from slightly less-luminary authors but from sources such as Asimovs and F&SF, I decided to accept the offer.

So what of the fiction?

Edgar Pangborn’s ‘Longtooth’ is up first, having appeared in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction way back in 1970. Pangborn evidently farmed in Maine in the early part of World War II, and he draws on this most effectively in describing a very remote farm, where the farmer and his wife are aware of something strange, very strange, in the woods nearby. The characterisation of the couple, and their visiting friend, and the community in which they live is of the highest order, although the story, about a neanderthal living in the forest, and claiming the farmer’s wife isn’t quite up to the same standard.

Up next is Tom Tolnay’s ‘The Hermit Genius of Marshville’, and which appeared in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine in 1998, and account of it being a genre which generally leaves me cold, was skipped past. But a good strategy from the editor to cast the net wide, in a volume that whilst being primarily genre fiction, isn’t marketed as such.

Daniel Hatch’s ‘Bass Fishing With The Enemy’ is one of the new stories in the volume, a darkly wry look at the near future, with a group of old Maine fishermen coming up against, and getting the better of, Homeland Security, ever alert against the threat of turr, from wherever it comes.

John P. O’Grady’s ‘Dreams of Virginia Dare’ which appeared in the author’s ‘Grave Goods’ collection in 2001, is a lighter look at some students getting very spooked by the old tree on the college lawn.

Elizabeth Hand’s ‘Echo’ appeared in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction in 2005, whence I said :

    Part of a thematically linked series of stories which draw on ancient Greek myth. Sadly we never covered ancient Greek myth at school, and I’ve not rectified that omission in the quarter of a century since, so apologies for my shame failings in the erudite department. A sad, mournful mood piece in which an observer marks the fall of yet another empire (ours).

If there’s one author associated with Maine it has to be Stephen King, and his ‘Mrs. Todd’s Shortcut’ and here he’s on top form, all the way back from 1984 and his collection ‘Redbook’. Two ole boys sit on bench outside a shop, passing the time of day, and pondering the second wife of one of their contemporaries. The story progresses suspensefully, as we find out more about Mrs Todd, her penchant for finding a shortcut, and, this being Stephen King, just where those back roads go.

A fine feature in the collection is the inclusion of a couple of much older stories than you normally get. Edward Kent’s ‘A Vision of Bangor, in the Twentieth Century’ dates from 1848, in which a man from said time has a vision of the future, and is particularly interested to hear of the role of women in the future, and Mark Twain’s ‘The Loves of Alonzo Fitz Clarence and Rosannah Ethelton’ dates back to 1878.

From Analog in 2002, Jeff Hecht’s ‘By the Lake’ is a short piece in which the aquatic denizens of a lake are given the wherewithall to fend for themselves.

Gregory Feeley’s ‘Awskonomuk’ is an altogether deeper story, in which a research is intrigued to find that there may be a live link back to the ancient Norse settlers in the region, but is thwarted when his research subject fails to share his enthusiasm for what may be in her genes.

In Melanie Tem’s ‘The County’ two young city-types fail to take into account long-standing, and ancient, local customers and local characters, to the cost of one of them.

Lee Allred’s ‘And Dream Such Dreams’ follows President-elect Abraham Lincoln through Gettysburg as he battles with dreams of epainesis and paraineses – praise for the dead and rememberance of the living, en route to his final destination.

An unsettling near future story Gardner Dozois’ ‘Flashpoint’ comes next, from Orbit 13 back in 1974. As with the Pangborn and King stories, there is a palpable sense of place, and of real people going about their daily lives. Ben Jacobs is the central character, finding himself increasingly at odds with those around him, at the same time that strange things are starting to happen. The pressure builds through the story, as the reader follows Jacobs’ increasingly short-tempered day, until, come nightfall, there is indeed a flashpoint.

Lucy Suitor Holt’s ‘Trophy Seekins’ is a new story, referring to a hunting dog who goes out with his master and a friend to look for raccoon, but finds something altogether more alien, and beats a hasty retreat.

Scott Thomas’ ‘The Autumn of Sorrows’ finds a remote community on the coast re-visited by their dead, as the sea proffers up their mortal, animated, albeit incommunicative, remains.

Karen Jordan Allen’s ‘Alternate Anxieties’ follows ones tortured soul seeking those alternate paths which lead to a better place.

Editor Noreen Doyle’s ‘The Chapter of the Hawk of Gold’ first appeared in Realms of Fantasy in 1997, and is a short piece in which a young girl’s attempted prank on the ladies of the local historical society enables her to escape the confines of her small community, albeit not by the normal, train out of town, route, but an avian method.

Thomas A. Easton’s ‘The Bung-Hole Caper’ from The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction in 1982 reads as a story that could have been written any time in the fifty years prior to that. Cyrus Holmes is a farmer minding his own business, who is more than surprised to find one of the aliens recently landed on Earth on his property, and in one of the barrels he had marked down for making cider. It appears that the alien has found a home from home, so to speak, and suitably suited up, is keen to do business.

Jack L. Chalker’s ‘Dance Band on the Titanic’ is from Asimovs back in 1978, and in comparison to the Easton story, reads as a story that could have been written at any time in the 25 years since. Now an exceedingly well trodden trope, the story still stands up due to its quality. It starts off with an opening sentence that grabs the reader ‘The girl was committing suicide again on the lower afterdeck.’ The person watching is one of a crew, recently joined, of a ship plying back and forth across a stretch of water which variously provides access to different versions of Maine in different universes. There is opportunity for trading across the universes, but it takes a special kind of man to work on a ship whose passengers vary from voyage to voyage and indeed are overlaid and pass through each other. The protagonist has to decide whether he can intervene to save the girl who wishes to take her life.

Jessice Reisman’s ‘When the Ice Goes Out’ is a new story, looking at the relationship between two sisters, the one of whom drowned recently, but whose icy waters which contain her body allow her to remain in contact. Will the icy lake claim others?

In Steve Rasnic Tem’s ‘Creation Story’ two men take their elderly grandfather out of his residential home and into the nearby forest, and in doing so find out more about him, themselves, and their place in the world.

Conclusion.

This is an excellent collection, with a number of outstanding stories, and the others mostly of a very high standard. It gives a palpable sense of place, providing a glimpse of a region that has strong links to a far older place than the myriad cityscapes and dark urban corners which the genres associate with the USA.

The collection successfully brings together a litte bit of sf, a lot of speculative fiction, fantasy, horror and thrillers, but which all work together and which don’t leap out as being stories of that ilk, but simply good stories with a shared setting. websiteamazon.coM

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