Friday, April 30, 2010

Review: Alembical 2

Title: Alembical 2: A Distillation of Three Novellas
Editor: Lawrence M. Schoen and Arthur Dorrance
Genre: science fiction / fantasy
Price: $28 hardcover / $16 trade paperback
Publisher: Paper Golem LLC
ISBN: hardcover 978-0-9795349-7-3 / paperback 978-0-9795349-8-0
Point of Sale
Reviewed by: Chris Gerrib

Paper Golem is a micro-press which focuses on novellas and short fiction from new and up-and-coming writers. Alembical 2, their fourth book, is a really great read, offering a trifecta of wonderful novellas from Tony Pi, David D. Levine and J. Kathleen Cheney. The novellas in this book individually would be worth the purchase price, together, they’re a bargain.

The Paragon Lure by Tony Pi

Leading off the collection is Tony Pi’s fantasy novella The Paragon Lure. Set in modern-day England, it is an interesting combination of caper piece and urban fantasy. Told in first person by “Felix Lea,” a British thief / semi-immortal shape-shifter, the bulk of this action-packed story takes place in modern-day England. However, there is an extended cameo appearance by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth I and Cleopatra’s pearl earring. There are stories that just hits right – like a fine automobile just out from a tune-up – and this story purrs like a Rolls Royce.

Second Chance by David D. Levine

The middle novella in this book is David D. Levine’s Second Chance. This is a hard SF story of the first expedition to the Tau Ceti system. Seven astronauts, or rather tube-grown clones of the astronauts with the original memories uploaded into them, have been shipped out on a one-way trip to explore the system. But there are two immediate problems – first, one of the astronauts, Chaz, wakes up to discover he’s an outcast in the tiny ship, but he doesn’t know why. Second, they’ve lost communications with Earth. Although solving these two mysteries are the external plot, the story is largely about the characters and true second chances – both personal and societal. I really liked this story, and found it riveting.

Iron Shoes by J. Kathleen Cheney

Rounding out the trifecta is J. Kathleen Cheney’s horseracing novella Iron Shoes. Set in the turn of the 20th century in and around the Saratoga Springs, NY track, it stars Imogen Hawkes as a young widow struggling to keep her dead husband’s horseracing operation afloat. Borrowing from the movies and fiction of the era, the mortgage is due, and the banker wants paid. What’s also obvious (Well, to everybody but Imogen) the banker’s interests are more than financial in nature. But Imogen isn’t entirely helpless – the Lesser Folk – Irish elves and other magical creatures – are about and can be used.

In many ways, Iron Shoes is a combination of the first two stories. It has all the action and high stakes of The Paragon Lure, while having the character growth and development of Second Chance. Young Miss Imogen has, well, a complicated history regarding magic, and has lived her life so far to please others. The circumstances of this story force her to decide what she really wants, and what she’s willing to do to get it. This happy mix of character and plot leads me to call Iron Shoes the best story in an outstanding collection.

This is the second book I’ve read put out by Paper Golem. All I can say to the publisher is “more please!” Do yourself a favor and order a copy of Alembical 2 today.

Rating: 10/10


Unknown said...

Always on the hunt for new and interesting voices...this sounds promising.

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