cover image Unconquered Countries: Four Novellas

Unconquered Countries: Four Novellas

Geoff Ryman. St. Martin's Press, $20.95 (275pp) ISBN 978-0-312-09929-9

Ryman ( Was ) works on a scale as vast as the universe and as intimate as the soul--even when the format is short as it is in the four novellas that make up this collection. His themes beautifully interweave transcendence, death and the dignity of all life. Set in the same universe as The Child Garden , ``A Fall of Angels'' uses particle physics, angels and a young man's fight against futility to show how life transcends duty to reach for love. This tale is not wholly satisfying, but Ryman's take on physics (and angels) is so unique that one can forgive any structural lapses. More successful are ``Fan,'' a richly textured account of a woman who must face death to rid herself of an unhealthy fixation on an unattainable idol and ``O Happy Day,'' a brutal tale about gay rights and human dignity in a concentration camp. The final entry, ``The Unconquered Country'' (winner of the World Fantasy Award) is set in a fantastic universe where machine parts can be birthed within the wombs of peasants and where houses and trucks are dimly alive. Here Ryman explores the strengths of the human soul and human community in adversity. Strange and mythic, it conjures poetic images of black wings, tigers stripes and crows nourishing the spirit of rebirth. Written between 1976 and 1989, not all the novellas are equally polished, but even the darkest story is imbued with a spirit that struggles against sentimentality and towards spiritual awakening. (Apr.)