cover image Starwater Strains

Starwater Strains

Gene Wolfe, . . Tor, $25.95 (352pp) ISBN 978-0-7653-1202-0

Unlike his previous all-fantasy short fiction collection Innocents Aboard (2004),Wolfe's seventh volume of stellar short stories, written mostly between 2000 and 2005, ranges from haunting horror and biting near-contemporary social commentary to high fantasy and far-future SF, all amply demonstrating his mastery of trademark ironic twists of plot and characterization. Two longer pieces frame the collection. In "Viewpoint," Wolfe postulates a "reality show for real," with "a real government clawing for the money," while "Golden City Far" blends adolescent dreams of love and magic with a talking dog and deeds perilous and poignant. Between them Wolfe includes such minor masterpieces as "Petting Zoo," recounting the memories of better days lived by a man and an aged tofu-eating dinosaur, one of Wolfe's favorite beasts. Wolfe's dead-on ear for dialect shines in little morsels of horror like "The Fat Magician" and the apocalyptic "Mute," both treating humanity's capacity for self-destruction. The wonderful shocker "Pulp Cover" provides an invaluable clue to both this outstanding collection and Wolfe's creativity, that tiny, inevitable wrench when dream gives way to reality, reality to nightmare, and we understand, "It isn't really like that at all." Agent, the Virginia Kidd Agency. (Aug.)