FreethoughtBlogs’s own William Brinkman is at it again! He has a new story set in his Bolingbrook Babbler Literary Universe, and I got an advance reader copy of it. The rest of you rabble can order it tomorrow, at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and other retailers. This is my review.
Like William’s The Rift, A Fire in the Shadows is action-packed genre fiction, set in the Weekly World News -inspired setting of his “Bolingbrook Babbler” articles. At around 12k words, it’s long for a short story, but only covers a few short events.
There’s a lot of information around those events, and the author wants the story to stand on its own, so the exposition can land like bricks upside the head. The references to events in The Rift feel particularly unnecessary, beyond the important fact of the weredeer incursion. I do like being able to include a sentence like that in a review.
Still, as I said before, it’s fun to see SFF genre fiction that isn’t beholden to the conventions laid down by the titans of Intellectual Property. There’s stuff here to enjoy. The vampire battle strategizing reminded me of a bit in “From Russia with Love” where James Bond was thinking about how he could totally judo chop through his opponent’s chest if he wanted to, but now wasn’t the time for it.
One thing that struck me odd. The vampire characters seem to regard their own human ethnicities as a thing to be disdained, and I’m not convinced they’d have any reason to feel that way. This element seemed like a ploy to spell out the characters’ backgrounds without breaking from the plot and dialogue to do so. In general, the bitchy attitudes of the vampires were unappealing, and while that may have been intentional, it’s not interesting to me as a reader. I know some other readers like it, so YMMV. I did like the main character Lydia being a lovefool like The Cardigans.
William’s writing style spells out a lot. “Show, don’t tell” is one of the central dogmas of 20th century literature, but there are situations where even back then it was ignored. Short stories in action-packed genre fiction, well, that’s one place where telling works. His “The Rift” was short for a novel, and like this story, packed a lot into its length, by merit of willingness to lay ideas out plainly.
This creates a paradox (if I’m using that word right), because sometimes William does not spell something out. Those can be pretty important themes and ideas, and since a reader gets accustomed to him spelling out the situation unambiguously, it’s easy to forget he might leave something unsaid. I’m guessing a lot of readers might miss his unspoken ideas.
Like “The Rift,” I think the main character of “A Fire in the Shadows” has an unreliable perspective. Lydia is the kind of person who is in love with the world, like a ramped-up high school student. Like I used to be, once upon a time, wheeling from one crush to the next.
And that’s the exact kind of person that would repeat the social faux pas that exploded the atheo-skeptic community – a poorly timed pass at a person, which would come off as creepy. Had Lydia followed through with her love confession at the end of AFITS, she would have been an even bigger creep than Tom during his elevatorgatery crime in The Rift.
Who wants to have an age-inappropriate leather-clad stranger confess their love for you, at night when there’s no one else around? Big yikes. Interesting to see a story show a character walk up to that edge and come back.
I think it’s funny that a person could miss that whole theme because it’s the source of the title. “Fire” is vampire slang for your burning soul. While Lydia is a reasonably good person, she has that fiery passion of a stranger lurking in The Shadows – something romantic until it becomes dangerous. Something she needs to be mindful of, and that the targets of that affection are probably better off not knowing about.
That’s emotionally sophisticated stuff. I liked it. Thanks, William.
William Brinkman says
Thank you for a fair review. 🙂
Great American Satan says
afterthought – i feel like jimi hendrix is looming around the periphery of this story, tho never named. there are at least a handful of things conspiring to put his “fire” in my head.