With DREAMS OF DISTANT SHORES, Patricia A. McKillip delivers something that is not quite your typical short story collection. While the point of entry is a series of shorter pieces, the collection builds to and is anchored by the lengthy novella “Something Rich and Strange”, with an essay on writing high fantasy orthogonal to the usual tropes. The book then ends with appreciation of McKillip’s work (and the stories in the collection) by Peter S. Beagle, an elegant coda to a warm, thought-provoking collection.
Certain elements bind the stories together – quirky inhabitants of quirky seaside towns (“Mer” and “Something Rich and Strange”), the difficulty in recognizing inspiration, even when it’s right in front of you (“Which Witch” and “The Gorgon in the Cupboard”), the way simple desires lead us into very deep and dangerous waters (“Edith and Henry Go Motoring” and “Something Rich and Strange”) and younger characters stumbling their way toward the abiding power of ancient female wisdom (pretty much everything except for the jarring opener, “Weird”).
And then there’s “Something Rich and Strange”, in which a longstanding, imperfect but loving relationship is tested by the intrusion of inhuman powers bent on disruption. McKillip doesn’t quite stick the landing here – the setup is so gorgeous that the rationale for all the heartbreak inevitably falls short – but the journey is magnificent, filing the reader with dread for the characters even when the threats are merely hinted at.
The stories alone make this collection worthwhile. The two essays at the end elevate it to even rarer heights. Old fans and new alike will find DREAMS OF DISTANT SHORES alternately enchanting, thought-provoking, and eminently worth the read.
Patricia A. McKillip at Westercon 64 in the Fairmont San Jose Hotel on Saturday 2 July 2011 (Stephen Gold/Wikimedia Commons)
NIGHT OWL SCI-FI reviews the collection.
DREAMS OF DISTANT SHORES by Patricia A. McKillip provides an intriguing look at the author’s ability to evoke remarkable worlds that are almost familiar yet unlike anything that most of us have ever imagined. One has to be in the proper frame of mind to savor these stories because they not only require a suspension of disbelief but a willingness to twist one’s mind in directions that aren’t always straightforward. I didn’t quite grasp the connection between all of the stories but I enjoyed reading the author’s exposition on her desire to both follow and break the ‘rules’ of high fantasy as well as the paean by the remarkable Peter S. Beagle who explores McKillip’s journey toward distant shores. I enjoyed the “Which Witch” twists and turns and the changes wrought by the association between the witch and the goddess in “Mer”, and I was fascinated by the glimpses of the sea in “Something Rich and Strange” and its rich imagery while paradoxically being frustrated by the events taking place. This book provides a weird and wonderful trip and I look forward to exploring even more of the exotic worlds imagined by this fascinating author.
This collection of seven fantasy tales and a couple of essays (one in the form of a letter) provide a mystical journey that challenges the reader to look at the world differently.
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Cover by Thomas Canty