A master of fantasy playfully combines science fiction with other genres in three antic novellas.
Willis (I Met a Traveller in an Antique Land, 2018, etc.) has long regaled her readers with science fiction that flies off whimsically into fantasy, as well as fantasy that leans on science to support its plots. In this trio of novellas (really two novellas and a short story), she folds in other genres as well. Uncharted Territory takes on the Western; Remake reconsiders the Hollywood musical; and D.A. pays homage to—or perhaps thumbs its nose at—the coming-of-age space opera. In “Uncharted Territory,” Drs. Carson and Findriddy are surveying the planet Boohte with the rather unhelpful aid of their native guide, Bult, when a “socioexozoologist” named Evelyn Parker arrives to study the courtship habits of the local fauna—both native and, it turns out, terran. In Remake, the ever merging corporations that control the entertainment industry have long since given up on new movies and, for the most part, living actors. They prefer to use computer graphics and artificial intelligence to insert long-dead stars into Hollywood classics. Then a CG student meets a dewy-eyed dancer with soaring ambitions. Can he make her dreams come true? In D.A., the shortest and most delightful, everybody in Theodora’s high school is dying to be a cadet at the International Space Academy—except Theodora, who’s set her heart on UCLA. When the Academy appointments are announced, she knows there must be some mistake. Why would they choose a student who didn’t even apply? Willis is best known for her time-travel novels, and her recent fiction has been steeped in a cranky nostalgia that suggests she might be happier if she could use one of her time machines. But in this book, the nostalgia seems affectionate rather than bitter. The stories share her signature style of comedy, in which muddled protagonists bat their ways through flurries of seemingly absurd rules and nonsensical events, which all resolve by the end into neat patterns.
Clever, funny, thought-provoking, and sweet, these stories are classic Willis.