This eclectic volume of short stories explores familiar and futuristic landscapes through characters that love, yearn, ache, and make sacrifices.
In “Book of Shadows,” a young woman casts a spell to bring her father back from the dead, promising years of her life in exchange. Although her wish is granted, she immediately realizes she’s made a fatal mistake. “I’d known the price was part of my life,” Sandy remarks after her final conversation with her father. “I’d just thought I had more life to trade.” Ariane, an insectlike priestess in “Minotaur,” must set aside her religious beliefs and the interests of her race, the fictional Mirosians, when she falls in love with a human prisoner destined to be fed to the Goddess. True to speculative fiction, the tales explore time travel, government conspiracies, and the inner lives of androids, but the characters always feel relatable because of the dangers they face. Mythical monsters appear in these pages along with the real—and therefore even more horrific—terrors of everyday life: unemployment, rent bills, fear of abandonment, and loneliness. While Dallas is ravaged by a hurricane and the subsequent power outages in “Saving Alan Idle,” a disabled programmer named Eileen Yu struggles to rescue her laptop, which contains her greatest creation, an artificial intelligence named Alan. Alan in turn looks back at Eileen’s life, wondering how using a wheelchair has deprived her of intimacy and friendship. “In Sickness and in Health,” one of the best stories in Villyard’s collection, follows an android named Robbie who goes to extreme lengths pretending to be human to provide for his dying owner, Lydia Anderson. Love appears as little moments of empathy and connection across species, as when Robbie asks Lydia what it was like to be a child and she responds: “Days were longer then….There was joy in play that lasted for hours and hours. And it was safe.” The less successful tales in this volume rush through the events without concern for character development or, like “Toads and Roses,” appear to be simple retellings of familiar plots from children’s books.
An imaginative collection that puts a modern spin on beloved fairy tales and myths.