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Mike Jasper
Posted on Monday, November 15, 2004 - 07:36 am:   

Okay, here we go... I'll be posting reviews and comments on my short story collection from Prime books, GUNNING FOR THE BUDDHA, in this spot.

Copies available from:

Shocklines

Clarkesworld

Prime Books

From me

Amazon soon, we hope...
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Mike Jasper
Posted on Monday, November 15, 2004 - 07:37 am:   

The first blurb, from SF writer extraordinaire James Patrick Kelly (one of my Clarion '96 teachers):

"Don't be looking for bold starship captains or warrior maidens wielding magic swords in GUNNING FOR THE BUDDHA. Michael Jasper serves up something refreshingly different: a heady brew of ordinary folks making tough decisions at the far edges of reality. Spend some time with these stories and you're bound to bump into people you know who find themselves in places you've only dreamed about."
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Mike Jasper
Posted on Monday, November 15, 2004 - 07:38 am:   

An excerpt from the Introduction from John Kessel (also a Clarion teacher as well as my prof from NC State):

"And I guess that is the one thing I would commend the most to you about these stories: that in the end they are about people you might meet at the grocery store or the ballpark or in church. Mike Jasper brings the common touch to the most uncommon situations. Welcome to his world."
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Mike Jasper
Posted on Monday, November 15, 2004 - 07:40 am:   

From prolific writer (and reader) Sherwood Smith:

"I finished reading Gunning for the Buddha by Michael Jasper. What an excellent collection. I liked every story in it; as always, some worked better for me than others, but there was no sense of "what's this doing in here?" that I've gotten from some collections, particularly from newer writers who have not yet built up a body of work from which to cherry-pick the best stories. Jasper has landed running; it seems to me his strongest suit is his ability to find the right voice for each story, an ability that shows off his range. I like what he does with structure as well. The stories range from science fiction (the near future scenarios are pretty universally grim) to fantasy. I particularly like the four stories that center around the arrival of an alien species. My favorite story is "The Disillusionist." How's this for a hook? I rode west, followed hard by spirits."
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Michael Jasper
Posted on Thursday, December 02, 2004 - 04:54 pm:   

Okay, this isn't a review, but it's nifty nonetheless -- Australian writer extraoirdinaire Anna Tambour has reprinted one of the stories from GUNNING FOR THE BUDDHA at her site, as part of her "Irresistibles" section (or what I like to think of as the "The Virtuous Medlar Circle -- Thoroughly Bletted" section).

So go read my dark fairy-tale rewrite, "An Outrider's Tale, over at her site, and let me know what you think.

Huge thanks, Anna!
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Michael Jasper
Posted on Monday, January 03, 2005 - 07:03 am:   

At last, SF Site has gotten around to posting Sherwood Smith's review of my short story collection, Gunning for the Buddha. It's a really positive review, and I'm quite astounded by it. So when you get a chance, read the review (and if you haven't done so, grab a copy)!
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Michael Jasper
Posted on Monday, January 03, 2005 - 07:50 am:   

Here's the whole SF Site review:

Like the protagonist in his title story, Michael Jasper lands running. Gunning for the Buddha is a very strong collection from a new writer who hasn't built up a body of work from which to cherry-pick the best stories. Ranging from science fiction to fantasy to horror, the stories offer a pleasing variety that I think will establish Jasper as a guy to keep an eye on.

"We killed the Buddha for the first time just outside Berlin."

"Gunning for the Buddha" -- Our first person narrator is a woman driving a powerful, sky blue '75 Pontiac Firebird that revs up to a certain speed, jetting over bridges for preference, and blasts through the limits of time and space. She's on a mission, along with three other lost souls, to save the world from the chaos resulting from the teachings of religious prophets of peace. Fast as she drives, she cannot outdrive her own anger and desperation, even when her plan begins to unravel with violent speed.

The story races at headlong pace, shifting around in time just as the characters do. I think the impact thumps just short of the maximum buttkickage by the fact that a crucial decision -- that is, why this quest in the first place -- takes place off-stage, which gives the second crucial decision less energy than might have otherwise been. But the story's got velocity.

"Goddamn Redneck Surfer Zombies" -- with a title like that, how could a story miss? Well, actually, it could easily have been one of those one-joke groaners. Jasper shows here how finding just the right voice makes a story work. Big Al is the first person narrator, an old geezer in Long Beach on the east coast, a small tourist place that was at first ruined when zombies suddenly appeared from the local cemetery and started walking around, stinking like spoiled tuna, with parts dropping off. Yes, that will kill off any tourist trade. The story weaves back and forth in time as we find out what happened at first, and what Big Al and his pals who hang out fishing and drinking cold ones did about it. The concept of surfer zombies is funny, but the joke could so easily have become tired. Jasper takes a funny concept and makes a good story out of it.

"Visions of Suburban Bliss" -- Richard Toliver, a black man, was proud to have moved himself and his family into an upscale white bread suburban track in North Carolina. He reflects on this as he does his long commute home on a hot summer's day. And as increasingly surreal things happen, it's the only thought that keeps him steady. Yes, his whole life seems wrapped up in the artificial niceness of the suburban good life... It's weird, just how easily suburban bliss can turn seriously weird.

"A Feast at the Manor" -- Rob Heying and his wife Melinda are overweight. They go to a fat farm, an unusual one that charges a lot of money but promises results. The place seems odd and just gets odder, and Rob likes Melinda just fine as she is, but she really hates herself, and insisted on their trying it out. Her insistence, and his resistance, at first keep them from communicating as things get increasingly strange and then creepy. I really liked this story; Jasper handles the subjects of food, friendship, attraction, and marriage with grace, compassion, and a touch of humor, leading us unexpected places.

"Unplugged" -- this is one of my favorite stories. It's a short, taut piece, about Internet junkies, here called cowboys, who are trying to "dry out" before they fry their systems. We have another first person narrator, Mickey, who has been here before at Rubin's non-tech "health facility," on the edge of a huge freeway in a grim near-future. He talks to Jonathan, the new arrival; they both know their health is in trouble, but the urge to plug in, any way possible, is nearly overwhelming. What Mickey keeps trying to hold onto is the thought of his exasperated girlfriend Lia, who has obviously been disappointed one too many times. But temptation is very, very severe... The details are sharp and unsentimental: we see the ex-cowboys jerking and twitching, hear their mumbled, brain-fried conversations, but the view is compassionate, not scornful, and the inward battle is viscerally real.

"Working the Game" -- first person again, the setting a very grim near-future, wherein workers are kept outside a Wall, working pretty much all the time in order to earn enough credit to get inside. The protagonist is taking care of his sick girlfriend; we will see this element again, the desperate person trying to work the system and take care of a helpless dependent. Jasper evokes with unsparing realism the constant watchful anxiety that the single caretaker with little or no resources feels.

"Explosions"-- "Working the Game" and "Explosions" have a certain element in common: overworked primary caretaker, one of a sick girlfriend and the other a single mom, who work extra to try to beat the system and get a better living, but are forced to use hard earned money for criminally overpriced medical care. In this second story, however, we get a new element into the mix: the introduction of aliens. Japser's Wannoshay are intriguing, avoiding so many frequently-seen alien tropes. The protagonist is a working mom at a beer brewery. Jasper veers between the inexplicable and realistic human reactions to the inexplicable in a tight, involving story.

"Wantaviewer" -- The Wannoshay are back in this emotional roller-coaster of a story. The protagonist here is Alissa Trang, who wants to be a famous camera blogger on the Netstream -- but doesn't quite want it badly enough to kick a dangerous drug habit. The drug here is Blur, which speeds one up both physically and mentally, but with a proportionate cost to the system. She goes to a bad part of Winnipeg to make her connection, and accidentally encounters the aliens, who are still new to humanity, still frightening, still largely unwanted. Everyone seems to be expecting some kind of interstellar war, and while waiting for the fewmets to hit the fan, take out their apprehensions on the Wannoshay still trying to comprehend this bewildering world they are refugees on. The choices here are realistic, the consequences logical, and the story heartbreaking.

"Mud and Salt" -- the third Wannoshay story. Each story stands independent of the others, but the whole is adding up to an absorbing tale. Here, we've got three long-time buddies, Skin and his pals Matt and Georgie, out hunting the aliens for the reward. By now the aliens are confined to concentration camps 'for their own good.' An escape means danger. Georgie is a gun nut, Matt badly needs the cash. So does Skin, though he's somewhat ambivalent about this way to get it. The alien has been seen near the abandoned Omaha Indian Reservation, which becomes a hunting ground for a hunt that those who long ago hunted here might never have conceived. Jasper is great with the sensory details in this story, the cold and dirt and excitement of guns and buddy talk; when the action happens things speed up to disaster very rapidly. Several sharp turns, including to the emotions, make the story a satisfying read.

"Crossing the Camp" -- Father Joshua, a dedicated priest with a moral dilemma, is the human protagonist in this last of the four Wannoshay stories. He works in a concentration camp where the Wannoshay are housed, his job to teach their young. He uses Bible verses to teach them literacy. But seeing how, one by one, the people are being destroyed by our world -- so unnecessary -- is grinding him down, and a young priest, Father Jaime, is sent to replace him. I thought the writing was powerful, the men and aliens sympathetic as they wrestle with their own emotions, and examine grim moral dilemmas while trying to do good work. A fine story that, at least to me, could have sparked into brilliance if Jasper had not sidestepped what seems to me to be the center of a priest's life: faith.

"Black Angel" -- here's a story with all kinds of nifty elements: angels, demonics, a fight, a cemetery. In fact, the elements come so quickly that there is sometimes little room for motivation: the story begins with a frame, following which we discover that Tom is betting that he can talk Mercy into going with him to the cemetery so he can tell her the story of the Black Angel, a winged figure that dominates the place. He has been seeing her for a couple of days, during which time he meets a mysterious figure who offers him silver if he can get someone into the cemetery. Mercy's own story, Tom's motives for dating her, for listening to the mysterious stranger, all could have had more air time; in fact, I felt that this story was actually a book compressed way down. Still, the action is full of pizzazz, making a fast, engaging read.

"The Disillusionist" -- "I rode west, followed hard by spirits." It's that 'hard' that hooks itself tightly into my skull, yanking me into this story. The writing is so strong, the imagery so powerful; this particular juxtaposition of the weird and the transcendent brought Tim Powers to mind -- which turns out to be not so far off the mark, I discovered when reading the afterward. An unnamed loner is deputized to go after and bring down a mysterious man who is going from town to town leaving dead and dying in his wake. It seems this weird figure sets up to give an entertainment, promises to strip away lies and leave people only with the truth. The protagonist considers the grim truths of his own life until this moment, which includes standing by at a massacre of Indians who tried to surrender, but perseveres, eventually facing this weird figure. About three quarters of the way along I realized I was picking up hints about the identity of the deputy, which caused my interest in an already creepy, thoughtful, sensorily complex story to zing. My favorite of the collection.

"Coal Ash and Sparrows" -- Jasper does more of his structural magic with this strange tale of a boy, a book, and the girl who discovers that book. What happens to each as time slides along, what the book means, makes for a fascinating story, impossible to predict.

"An Outrider's Tale" -- a new look at a very old fairy tale. Most of it is narrated in the past tense over a campsite, but Jasper makes it work, because the story telling is not simply a frame; the strange narrator must then take that tale and use it. This last aspect was what brought it all together to a transcendent close. Best use of that tale I've seen in a while.

"Natural Order" -- the structure echoes the opening story: a car full of oddballs careering about the countryside, shifting in and out of time and space while on their mission. The protagonist is a chain-smoking guy named Zed, his companions an elderly black woman and a young teen; they add a dog. Zed worries about the dog as they head away from an on-coming hurricane, toward LA where there is going to be an earthquake. The Bosses who sent them on their missions, who granted each a specific ability, do not guarantee safety. The balance of the world is the context, the question: is it right to preserve lives? A fast-paced story that leaves the reader asking questions brings this excellent collection to a close.

Copyright © 2005 Sherwood Smith
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Mike Jasper
Posted on Monday, February 28, 2005 - 04:12 am:   

A review of Gunning in LOCUS is upcoming, according my publisher, and he also noted that he'd sent copies to about 20 other places, so hopefully we'll have more reviews to put up here. Soon.
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Mastadge
Posted on Monday, February 28, 2005 - 04:45 am:   

I'm reading GftB now. It's going slowly, as I'm doing a huge amount of reading for school, so I'm only about four stories in, but I'm enjoying it so far. Particularly Goddamn Redneck Surfer Zombies.
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Mike Jasper
Posted on Wednesday, March 02, 2005 - 02:04 am:   

Thanks for the note, Mastadge. Feel free to share any thoughts here.

I had fun writing about those surfin' zombies.
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Mike Jasper
Posted on Thursday, March 03, 2005 - 08:29 am:   

Another review of Gunning is in the works for Tangent, according to my spies. I'll post it and/or link to it as soon as it runs.

Nifty.
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Mike Jasper
Posted on Tuesday, March 15, 2005 - 03:24 am:   

The Tangent Online review is now live, by E. Sedia:

This is a marvelous collection, full of intelligence and keen insight; at the same time, it rarely forgets to be entertaining. I only recently discovered Michael Jasper's work, and am glad for having done so.

"Gunning for the Buddha" is an interesting spin of the old maxim, "If you meet a Buddha on the road, kill him." The violent protagonists of the story do exactly that—they meet a hitchhiking Buddha on their mad dash to another temporal jump. The protagonists have discovered a way to travel through time and space with nothing more than a bridge and a car. I don't want to give too much away, but the tables turn in the end, leading to a sad and profound resolution.

"Goddamn Redneck Surfer Zombies" is about (you guessed it) surfing zombies. That is, they start out eating people's brains, just like any zombie would, but the locals teach zombies to surf, and the new passion distracts them from mayhem. In less skilled hands, that would be an interesting gimmick but not much of a story. Jasper throws in a narrator—a man who likes to fish and surf, and who is getting old. The end result is a bittersweet meditation on mortality and afterlife, and a strong message of hope.

"Visions of Suburban Bliss" is my least favorite story of the bunch. Many can relate to the trials of the protagonist—going to work every day, yoked to a soul-deadening labor to feed the family, confined in a suburb, and believing that he made it by moving to a gated community. It had a nice weird quality to it, and the protagonist's suffocation in the heat and uniformity, his longing for something better, something more diverse, is almost palpable. Still, I felt that the story was a bit thin, and the ending was a letdown.

"A Feast at the Manor" is lovely. Rob and Melinda go to a weight-loss facility, where they are tortured by horrible exercise and deprivation. The writing is so vivid, I could taste the chalky shakes they were given instead of meals. Is it any wonder that the inmates rebel and order pizza? As a consequence, they discover a sinister secret behind the facility's success. While I wasn't crazy about the sinister secret itself, the rest of the story more than made up for it. Jasper's skill of sympathetic observation shines in this tale—it is impossible not to love his overweight protagonists, far as they may be from the current ideal of a human body.

"Unplugged" is a decent story, dealing with the hackers addicted to technology. It is sort of Kesey meets Cronenberg, and makes for a quick and enjoyable read. While the subject matter is not particularly new, I found the setting of a drug rehab facility interesting and well done, and the view of technology as an addictive vice, refreshing.

"Working the Game" continued the theme of a man being trapped in his work. The bleak future painted in the story seemed disturbingly close at times. Everyone has to accumulate a certain number of work points, after which they can cross the great wall that separates the world of work from the world of leisure where you live in a warm cocoon and everything you can possibly desire is delivered to you. It reminded me of so many people who work insane hours in order to retire early; for the privilege of doing nothing tomorrow, they are killing themselves today. And the chilling ending was as surprising as it was unavoidable. I just wish there was more of this story, since some very interesting threads (cloneslaves, for one) were left unresolved and underexplained. Nonetheless, a great, if depressing, read.

Linked stories "Explosions," "Wantaviewer," "Mud and Salt," and "Crossing the Camp" all explore the same situation, so I am going to discuss them together. All four detail the arrival of aliens, Wannoshay, to Earth. The stories deal with the interactions between the aliens and humans, and they ring true. The paranoia, the fear of the other, the judgmental attitudes and lightning-quick stereotyping seemed very accurate, if unflattering. Moreover, Jasper's aliens are believable—they are neither monsters bent on world domination nor flawlessly wise and adorable aliens that dominate science fiction. Wannoshay are different from us, different to the point of frustrating any attempt at mutual understanding; at the same time, there are glimpsed possibilities of finding a common language, especially haunting in the first and the last of these four stories. And Wannoshay are not perfect; if they were, it would be all too easy to be outraged at the injustice and cruelty with which they are treated. But they are flawed—prone to violent outbursts, fond of mind-altering drugs, and not altogether friendly. The question is, of course, whether only perfect beings deserve compassion and respect. These four stories are worth the price of the hardcover by themselves.

"Black Angels" is one of the more traditional stories of the bunch—not that it's a bad thing. It has angels and demons doing battle in a graveyard, and overall it's a nice creepy tale. I was somewhat perplexed that the Wandering Jew and Judas were lumped into a single character, and wish this development was explored in greater detail.

"The Disillusionist" features a well-known historical figure, early in his career, chasing after a man who devastates every town he goes through by his sinister "magic"—taking away people's illusions. A very thoughtful exploration of the place of illusion and truth, with nice special effects. I especially liked the Disillusionist's tricks—such as pulling a dead rabbit out of a hat.

I first read "Coal Ash and Sparrows" in Asimov's, and was pleased to revisit this magical tale. While it feels like a fragment of a larger tale, it is still spell-binding. The centerpiece of the story is a book of magic that falls into the hands of Lina, a nine-year-old girl. Her father before her read this book on the voyage from Ireland to America, and now it is Lina's turn. The catch is that the book only allows one "journey" per person, and Lina's takes over a hundred years. While the plot appears conventional (a young person finds a magic book), the way Jasper handles it is unique, strange, and moving.

"An Outrider's Tale" is a straight-up fantasy, mixing fairy-tale with a ghost story in a way that is both fresh and satisfying. It has a bit of battle, a bit of magic, but mostly it's a story about regret and redemption. The milieu is a mix between medieval and fairy-tale, and the protagonists are well-drawn and sympathetic. This type of story is the main reason I read fantasy.

"Natural Order" is an appropriate closer for this collection—many of the previously explored themes resurface in this tale. The group of protagonists—Zed, Mrs. Thompson, Missy, and the greyhound named Walt Whitman—travel all over the country on the orders from their mysterious Bosses, maintaining the balance of nature. Each has their special power, and each is aware of their purpose; but that does not mean that they do not have their doubts. Moreover, interference of humans throws the balance off more and more frequently. This intensely moving story asks some profound questions—what is the place of human beings in the natural order? Is life more valuable than duty? Are even the worst of us deserving of forgiveness?

Overall, I highly recommend this collection. It is well-written, intelligent, and honest. Moreover, it explores some deep themes in a grown-up way—that is, it offers no easy answers or definitive resolutions. But if you like your reading to affect you on an emotional level and linger for a while afterwards, this book will do just that.

(C) 2005 E. Sedia
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Mike Jasper
Posted on Tuesday, March 15, 2005 - 03:25 am:   

And watch for the March 28th issue of Publishers Weekly, which is reported to have a full review of Gunning!

I know -- "Get out of here!" was my initial reaction too.
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Mastadge
Posted on Tuesday, March 15, 2005 - 04:35 am:   

Yeah, PW appears to be reviewing a lot of Prime titles -- and they tend to get very good reviews.
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Mike Jasper
Posted on Tuesday, March 15, 2005 - 06:43 am:   

Fingers crossed, Mastadge, my friend. Fingers crossed.
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Michael Jasper
Posted on Monday, March 28, 2005 - 03:04 am:   

GUNNING FOR THE BUDDHA
Michael Jasper. (Prime), $17.95 paper (224p) ISBN 1-930997-72-8

Jasper’s style is all over the place in his first collection—the influence of such established SF authors as John Kessel (who provides an introduction), Tim Powers and Andy Duncan is manifest—but readers curious to see the growth of a writer one story at a time will be rewarded. The title tale involves time travel with an atmospheric twist. Black comedy marks “A Feast at the Manor,” with its desperate dieters, and “Goddamn Redneck Surfer Zombies,” about a small beach community dealing with a seasonal influx of the undead. Less successful are “Unplugged,” about outmoded cyber cowboys, and “Working the Game,” in which a downtrodden worker finally realizes there’s no way to beat the system. “Explosions” and the three tales that follow explore the repercussions when humans attempt to make a place for the alien Wannoshay after their space ship crashes on Earth. The last four entries are the most memorable, the standout being the evocative and vivid “Natural Order,” which Jasper calls in his afterword “the best story I’ve ever written in ten hours.” (Apr.)

http://www.publishersweekly.com/article/CA335711.html?display=current
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Mike Jasper
Posted on Monday, March 28, 2005 - 03:22 am:   

That previous review was from the March 28th issue of Publishers Weekly, by the way...
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Michael Jasper
Posted on Monday, May 16, 2005 - 06:26 pm:   

This is the last bit of news I got, oh, a month and a half ago, and now that I finally, finally have my copy the May LOCUS, I can share the review Faren Miller wrote of my collection, Gunning for the Buddha:

Locus Looks at Books: Faren Miller

This time I'll deal with a rich crop of collections, plus a first novel by a writer who made an impressive debut with a collection last year. All come from small independent presses, meaning low print runs but high quality and attention to detail, including the cover art [shout-out to my cover artist pal, Jamie Bishop].

[Reviews of story collections by Carol Emshwiller, Howard Waldrop, and Gregory Frost (one of my Clarion teachers!) take place before mine.]

Michael Jasper hasn't adapted to the 21st century after a career in the previous one; this is his time. In his first collection Gunning for the Buddha, the 1996 Clarion graduate shows more than youthful promise as he (re)imagines America in the past, present and future, with detours into a few even stranger places.

The title story, named for a Shriekback song (which I recently saw on another book's "soundtrack" list), derives from a far older concept. For the protagonist, this translates as "I had to kill all the Buddhas because it was their fault the world was riddled with chaos." He adds,

Don't get me wrong. I wasn't being bigoted in my choice of targets. If I saw Christ on a sidewalk in San Francisco, I'd gun the engine and splat him onto the windshield as quick as you could say 'Peace be with you.' Same deal for Abraham and Mohammed, for holy women and medicine men in charge of their flocks. All of them had to go. Too much of their misguided teachings had trickled down through the centuries, only to be misunderstood by murderers and power freaks and oppressors.

You don't have to be young and fiery to feel that kind of anger these days, but finding a way past it can be a tortuous journey. Jasper crams that into a few short pages -- then reality turns inside-out.

"Gunning" exhibits wit as well as anger. In other stories horror meets its near-twin, absurdity. "Goddamn Redneck Surfer Zombies" is just what it sounds like, and when the would-be dieters in "A Feast at the Manor" go on a two-week "vacation"/make-over in a sinister Arizona hotel where even the garden cacti make the hero feel "like a balloon in a room full of needles," nastiness and silliness are joined at the hip. Real and surreal meet to produce barbed social satire in "Visions of Suburban Bliss", while "Unplugged" achieves an added measure of poignancy as it shows cyberpunk "cowboys" in their days of obsolescence.

Turning to real or mythic pasts, Jasper juxtaposes bits of odd but genuine Americana with the metaphysical in "The Disillusionist" and older magic in "Coal Ash and Sparrows" (a powerful work which "started as an outtake" from a YA fantasy novel-in-progress and makes me eager to see the final product). While "An Outrider's Tale" (the one original) leaves the New World for the realms of a retold fairy tale with some clever twists, final story "Natural Order" returns to something like America, where an endless Road Trip beautifully mingles the familiar with the strange.

I've left the heart of the book (literally and figuratively) for last. If expanded, this sequence of four stories about the aliens known as Wannoshay or Wantas -- near-humanoids marooned on a near-future Earth, rather than bug-eyed invaders -- could form an excellent "mosaic novel"; even as a "mini-mosaic" it's intense. In the Introduction John Kessel calls these stories a "means of examining the middle American character" (and human nature in general), where the Wantas may become victims yet remain too unfathomable, and somehow dangerous, to perceive as "total innocents." When Jasper shows the interactions between Americans and these Others at various points, from attempted assimilation to corruption and incarceration, we see individuals caught up in what may be an inevitable historical process. The two stories set after the relationship has gone sour, "Mud and Salt" and "Crossing the Camp", are particularly powerful, though "Crossing" turns out to have been written before any of the others. When Jasper reveals this in the story comments gathered in his Afterward, he calls writing it a "watershed moment" and admits that it's his favorite. He has a shrewd eye for what's best among his works, and his enthusiasm for the writer's profession is engaging. While this world may seem darker and more dystopian by the day, avid, talented newcomers like Jasper help us keep the faith.

[End of review, though she does go on to say fine things about Anna Tambour's very cool novel]

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