Amazing Stories

REVIEWS: WHERE THERE’S A WILLETT… THERE’S A WAY

Figure 1 – Edward Willett

I’ve previously reviewed a book by Edward Willett, fellow Canadian writer, but I can’t put my hands on the link right now. We’ve been undergoing a heat wave here in Sunny Vancouver, as have many other parts of the world. But I have no air conditioning, merely a few fans (no pun intended) to move the already warm air sluggishly through the house. So my normally sparkling (ha!) prose will be even more leaden than usual while it’s hot, and I can’t remember my own name, let alone what specific columns I’ve written, or when. (This one, by the way, is number two hundred and thirty-one, if you’re keeping count.) This week I have not one, but two collections by the aforementioned Ed Willett, who hails from the province of Saskatchewan. (I had the privilege of driving through said province not once, but twice, a few years ago when the WorldCon was held in Winnipeg, Manitoba. I don’t know if I met Ed at that particular convention, but I probably did.)

Figure 2 – Diamond Dust cover by Wendi Nordell

The first collection I’d like to review this week. It’s a collection of twenty-one poems in the SF/F vein by Edward (Ed) Willett, winner of the Canadian Aurora Award (not for this book). Now, I don’t often review poetry, even SF/F poetry; but this is a good collection. It’s published by Your Nickel’s Worth Publishing in Regina, SK (and, I believe, available through all the usual outlets—possibly even your local independent bookseller, even if you have to order one, hint hint!). There’s an interesting story attached to this book—not the one about the illustrator, Wendi Nordell, being Ed’s niece, but she is—and how these poems came about. In April 2016 (Poetry Month), the Poet Laureate of Saskatchewan (yes, there is such a thing) emailed two different lines every day to every member of the SK Writers’ Guild, asking them to build poems around them (either incorporating the exact lines or referring to their contents).

Ed, being a poetry lover (you can read all about it in his foreword), took that challenge up, and created a different poem every day of the challenge. The lines that inspired each poet (complete with attribution) are printed before each poem, along with an illustration by Ms. Nordell. Twenty of them are in free verse; only the last one, “The Tale of Old Bill From the Ship Cactus Hills,” having both meter and a rhyme scheme. I personally prefer to write rhyming verse, the more difficult the scheme the better—but I have no objection to those who don’t.

Getting a first line or similar is a great way to spark a story—and make no mistake, these poems all tell stories. Some poems, generally speaking, are meant only to spark or arouse emotions; some are meant to evoke a memory or maybe nostalgia for a time and/or place; some are meant to amuse; and many are story-telling devices.

Figure 3 – Illustration for “His Body Knows”

“How does that [free verse] make it poetry rather than fiction?” my wife, the Beautiful & Talented Lynne Taylor Fahnestalk, asked after I’d read her a few of these poems. I pondered this for a while, and then thought that maybe some of you would like to know this as well. I believe that, rather than being arranged in paragraphs, as fiction, a poem is—whether it has rhyme or meter or neither—arranged in lines, and/or grouped into stanzas. It’s like a mini-story where character, time, and place are hinted at rather than fully described or evoked as in fiction. Like a good story, free verse is meant to entertain/evoke/arouse/educate or just amuse the reader. It’s just a much shorter form, in which the writer has to hint, and the reader must fill in the blanks.

There are all sorts of poems here, from straight SF, to poems involving vampires, to “mixed media” type SF, humourous, poems of despair, even “end of the world” poems. Probably something for every taste; even if poetry isn’t something you normally read, you might want to pick up a copy of this and see if you like it (hey, it’s only $5 or $6 at Amazon!). I got a kick out of “Emily Alison Atkinson Finds God”… not really a religious poem at all!

Figure 4 – Paths to the Stars cover by Tithi Luadthong

And the next collection by Ed is a short story collection—this one with twenty-two stories (one more than in the poetry collection!). This one is pubished by ShadowPaw Press in Regina, Ed’s own new publishing house. Some have already been published, and some are unpublished; some are old, and some are fairly recent. I enjoyed this collection, and if I had to give a one-word description, I’d say “reminiscent.”
Reminiscent of what? Well, back when I was reading my first SF, I enjoyed the novels, like Heinlein, Asimov, and so on, but my first love was a good short story collection, each story being written by a different author. If I had to dredge up some titles of long-running series, I’d probably come up with the various Best from F&SF (edited by Anthony BoucherJ. Francis McComas, Robert P. Mills, Ed Ferman, or Avram Davidson) as overall best; any anthology (mostly Year’s Best SF) edited by T.E. (Ted) Dikty and Everett F. Bleiler would suffice; Fred Pohl edited the Star series; and any Groff Conklin anthology, like Invaders of Earth, would make my day. This was all before Dangerous Visions or Nebula Award Winner anthologies; these were almost all seminal stories of science fiction and fantasy, and much that came after was a pale shadow.

I say that Ed Willett’s little collection of 22 stories is not an imitation, nor are these stories old-fashioned—well, some are a bit old-fashioned in style, but that’s homage, I think, to, the stories Ed liked while he was learning to be a writer. But they remind me—not the least in variety—of those great collections of long ago.

“A Little Space Music” is one of the ones I liked—not the least because I, like Ed, have “trod the boards” in my youth; my biggest role was playing… ah, you’re not here to hear about me, are you? This is about thespians in space. Specifically musicals (another subject dear to my heart) and what a joy(!?) it can be putting on a familiar musical with less-than-stellar talent, venue, props, costumes and makeup.

The first story, “The Minstrel,” although it shares little with Robert A. Heinlein’s “Green Hills of Earth,” has a singing protagonist in common; this one, rather than a blind spacegoing minstrel, has an orphaned minstrel who wants, rather desperately, to go to space. What would he sacrifice to make that happen?

Another good one is “The Wind,” which is more of a ghost story than an SF story—okay, it’s a full-on ghost story. Carl misses Jennifer a lot, especially on those windy nights!

As I’ve said, there is as much variety here as in those long-ago and much-loved anthologies of mine; you can find this one—like the poetry book—on Amazon or at your favourite retailer (especially the independents, even if you have to order it!). I’d give both of these books a solid four flibbets! ¤¤¤¤

I like to read and answer comments on my column. If you comment here, or on Facebook, I’ll probably answer your comment in the same place. Your comments are welcome whether you like or dislike what I’ve said! (I can learn things from those who disagree, I feel.) My opinion is, as always, my own, and doesn’t necessarily reflect the views of Amazing Stories or its owner, editor, publisher or other columnists. See you next week!

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