This collection of works by John C. Wright contain three Hugo-nominated novellas – One Bright Star to Guide Them, The Plural of Helen of Troy, Pale Realms of Shade, and one nominated short story, The Parliament of Beasts and Birds. Wright has a well honed ability to create a diverse set a specific moods and tones through his dialogue and language, and these three in particular range the gamut between classic fantasy, time-travel paradox scifi, and twenties noir detectives. I reviewed The Parliament of Beasts and Birds separately, but am choosing to review all three novellas together.
- ★★☆☆☆ – One Bright Star to Guide Them pays homage to The Chronicles of Narnia. Adult Thomas is visited by an old friend, Tybalt the black cat, reminded of his childhood adventures, and seeks his three childhood companions for a new quest. He visits each, one-by-one, but ultimately faces the evil on his own. I am surprised that most the story takes place in the real world, with a large shift in reality at the end. Apart from Thomas, the childhood friends feel empty and lack anything more than a single motivation. The ending also seems to be an allegory for something, but I am not sure what.
- ★★★☆☆ – The Plural of Helen of Troy experiments with a time travel paradox by revealing the story in reverse chronology, complete with the chapter headings, afterward, the end, etc… The protagonist is hired by an individual, Jack, who seeks to murder his future self for a crime he hasn’t yet committed, raping one of the Helens of Troy. This original story is my favorite of the mix, even if it’s a bit confusing in the City Beyond Time. This is an ambitious story with literary, historical, and mythical references, action scenes that constantly re-write themselves with changing timelines, dames in distress, and a conspiracy by evil mustache-twirlers who abduct the dead for their amusement. With so much going-on and the backwards reveal, I think I may have lost the forest for the trees.
- ★★☆☆☆ – Pale Realms of Shade is a Faustian-noir that begins with the engaging premise of a recently deceased supernatural private investigator haunting his widow and his ex-partner, who are now together and living happily off of his life insurance payout. Matt threatens revenge and scares them poltergeist-style, with psychedelic movements between the living world and the underworld. Unfortunately, the story takes an unexpected left turn when he doesn’t fall for temptation to murder his ex-partner, and confesses his sins to an angel, and asks God for forgiveness.
Most writers have an intended message embedded in their stories, but Wright’s are so obvious in their Christian morality that it’s distracting. In most cases, the interesting worlds Wright creates generate an excitement that doesn’t carry through to the end for me. I can do without the overt theology and wish for significantly more world exploration.
“Innocence and faith are the weapons children bring to bear against the open evils; wisdom is required to deal with evils better disguised.”
“Jack was from the same time stream as me, same country, even the same century. By Metachronopolitan standards, that made us practically Siamese Twins. He was twenty years prophetic to me, but I could say things like, ‘Toto, I’ve got a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore’ without either of us needing to have the artificial part of our memory blur in timeshift in order to insert a retroactive recollection of having had learned a language, or a lingo, we didn’t previously remember having learned.”
“Who designs a universe where a man can lose not just one limb, or even four, but every part of his body altogether, and it still hurts?”