Friday, August 3, 2018

Birthday Review: Short Fiction of Marc Laidlaw

Marc Laidlaw was born on 3 August 1960. Another damn kid -- almost a year younger than me! He published a number of novels in the '80s and '90s, such as Neon Lotus and Kalifornia. He spent a lot of time in the gaming industry, before retiring a couple of years ago. He's continued to publish short fiction all this time, including a number of collaborations with Rudy Rucker, and a long and satisfying series about a bard with a stone hand named Gorlen and his companion, a gargoyle with a flesh hand named Spar.

For his birthday I decided to, as I've done for some other writers, compile a set of my Locus reviews of his short fiction. So, here goes:

Locus, February 2005

Finally, Marc Laidlaw's "Jane" (Sci Fiction, February 2005) is truly powerful, disturbing, an mysterious. Jane is a girl living in nearly complete isolation with her parents, her two older brothers, and her perpetually hooded younger sister. Then travelers stumble on their house -- and Jane's father takes shocking action, which leads to terrible repercussions. Nothing is fully explained, but the story hints at a momentous back story and an equally momentous future. The characters are darkly driven -- here there is power and tragedy. All in less than 4000 words. (I reprinted this story in one of my very first anthologies, Fantasy, the Best of the Year: 2006 Edition.)

Locus, August 2008

Contrastingly, Marc Laidlaw’s "Childrun" (F&SF, August 2008) is set in a fairly typical fantasy world, and it features his recurring character Gorlen Vizenfirthe, a bard with a stone hand. Here he comes to a remote town where, mysteriously, all the children save one seem to have vanished. And they each seemed to disappear when a visitor came -- which makes his arrival one regarded with suspicion. The resolution is interesting, and the story is engaging.

Locus, March 2009

In F&SF for March 2009 Marc Laidlaw continues his entertaining series about Gorlen, the bard with a stone hand, as Gorlen reaches a city which carved gargoyles -- and which has been much altered as the gargoyles have rebelled. And if Gorlen is human with a stone hand, what sort of gargoyle might he meet?

Locus, November 2013

And "Bemused", by Marc Laidlaw (F&SF, September-October 2013), is another story in his series about the bard Gorlen and the gargoyle Spar, forever linked because Gorlen has a stone hand (Spar's) and Spar a corresponding hand of flesh. Here they visit an eccentric music loving Lord, Ardentine Wollox, where they discover (to Spar's terrible loss) the menacing secret behind (or underneath) the Wollox fortune. These stories are consistently entertaining traditional fantasy, as we see again ...

in the September Lightspeed, with "Bellweather", another fine entry in the series, this time about an encounter in the mountains with an isolated farmer who saves Gorlen's life, only to incur the wrath of the bell-wielding monk from who he fled as a boy. Spar -- increasingly the moral center of the series -- insists that Gorlen and he help the farmer save his child from the vengeful monk. Again -- entertaining and imaginative work.

Locus, July 2014

I guess I'd consider Marc Laidlaw's adventures of the bard Gorlen and the gargoyle Spar not so much a stealth serialization than a true series of stories (admittedly with something of a narrative arc uniting them). In the latest, "Rooksnight" (F&SF, May-June 2014), they deal with a group of "knights" who are attempting to reclaim all of the vast treasure stolen from their mysterious Lord. The fantastical concepts, such as the intelligent rooks and what they are protecting, are pretty neat -- another good adventure fantasy.

Locus, May 2017

In the January-February 2017 F&SF I also quite enjoyed a couple of stories fitting in different ways into the "crime investigation" category. "Wetherfell’s Reef Runics", by Marc Laidlaw, follows used bookstore owner (I was sold already!) Ambrose Salala, as he gets entangled in the mysterious drowning of a man diving near his store in Hawaii.  Ambrose had meant to help an old friend of his by selling some books she had come across, but most of them are tat, except for a strange privately produced book called Reef Runics, by W. S. Wetherfell, the man who had drowned. His friend’s no-good son is involved somehow, as he had been the dead man’s guide; and the book itself is dangerously weird, involving Wetherfell’s conviction that he has discovered a powerful "geognostic network" underwater. It’s told in a leisurely and engaging fashion, with convincing (to me) local color, and a plausible sort of shambolic resolution. Fun stuff, and I hope this becomes a series.

Locus, January 2018

F&SF’s November/December 2018 issue features "Stillborne", a significant and as always enjoyable entry in Marc Laidlaw’s Spar/Gorlen series. The two join a caravan to a town where the Philosopher Moths are scheduled for there every seven years mating swarm. There they encounter Gorlen’s long-past lover, Plenth, whom Gorlen taught to play the eduldamer. Their reunion occasions some flashbacks that throw light on Gorlen’s history -- and that of the gargoyle Spar. In the present day they unravel a mystery entangling the Moths and the very popular local drink, as well as dealing with the complications of Plenth’s strange pregnancy. It’s good solid work, illuminating much, and, I suspect, laying the groundwork for a fuller resolution to this fine series.

Locus, May 2018

Marc Laidlaw’s "A Swim and a Crawl" (F&SF, March-April 2018) is about a man who has decided to swim out to sea off Hawaii to commit suicide, and who then decides not to, and makes it back to a curiously changed shore -- good existential, meditative, horror (if that’s what it should be called).

(I admit it was not until compiling this set of reviews that I realized all the Gorlen/Spar stories have single word titles! I believe Marc is working on a novel about the two -- I look forward eagerly to it!)

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