Sunday, December 16, 2018

Birthday Review: Stories of Jeremiah Tolbert

Today is Jeremiah Tolbert's birthday. I've been enjoying his short fiction since 2005, and here's a compilation of some of my Locus reviews of his work. Alas, something weird happened to some of my files from 2016, so some stuff is gone. But here's a lot of it:

Locus, May 2005

I suppose as a Missourian I should have resented Jeremiah Tolbert's "The Kansas Jayhawk vs the Midwestern Monster Squad" (Interzone, March-April), as it tells of a battle between genetically engineered "state monsters", including the Kansas Jayhawk and the Missouri Tiger: and the Jayhawk wins! But the story is just too fun – set in a future where the "geeks shall inherit the Earth" – and where they have encouraged radical and goofy science projects like creating Godzilla-sized monster mascots.

Locus, March 2008

The latest issue of Shimmer magazine is a special Pirate issue, guest-edited by John Joseph Adams of F&SF. There were fine pieces in multiple modes, but I liked best a couple that took a SFnal tack. Jeremiah Tolbert’s “Captain Blood’s B00ty” has college hackers using magic and IP-tracking software to locate a pirate treasure online.

Locus, May 2009, review of Federations

Jeremiah Tolbert’s “The Culture Archivist” is very fine, about a man illegally saving what he can of an alien culture’s ways in advance of a commercial invasion from his “federation”. The story modulates nicely from an almost Strossian romp to a serious examination of its central issue (which is not to deny that Stross’s romps have serious points, too!)

Locus, April 2011

GigaNotoSaurus opened 2011 with a couple of quite different and quite entertaining stories. Jeremiah Tolbert’s “Work, With Occasional Molemen” (January) is wackily fun B-movie style SF, about a man in Topeka with a rather weird (and sometimes criminal family – in an odd way his family dynamics reminded me of those in the (much much darker) Oscar-nominated movie Winter’s Bone, which as it happens is set sorta kinda in between where Jeremy and I live) – who ends up cutting a deal with, well, molemen he finds underground.

Locus, June 2011

In June, Fantasy offers a science fiction story, with a fantasy theme, zombies: “You Have Been Turned Into a Zombie by a Friend”, by Jeremiah Tolbert. The story is set in high school, and the main character is uneasily perched between the “socialistas”, apparently a “popular” group, and some old rather geekier friends. But her (I assume) geekier instincts save her when a cellphone app starts turning everyone into mindless slaves. Her job is to help her friends escape, and in the process figure out who’s behind things. The villain has an affecting story too, and I quite enjoyed the working out.

Locus, March 2016

I really liked a fantasy by Jeremiah Tolbert in the February Lightspeed, "Not by Wardrobe, Tornado, or Looking Glass". It seems that almost everyone in the world is escaping to fantasy worlds via "rabbit holes" -- everyone but Louisa, who desperately wants one of her own. The "real world" is decaying, as more and more people leave, reflected in Louisa's increasingly pointless temp job in a law office, and in her frayed relationship with her sister. Then fantasy creatures begin to colonize our "real world", and Louisa is finally pushed to contemplate what is a "real world" and what is a "rabbit hole" and what is the best way to live your real life?

Locus, September 2016

At the August Lightspeed, I enjoyed Jeremiah Tolbert’s “Taste the Singularity at the Food Truck Circus”, set in a somewhat climate-altered near future Kansas City. The narrator is an accountant who once dreamed of being a chef, but now sublimates his ambitions to sampling food trucks. He runs into a guy he’d met at a cooking class long before, and ends up with an invitation to the Food Truck Circus, a not quite legal gathering where some truly wild food is offered (like modified tapeworms, that taste good and also consume some of the extra calories you’re ingesting). The plot is a bit slight, mainly concerning the ways the Circus discourages spies, and the resolution, if sensible, comes off a bit flat, but the story is amusing and the food ideas are fun.

I’m not really that into Lovecraftian horror but Swords v. Cthulhu seemed to offer a bit more action, maybe a bit less cosmic despair, than usual, so I looked into. It’s fair to say there’s still some cosmic despair on offer, but plenty of action, and a fair bit of fun. I particularly liked a couple of stories. Jeremiah Tolbert’s “The Dreamers of Alamoi”, in which the madman Garen the Undreaming, who never sleeps and has a soul in shards as a result, is engaged by a brother and sister to go to Alamoi, where everyone who gets to close is mentally ensnared to work on a massive edifice. The best thing about this is Garen’s character, and the story is good fun as well.

Locus, October 2017

Lightspeed’s October issue includes a longer than usual original story, a novella called “The Dragon of Dread Peak” by Jeremiah Tolbert. It’s a sequel to “The Cavern of the Screaming Eye”, which appeared in Lightspeed a year ago, and introduced narrator Ivan and his friends, who have formed a team to investigate “dungeonspace”, the various fantastical realms that can be reached from their home city. Their practice runs haven’t been going well since the events of the first story, and the team is in danger of falling apart. And Ivan is still lying to his mother, who doesn’t want him to mess with d-space after his brother died there. And now there’s a new temptation: a desperate attempt to get some credit – and a chance to meet with someone who just might know something about his brother – by dealing with the Wizard Briggsby. But Briggsby wants them to steal from a dragon … This is enjoyable stuff, and it looks liked to be a pretty good YA series of stories (or indeed a novel) in the making.

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