Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Birthday Review: Stories of Tim Pratt

Today is the birthday of my Locus colleague Tim Pratt. Tim is also a very fine writer, perhaps best known for a long series of fun urban fantasy novels about a witch called Marla Mason. More recently, he has begun a cool SF series, with The Wrong Stars and The Dreaming Stars. He also continues to write strong short fiction, much of it at his Patreon. In honor of his birthday, here's a compilation of my Locus reviews of his short fiction.

Locus, August 2002

The August Realms of Fantasy features Tim Pratt's "The Witch's Bicycle", one of the longest stories I've seen there. It's a novelette about a witch meddling with three high school students: a shy boy, the athletic and pretty new girl in town, and a bully. Each of the kids must somehow break out of a certain mold to frustrate the witch.  A fine young adult fantasy.

Locus, February 2003

The February Realms of Fantasy opens with two rather long stories (for them), and both are quite good. The prize is Tim Pratt's "Fable from a Cage", a nasty story about a thief captured by a witch who needs him to help her steal something of great value to her. It will surprise no one that both characters have treachery in mind, and Pratt twistily and cynically shows serial betrayals.

Locus, August 2003

Urban Fantasy is another "borderline" subgenre with points of contact with slipstream. Realms of Fantasy publishes a fair amount of Urban Fantasy, such as Tim Pratt's "Down With the Lizards and the Bees" (August). A man still mourning his dead lover serves as a guide to the underworld for others who have lost loves. But he learns that these modern day Orpheuses pay a harsh cost for their trip. Can he make himself pay the same price?

Locus, December 2003

Tim Pratt has been consistently impressive for Realms of Fantasy, and "Romanticore" is another strong story. Ray is drifting through life, and he's just lost his latest girlfriend to his best friend. But he meets a new woman named Lily, and rebound or not this relationship seems particularly special. But she warns him from the start that it's only temporary -- her boyfriend is a traveling musician on tour in Europe, and when he comes back, it's over. And so it turns out, but it's hard for Ray to let go, particularly given the scary dreams in which he becomes a lion. Which leads him into scary territory when he encounters Lily again, and her sinister boyfriend.

Locus, November 2005

So again in October. The best of another steady group in Realms of Fantasy is probably Tim Pratt and Greg van Eekhout’s “Robots and Falling Hearts”, about a man investigating a “plague of robots”. It seems that all of a sudden robots of all sorts are appearing – apparently quite functional (if odd), but entirely unexplained. The narrator finds a woman near the epicenter of the plague, and learns from her something of her involvement in the plague – all the while falling in love. But the story has a stranger turn or two to take – quite weird and intriguing.

Locus, June 2006

Among the shorter stories in the July Asimov's I particularly liked Tim Pratt’s “Impossible Dreams”, a “mysterious shop” story. This time the shop is a video store, with treasures such as the director’s cut of Orson Welles’s The Magnificent Ambersons, and the George Raft version of Casablanca. That’s the hook, and Pratt sets it with a sweet romance between two movie nuts: the geeky young man who discovers the shop, and the girl at the counter.

Locus, November 2006, review of Polyphony 6, edited by Deborah Layne and Jay Lake

Tim Pratt’s “The Crawlspace of the World” is another weird one, as a young man follows an old girlfriend into the title area, a classic “bigger on the inside than the outside” space, to confront a sort of dragon.

Locus, December 2006

One of the new entries in online publishing is Orson Scott Card’s Intergalactic Medicine Show, which has published three issues in the past year or so. The October issue includes a fascinating and decidedly odd piece from Tim Pratt, “Dream Engine”. The narrator is a disembodied intelligence keeping tabs on a shapeshifter named Howlaa Moor, who is in the employ of the Regent of a city called Nexington-on-Axis. This city is at the hub of multiple dimensions, and its trade is in stuff grabbed from these other dimensions – but some of this stuff can be dangerous. Howlaa is assigned to track a serial killer who mysteriously appears and disappears in the city – an assignment which will involve Howlaa and the narrator in the Regent’s own intrigues. Neat stuff.

Locus, May 2007, review of John Klima's Logorrhea

Tim Pratt’s “From Around Here” is a strong urban fantasy. A wandering “land spirit” of sorts incorporates in a human body periodically – this time in a San Francisco neighborhood that seems unusually troubled. He must track down the source of the trouble, the while beginning a promising love affair – but his lot, it seems, is one of sacrifice.

Locus, October 2007

Strange Horizons in late July and early August features two very good stories. Tim Pratt’s “Artifice and Intelligence” is a clever and pointed – and funny – story. The Indian call centers unite to form a powerful AI. Various other organizations scramble to produce their own AI, including a crackpot scientist who summons the ghosts of historical villains to animate his creations, and a nascent witch who manages to summon a marsh spirit to her PDA. What happens when these new intelligences meet the Indian AI is not quite what we expect.

Locus, August 2009

Now to Interzone #222 (it now ties New Worlds as the UK SF publication with the most issues). Tim Pratt’s “Unexpected Outcomes” opens on 9/11, with the apparently Tim Pratt-like narrator and his girlfriend witnessing the attack on the World Trade Center – but history changes weirdly at this point, as the second plane stops in the air, and it soon becomes clear that the story is set within a simulation of the “real world”, a simulation which has been discontinued. This knowledge – of everything’s unreality – naturally causes a lot of disruption, but the narrator and some others eventually come to a realization that the simulation story has some (sometimes literal!) holes in it, and also that there “unreality” gives them a certain freedom. Thoughtful work.

Locus, September 2009

Strange Horizons recently has featured a couple of playful stories that I’ve really enjoyed. Tim Pratt’s “Another End of the Empire” is about a Dark Lord who in an attempt to undermine the traditional prophecy that a child born in a certain place will overthrow him ends up Doing Good. It’s predictable perhaps, but very cute.

Locus, November 2009

There’s more good stuff at “Silver Linings”, by Tim Pratt, is to begin with a pirate story plus an airship story – a combination I find irresistible. In this case the pirates aren’t true pirates so much as thieves – of the silver found in clouds. Alas, that has dire consequences for people underneath the clouds. The narrator tells of his ship’s last venture – the law, it seems, finally catches up with them. But he has his own, quite unexpected, secret. Very enjoyable.

Locus, March 2010

Also at the Fall 2009 issue of Subterranean is a sweet Tim Pratt piece, “Troublesolving”, about a man having a lot of trouble in his life and the woman he meets who promises to solve his problems: problems that end up involving time traveling plotters.

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