Sunday, August 18, 2019

Birthday Review: Stories of Rachel Pollack

Rachel Pollack's birthday was August 17th. I was out of town, so, catching up, here's a quick look at a few of her stories I've reviewed in Locus:

Locus, June 2007

In Interfictions, a new anthology devoted to interstitial writing, oddly, the stories I prefer here all have religious themes. Best is Rachel Pollack's "Burning Beard", about the Biblical Joseph looking back at his life from old age. It is interstitial in its contemporary language -- even slang -- and perhaps its irreverence, but really it is a straightforward and sympathetic look at an interesting character.

Locus, May 2008

Again at F&SF for May the longest story is the best: “Immortal Snake” by Rachel Pollack. This is a mythic story of an Empire ruled by a man chosen by lot. He chooses two companions, and they rule until the priests (or the stars) decide they must die. A new ruler, not much given to responsibility, chooses his politically engaged sister and a slave who happens to be a mesmerizing storyteller as his companions. What follows is a love story, and a story of political change – and, inevitably, a tragedy.

Locus, July 2012

I thought the best story in the July-August F&SF was “Jack Shade in the Forest of Souls”, by Rachel Pollack. Jack Shade is a Traveller, which here means a man who can go between worlds, particular to the place ghosts go. He is hired by a man who is being haunted by his late wife. Shade agrees to follow her “shade” to the Forest of Souls, to try to free her, but of course he is surprised by what he learns about the woman's life and death – surprise and put in great danger. The primary story is strong here, but Jack's own story – his current life, and the tragedy in his past, the loss of his wife and daughter – is also revealed, to moving effect.

Locus, November 2013

So to Van Gelder's primary outlet … the September-October F&SF has a novella as well, Rachel Pollack's “The Queen of Eyes”, another Jack Shade story. Jack is a Traveler, capable among other things of traveling between “worlds”, and he's also still mourning his wife's murder and his daughter's exile to the Forest of Souls. Here he is engaged by a woman to find her missing mother – who turns out to be the Queen of Eyes. The story starts slowly, even frustratingly, but about halfway through it takes flight, weaving a nice mystery story with colorful fantastic elements and an effective working out of family dynamics.

Locus, May 2017

Speaking of which, the other “investigation” story is part of an ongoing F&SF series: this is Rachel Pollack’s latest Jack Shade tale, “Homecoming”. Jack’s latest client is a modest middle aged woman who has a feeling some part of her is missing – perhaps her soul? She believes Jack can do a “soul retrieval”, and the unfortunate thing is that he can, and is compelled to by his curse. So Jack ventures into – wherever he goes – and with some difficulty retrieves what he’s been asked to. Which turns out rather badly, as instead of the poor woman’s soul, he has liberated an ancient evil being, which immediately begins a murder spree. And so Jack must try to clean up the mess, which involves asking for help from some questionable allies, including a somewhat modern djinn, and the Old Man of the Woods. Again, very entertaining – perhaps some of the magic comes off a bit ad hoc, and the innocent deaths don’t have the impact I’d hope, but it is a solid entry in a consistently interesting series.

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