Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Review: Phoenix Tales: Stories of Death and Life

Phoenix Tales: Stories of Death and Life (Second Edition)

Gregory Banks

WheelMan Press

Sub-titled Stories of Death and Life, Greg Bank's Phoenix Tales is a well-paced collection of short stories whose themes and content detail much more than the obvious.

"Escape Velocity," the first story in the collection, depicts the too-long life of a man who wants to die a last and final death, but is not allowed to do so because his healthcare continually revives him to the point of near immortality. Conspiracy and familial love eventually gets him his wish.

"Touched" deals with guilt, the pain of loss, small-town close-minded notions of advanced technology, and innocence in its purest form that is truly saddening and (at times) frustrating to read. Banks weaves all of these elements together deftly with a subtle complexity, and the result is a story that surprisded me with its charm and tenderness.

"Fireflies," "A Time for Rest," "Soul Man," and "Living with Mrs. Klase" all made me feel uncomfortable for very different reasons, even with the playfulness throughout "Mrs. Klase." This is not to say these stories were not well-written; they were.

Yet, the brevity of these four stories, combined with the characters' naked emotions, gave me an unsettling feeling at story's end that stayed with me a bit longer than I would have liked.

"Cup of Time" was a fun read with a somewhat unique personification of Death, even if Banks portrayed her (in one incarnation) as a beautiful woman. However, I read Banks' Amazon Short "Law of the Land" before "Cup of Time," and "Law of the Land" seemed a more satisfying read due to a fleshed out world and succinct explanation of the Death Agents.

"Kachina Dawn" and "Avatar" both have macabre bents that play out in entirely different ways, but share the underlying theme "you can't always get what you want." Both are very good stories, and both remind me of Twilight Zone or Outer Limits episodes.

Overall, Phoenix Tales is a well done collection. Some of the stories are heavy with literary overtones and have but a whisper of speculative fiction, while others hardly seem to constitute a tale and depict only a slice-of-life vignette.

However, Banks' core stories--including the some of the ones mentioned above--are a great mixture of classic science fiction, social science fiction, technology and humanity, providing continued appeal on even the second and third read.

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