New Dreams For Old
by Mike Resnick
Published by Pyr/Prometheus
419 pages, 2006
Careful What You Wish For
Reviewed by Andi Shechter
I know Mike Resnick primarily as an editor of alternative history anthologies. I haven't always seen eye to eye with Resnick's taste and decisions (I tend to refer to some of his themes as "Gandhi with a machine gun") but he's a well respected, hardworking editor and writer. I just haven't gotten around to reading him.
Resnick's short stories have appeared in anthologies and in science fiction magazines, primarily Asimov's. He writes in both serious and humorous veins. In his new collection, New Dreams For Old, his funny stuff far outweighs his serious work. The two stories set in the world of his fantasy novel, Stalking the Unicorn, are so silly and so richly imagined, that I think he should release a collection of John Justin Mallory stories.
Mallory exists in New York, but one full of goblins and enchanted beings, both bad and good. The baddest bad guy is Grundy, whom Mallory doesn't fear, a tidbit that fascinates the evil demon. In "The Chinese Sandman" the title character trades new dreams for old ("Aha!'! You say). As it turns out, those who've made the exchange regret it, missing their old dreams terribly. It happens to Mallory's office mate, the aging Winnifred Carruthers. She thought her old dream was worn and tired so she swapped for a new one and now she's heartbroken. It's a sweet premise and believable. The story is helped (?) along by Felina, who's sort of the office cat, but she looks vaguely human and talks, mostly about milk and fish and getting petted. Fans of Red Dwarf, the British television show, may find this character just a tad familiar. Funnier still is "The Amorous Broom" where a broom held "prisoner" by Grundy escapes. It (she?) is in love with Mallory and won't leave him alone. Yeah, a broom. And?
"The Kemosabee" begins with the premise that Native American tribes are some of the lost tribes of Israel. Thus Tonto is a landsman and "Kemosabee"? Well we finally know (funny, it doesn't sound Jewish.) Oy, what a story! It's a hoot.
This author's more serious work tends toward the sentimental and I'm not big on sentiment. While I appreciate the ideas of the long ago author of "Travels with my Cats," for example coming back to visit, and the "faithful servant" in "Robots Don't Cry," these stories were a little too weepy for me. There are solid ideas here, for example, that robots can feel, can care even if they're not programmed to do so, but I too often saw the ending coming. I don't like predictable fiction, even in short form. For instance, the nasty mother in "The Guardian Angel" was obvious from the first and I knew no matter how things ended, they'd be grim. While "The Guardian Angel" is a "private detective" tale and I read lots of those, both straightforward and in crossover stories, this one just seemed naïve in a way; it was just so obvious what would happen.
Resnick's heart is in the right place in stories like "For I have Touched the Sky," about a woman barred from learning, barred from anything but tribal life, miserable and trapped, but again, the feeling of obvious message, of how things would end was present for me from the beginning. It even included the heavy handed symbol of a bird with a broken wing. I had similar problems with "Hothouse Flowers," a tale about prolonging the end of life where the idea -- that all humans have dignity and that keeping people alive at all costs has costs, even if they're sometimes intangible. I understood things early and was impatient with the tale. It might have been subtle to some, but to me its message was blaringly obvious and the character who "believed" he was helping these comatose, way-past-end-of-life men was flat out icky to me and he was not very bright.
"Keepsakes" is about a race of beings who would take dearest memory, a human's most precious possession. This one bothered me. No "rational" race would be so cruel, characters kept arguing; we merely have to tell them to stop or figure out why they do this and they'll stop. Really? Rational beings are always kind and never cruel or heartless? "Down Memory Lane" (with a touch of "Flowers for Algernon about it) is about love and Alzheimer's. This one is a pretty creepy offering. The premise -- which I find horrific -- is around what people will do for love.
It feels heartless to say it, but the ability that Resnick showed in writing such stories as "His Award Winning Science Fiction Story" which was laugh-out-loud funny, with clever (maybe a tad obvious but so wonderfully funny) (Character brings a horse. "What's his name?" "Motivation" "Why?" "You said you needed motivation so I brought you some." Rimshot, please.) gave great homage to authors and a number of honored clichés and great timing.
While Resnick understandably is proud of his award nominations and wins, I could have done without every introduction that told the reader what this story had won and how it had been honored. The information would sufficed in a general introduction or summary where you could learn that the stories won this and that and me have been optioned for screenplays" and have done with it . It comes across after a while as, forgive me, tiresome and a little too egotistical. Even a list at the end of the honors the stories earned would have worked better.
So how to assess this book? I'm torn; there are stories I would gladly read repeatedly and others that seemed overwrought and heavy with messages that I didn't want and didn't need. I'm not sure what sort of reader would like both; you'll have to decide for yourself. | July 2006
Andi Shechter has been a publicist, chat host, interviewer, convention-planner, essayist and reviewer. She lives in Seattle with far too many books, an old-but-cute purple computer, not enough soft toys (including a small but select hedgehog and gorilla collection), many figure skating videotapes and an esoteric collection of hot sauces. There's a Hugo Award on her mantelpiece which belongs to her partner, cartoonist and artist Stu Shiffman.