Wednesday, October 3, 2012

A Sneak Peek at Eclipse Online: K. J. Parker's "One Little Room and Everywhere"

Over the last few years, Nightshade Books has published four volumes of an anthology series titled Eclipse, edited by Jonathan Strahan.  Now that series is going online, with new stories published on the second and fourth Mondays of every month.  (The press release says first and fourth, but an email from the editor to me said second and fourth.  Since the premier is on October 8, I'm inclined to go with the second and fourth.) 

Anyway, Mr. Strahan was kind enough to send me advance copies of the two stories he'll be publishing in October.  One is a science fiction by Christopher Rowe which I've reviewed over at Futures Past and Present, and the other is a fantasy by K. J. Parker, the subject of this review. These are short stories, so the review aren't going to be as long as the ones I write for novels.

"One Little Room and Everywhere" is just one more reminder why I (and you) should read K. J. Parker. I've not read any novels by this author, but based on the quality of the short fiction I've read, I need to fix that.

This is the story of a man cast out from a school of magic because he doesn't  have the talent to become an adept.  It's told in first person, and our narrator isn't entirely reliable.  At least I consider any narrator who has the habit of insisting it wasn't his fault or making excuses to be unreliable.

Our "hero" doesn't have the highest scruples.  Knowing he will eventually be kicked out of school (nicely, of course), he sneaks into the library and steals some forbidden Forms, what are essentially spells that involve astrally projecting into a tower and entering certain rooms.  This allows himself to set up business as a painter of icons when he leaves the school.  Iconography is highly restricted in this society, which has a Renaissance feel to it, and there are only certain icons that can be painted.  He soon becomes quite successful at it, and his icons begin to fetch high prices.

Of course, such success isn't without it's unforeseen costs...

What I liked about this story was the narrator's voice, and the fact that he's an admitted thief and cheat, and can we really believe everything he tells us?  Parker uses hints and subtleties to great effect.  The story is lushly written, but not in an overblown way.  Rather the style is reminiscent of the time in which it's set.   The prose flows along, and like the last several short pieces I've read by Parker, I hated to reach the end.

With the story and it's companion, Strahan has set the bar high on his initial choices to launch Eclipse Online.  He's going to have his work cut out for him to keep the quality this high.  If I were a betting man, I would lay my money on his being able to do it.  Check this publication out.  It's going to be good, and I'll be surprised if the stories we see here don't pick up some award nominations as well as a few awards.

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