Sunday, May 31, 2009

Long Walks, Last Flights & Other Strange Journeys by Ken Scholes

Following the short story trend, I moved on to Long Walks, Last Flights & Other Strange Journeys, a collection of short fiction by Ken Scholes. After reading the preface by Patrick Swenson (head of Fairwood Press) and the introduction by James Van Pelt (whose novel Summer of the Apocalypse was one of the best novels to come out so far this decade), I dove into this collection with a large amount of excitement, ready to be thrilled and awed. Below is a story by story review, followed by a review of the whole collection.

“The Man With Great Despair Behind His Eyes”: In this enthralling tale, the secret task given to Meriwether Lewis before the famous trek of Lewis & Clark is revealed. Before the expedition, Lewis meets with President Jefferson, who has a very mysterious piece of money from 1971. With very few clues, Lewis sets out to meet the original owner of the bill. This story flows by without the reader even noticing, so smooth is the prose. Scholes treats us to vivid dream sequences, plenty of twists, and a tormented character whose actions and words ring true throughout.

“Action Team-Ups Number Thirty-Seven”: This tale of superheroes past their prime was truly heartwarming. Our aged heroes and villains learn the power of forgiveness and the joy of life. I poignant story, and touching enough to illicit far more than a smile from the reader.

“Soon We Shall All Be Saunders”: A weird tale, with sections that are almost lyrical or prose poem-ish, in which one man’s sarcastic “If only we could all be like Saunders” gets treated to the “Be careful what you wish for” trope, with interesting results. Another winner from Scholes, this one more for atmospherics than for story.

“A Good Hair Day in Anarchy”: This western on another planet was a very entertaining tale, one without a real villain. Ed the Barber interacts with a hunter who is searching for the dread Slope Dobbins. A really fun, light piece.

“Into the Blank Where Life is Hurled”: This tale of William Hope Hodgson, Harry Houdini, and Hell is another deep, original experience provided by Scholes. Throughout, we learn of Scholes’ vision of Hell, and the power of good and hope. This was yet another powerful tale.

“The Satnaman Cycle”: Santa the messiah? In this tale, yes! An odd short piece, that was a little less powerful than some of the others in this book, we are treated to the myth of a Santa that appears as a messiah to a people in search of a new world. While yes, this one wasn’t my favorite, the lowest quality story so far in this anthology is still a very decent tale.

“Hibakusha Dreaming in the Shadowy Land of Death”: This touching tale of life after World War II in Japan packs a powerful emotional punch. We are introduced to a group of friends who meet for group psychotherapy sessions with an American therapist. We learn of their past lives, and their hopes for the future. This story hurts in all the right places, and shines everywhere. A beautiful story.

“One Small Step”: This odd tale of chimpanzees taking over a moon laboratory is packed full of suspense and this interesting working to make you sympathize with both the human and chimpanzee characters. The human-like chimps really show the development they made while being experimented, and how they gained some unexpected traits. A story that was impossible to put down.

“Of Metal Men and Scarlet Thread and Dancing with the Sunrise”: In what apparently will be expanded upon for a five book series from Tor, Scholes creates a very intriguing tale that draws you in with the wonderful language and style. While it does feel like the beginning of something, and not the entirety of a tale (it ends right in the middle of things), it creates a couple characters that are very memorable. I must pick up a copy of his first novel when it comes out in paperback.

“So Sang the Girl Who Had No Name”: In this tale of redemption found in Hell, Scholes treats us to a beautifully sweet vision of Hope. Once again, Scholes excels at presenting very human characters that never once fall out of character.

“Edward Bear and the Very Long Walk”: Winnie-the-Pooh and an epic journey just don’t seem to go together, right? Well, turns out we’re both wrong. Edward Bear goes on a fun, intriguing, and eventually bittersweet journey to save the lives of countless people who are depending on him. While this one moved a tad slower at times, it still had an ending to pull the heartstrings.

“That Old-Time Religion”: A strange modernization of the fall of man into idolatry, and how God saves the few who stayed faithful. This tale depicts a view of God that some may be uncomfortable with, but as a fantasy tale, I thought it was entertaining.

“East of Eden and Just a Bit South”: Another “religious” story, this time Scholes tells us the “true” tale of Cain and Able, from Cain’s point of view. This was a fun, light tale if not taken too seriously, and there are hints throughout (the tale is as true as aliens cloning JFK!) that one shouldn’t. Not the most powerful of tales, but still fun.

“Fearsome Jones’ Discarded Love Collection”: I like this story, in large part because I don’t. This tale of a down on his luck man named Fearsome who finds a baby to care for was at turns touching and suspenseful, but the ending (or lack thereof) was horrible. Like life, not all of the questions are answered, in fact most aren’t. The non-ending in which, all of a sudden, is just over, drove me nuts, but I’m not entirely sure that that wasn’t the point. Beautiful writing throughout.

“The Doom of Love in Small Places”: A tale of love at the bottom of the world. This is another story in which a lot isn’t fully explained, but we are given an intriguing plot, characters that you would bleed for, and even a tie in to a previous story (See “The Santaman Cycle”). A wonderful piece of fiction that explores love, loneliness, and hope. One of the best stories in a stellar collection.

“Summer in Paris, Light from the Sky”: A powerful tale of three men in France in 1941: Chuck Chaplin, Ernie Hemingway, and the future savior of the Jews, Adolf Hitler. This alternate history tale shows how things could have been different, as Hitler has a good childhood, and falls in love with a beautiful woman in France, who happens to be Polish, Jewish, and black. This story is truly powerful stuff, with a beautiful ending.

“Last Flight of the Goddess”: People in love frequently try to write love stories, tender collections of beautiful prose packed with emotion. I know I’ve tried my hand at more than a few dozen. When these sorts of tales work, they achieve a state that surpasses most anything when it comes to joy and hope and, of course, love. In the story of Andro Giantslayer we are treated to an incredible example of the power of a love story, as Andro learns to live after the loss of his beloved wife. The perfection summation to a powerful collection. Enough good cannot be said about “Last Flight of the Goddess.”

While short stories have made up the majority of my most recent readings, it is rare anymore to read short stories in a quantity even near novels. This is a truly sad thing, as short stories are capable of so much power. One would be hard pressed to find a better example of this in modern science fiction and fantasy than this incredible collection by Ken Scholes. I am awe-struck by the sheer story telling abilities displayed here. By far the best new short story collection to come out in the past year, if not far longer.



  1. Nike review, Luke! I really liked this collection, as you know. Ken has a rich career in front of him, I think.

  2. After reading this set of stories, I couldn't possiblly agree more. I look forward to a lot more from Ken, and if they maintain the level of quality seen in his first collection, it will be one simply littered with awards and praise.