A few years back, I read James Van Pelt’s novel Summer of the Apocalypse, and found it to be an incredible reworking of the tropes of post-apocalyptic fiction. Since then, I have been meaning to pick up one of his collections of short stories, and just never had, until I received a copy of his newest collection, The Radio Magician & Other Stories. I had high expectations as I began the book, and read past Carrie Vaughn’s introduction.
“The Radio Magician”—This beautiful tale of one boy’s unquestioning belief in magic pulls at the heartstrings, and draws the reader in. Van Pelt has crafted a true gem.
“Where Did You Come From, Where Did You Go?”—An interesting proposition, that is hard to explain without giving away the story. Two teenage girls encounter a tale of “What if?” that will change their lives forever.
“The Light of a Thousand Suns”—An intriguing take on the anti-nuclear weapon tale, with a touch of fantasy that is both unexpected and yet fit brilliantly.
“Of Late I’ve Dreamt of Venus”—A story of trying to terraform Venus, and one woman’s selfish struggle to witness perfection. A tight tale, with characters who felt perfect for their roles.
“Different Worlds”—This story took a little while to figure out just what was going on, but once you did, the entire beginning took on a new meaning that was even darker than you had originally thought. The ending scene is also highly ironic, in a wonderful way.
“The Small Astral Object Genius”—A very fun story of a kid searching the stars, from the comfort of his bedroom. While initially this story seemed fun, if not more, the emotional depth became apparent, and added immensely to the plot.
“Tiny Voices”—An odd, out-there sort of story, about one dying woman who lives through sense-receptive equipment throughout her room. I left this one with mixed feelings, but overall positive.
“Lashwanda at the End”—A sweet story of struggle and love on an alien planet, between a man in his prime and a woman who is on the edge of death. One of the best stories in the volume.
“Where and When”—A very neat story, even if the premise (you can’t effect the past) uses an example that I figured out a bit before I think the reader was supposed to. This time travel romp flashes back to some very neat points in history.
“One Day, in the Middle of the Night”—An odd tale about two brothers who hate one another passionately, and how they attempt to commit murder in space. While not badly written, this story was just a little to unaffecting for me.
“Echoing”—A story about parallels, and how people’s lives are interconnected, even if they have never met. The ending was predictable, but I can’t see as how that really hurt this well-written story.
“The Inn at Mount Either”—A great addition to this collection, this bit is about a man who loses his wife in a hotel of infinite proportions, and his quest to get back to her. The settings are well done, and the panicked searchings of a distraught husband were spot on.
“The Ice Cream Man”—Another top story, as The Radio Magician continues to impress. As people struggle against mutant creatures, one man works to supply people with what they want, and to remember joy, showing us in the process just who the bad guys really are.
“Sacrifice”—An interesting tale, with a premise similar to James Blish’s “Surface Tension,” about a culture that built up after a space ship crash lands on another planet. Good, yet the ending left me feeling like there could have been a more satisfactory way to have done it.
“The Boy Behind the Gate”—Two tales intertwine here, one of a modern day father searching for his son who was kidnapped, another of a man from 1879 who is trying to rid himself of his seemingly evil son. The ending of this one was spectacular. An excellent tale.
“The Last Age Should Show Your Heart”—A short bit on two robots who out survive the rest of the galaxy, and their love story. Short, sweet, but in the end not all I had hoped for.
“Origin of Species”—A wonderful love story, about one boy who happens to be a werewolf, and the girl of his dreams, who is falling for a troll. Literally. A fun piece that shows off Van Pelt's ability to work with teenage protagonists exceptionally.
“The Saturn Ring Blues”—A race around Saturn's inner ring, a lost love, and the blues create the impetus for this short but entertaining story.
“How Music Begins”—A true gem, to say the least. The Radio Magician & Other Stories wraps up with this brilliant, if heartbreaking, story of a man and his junior high band, abducted and left with nothing to do but create great music. This story flies along, and each moment is powerfully worked, all the way to the crushing ending.
James Van Pelt's newest collection is full of wonderful pieces of fiction. Almost every one was packed with believable characters that you care for, ache for, and rejoice for, settings that feel impeccably real, and plots that are tight, fast, and worked down to the finest point. There are no duds in this collection. James Van Pelt is one to keep an eye on.