By Gene Wolfe


40pp/$10.00/May 2006

Strange Birds
Cover by Lisa Snellings-Clark

Reviewed by Steven H Silver

Lisa Snellings-Clark's tiny sculptures that she calls poppets have inspired several works of fiction, from the 24 stories in Strange Attraction, which were inspired by her Dark Carnival series to Peter S. Beagle's Strange Roads and Larry Niven's Strange Light, both of which are chapbooks which contain three stories inspired by Snellings-Clark's work. DreamHaven published a third chapbook in the series, Gene Wolfe's Strange Birds, which included two stories inspired by her artistry. Wolfe had previously published the story "Pocketful of Diamonds" in Strange Attraction, so although this book only contains two stories, has has written three based on Snellings-Clark's work.

"On a Vacant Face a Bruise" is the story of Tom, who begins by sneaking peaks at a traveling circus and eventually manages to sneak in, find a place for himself amound the roustabouts, and eventually work his way into the circus's inner core. Tom's initial fascination with the circus was in seeing performing automata, but as he wormed his way in, he discovered both the magic of the circus and the darkness which lay underneath the glitz. As with the automata, nothing is exactly what it seemed, and just as the circus had a dark underside, so, too, did many of the individuals who Tom came in contact with. Despite their capactiy for duplicity, Tom is able to thrive in their environment, demonstrating that his own sense of innocence shown at the beginning of the story is actually just a thin veneer.

If the darkness skirted around much of the story in "On a Vacant Face a Bruise," Wolfe goes full-blown horror in "Sob in the Silence," which is the story of an obsessed author who lures his friend's family to his isolated house with the intention of kidnapping and raping their teenaged daughter. Wolfe gets into the mind of his protagonist as he welcomes the family into his home and makes careful arrangements to separate the girl from her family and abduct her, planting the red herrings necessary to lead the police away from him, while also telling the family ghost stories about the house to set them on edge and keep them from thinking straight. The story is a dive into a deranged mind a Wolfe's character, sure of his own superiority, carries out his nefarious plans and appears to work with the family and police to try to find the kidnapper while he is really strewing red herrings for them. The stories darkness is not alleviated by the eventual horrific ending.

In the two stories in Strange Birds, Wolfe demonstrates his ability to write dark fantasy stories, with the first story looking at the potential for evil that lurks just beneath the surface of an individual and the second story an examination of what happens when that evil completely fills a person. Both stories offer disturbing takes on Snellings-Clark's dark, but whimsical creations.

On a Vacant Face a Bruise Sob in the Silence
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