Wednesday, March 19, 2008
"A City Equal to My Desire"
A City Equal to My Desire is a collection of stories harking back to James Sallis’s early days as a writer of speculative fiction and SF, although all were produced after 1998. The book's front and back cover blurbs suggest that the collection is primarily crime and mystery fiction, which is where James is best known today, but only about a third of the stories are actually crime tales. The rest are speculative fiction and include pieces published in Asimov’s, Fantasy and SF, and Talebones.
In keeping with the marketing, the first two stories in the collection actually are crime fiction. They include “Ukulele and the World’s Pain,” which I thought was the weakest tale in the collection, and the excellent “Drive,” which Sallis later expanded into a novella of the same name that I believe is one of the best noir thrillers ever written.
For me, however, the true gems in the collection are the speculative stories, especially “Roofs and Forgiveness in the Early Dawn,” about an unusual alien invasion, “Pitt’s World,” which tells the story of a survivor of a spaceship crash, and “Telling Lives,” about a writer who has discovered a niche for himself in writing biographies of everyday people. Another great story is "Day’s Heat,” which features an unusually close set of triplets and ties with “Roofs and Forgiveness…” for my personal favorites.
Wonderful characters and character interactions are Sallis's strengths, but we also find lovely language and beautiful imagery. Be aware, however, that these are literary quality stories and the endings may not be as clear cut as some genre readers would prefer. Since I love Sallis's creativity and verve, I don't mind the lack of neat and tidy endings. His characters are alive and his tales stir both the emotions and the imagination. I highly recommend them.