Here be Ideas — Review: Triangulation: Dark Glass, by Parsec Ink
reviewed by Erin Hoffman
Edited by Pete Butler. Contributors include Mark Onspaugh, D. K. Thompson, Kenneth B. Chiacchia, Rachel Swirsky, Aaron Polson, Lon Prater, D. J. Cockburn, Gerri Leen, Jason K. Chapman, Kelly A. Harmon, Kathryn Board, Amy Treadwell, David Siegler, Kurt Kirchmeier, Loretta Sylvestre, and Craig Wolf. Triangulation: Dark Glass. 158 pages. $12.00 USD. ISBN: 978-0578031033.
This sixth installment in the PARSEC Triangulation series — an “annual confluence of speculative fiction” — is the first that I’ve read, and ultimately leaves me intending to seek out future issues in the series, even if its editor of the last three years, Pete Butler, announces in his afterword that he will be moving on and leaving the ship in the hands of assistant editor Bill Moran. While not every piece here is a winner, the sheer variety of material presented, its clean and professional production, and its attention to thought-provoking ideas makes Dark Glass unique in speculative fiction collections, and a worthy contribution to the field.
The collection shows a fondness for both flash and reprints, some of which are quite successful and some less so. Of the flash, pieces like Gerri Leen’s “Windows to the Soul” give us a glimpse into a dark and unpretentious world, entering and exiting with a quick simplicity that — unlike the piece’s title — sells the concept and leaves it lingering in memory long after reading. Other short pieces don’t fare as well, opening more questions than they close, and not in good ways.
Of the entire collection, Rachel Swirsky’s “Monstrous Embrace” (originally printed in a Subterranean collection of dark fantasy) emerges as a clear frontrunner, and is the first sequentially in the collection that delivers the moral ambiguity and contemplation I found I was seeking in an anthology with the evocative theme of “dark glass”. In addition to painting a vivid world with teeth a-gleam, Swirsky deftly juggles time, setting, and character into a seamless narrative that leaves the reader feeling inextricably woven into a world with no way out, a fairy circle in which nobility and heroism exist only to cast a shadow onto what lies beneath them, until we aren’t sure which way is up.
Contrasting this vivid and dark fairy tale is the also notable “Perchance to Dream” by D. J. Cockburn, a clever story that is charmingly and refreshingly unaware of its cleverness. In its way Cockburn’s piece is as contemplative as Swirsky’s, but this tale of a fallen WWII spitfire pilot who winds up in the wrong afterlife takes the opposite tack, dancing lightly through its philosophical constructs and landing us on an ending that is both surprising and perfect. There were many ways this story could have taken a wrong turn, and it took none of them.
Loretta Sylvestre’s “A More Beautiful Monster” manipulates traditional tropes — a sorcerer, a demon, and a priest who wants to stop them — but delivers story unpretentiously and with a satisfying end. Kurt Kirschmeier’s “Souls on Display” introduces a more innovative concept and more directly embraces the notion of ‘dark glass’, coming through with one of the more poignant and memorable stories in the collection.
Other stories more unfortunately seem bogged down in clever-first-line-ism, hitting us with a punchy witticism that is both difficult to follow and difficult to recover from. The stories can’t keep up, but except in the case of non-storiness, it’s hard to blame them. I the reader am more fickle (not to mention more stubborn) prey, and prefer to be snuck up on. I had a lot of trouble with D. K. Thompson’s “Saint Darwin’s Spirituals”, which had some compelling ideas behind its world, but got bogged down in inexplicable character action and gratuitous (not to mention oddly exploitative) sex.
In the end, as with virtually any collection, there are some misses and some hits, but only one or two stories that seem out of place in concept or execution. Accompanying them are several unique offerings well worth reading, as well as second-appearance reprint pieces that deliver excellent story and variations on the theme. There is a philosophical undercurrent to the collection as a whole that is rare and refreshing in an anthology of speculative fiction, indicating thoughtful care and honesty that are reflected also in the book’s fine and satisfying presentation. A carefully crafted total work that is a tribute to this already well regarded series.