Book Review: Temporary Walls edited by Greg Ketter and Robert T. Garcia
This short book of fantasy stories was inspired by John Gardner’s On Moral Fiction, in which the author argued that writing fiction is an inherently moral endeavor and that writers, especially those in the fantasy genre, should instruct their readers about “the morality that tends to work for all people throughout the ages.” Art, for him, built temporary walls against the dissolution of what makes us not corpses. And so, six short tales that involve ethics and morality.
“High Ground” by Kathe Koja and Barry N. Malzberg starts off the volume with a murky tale in which a motley group of stock fantasy characters discuss ethical dilemmas in the forest of inconsequence. They do not reach a conclusion; the point perhaps being that there is no conclusion to reach. I will say, however, that the first scenario discussed is one of those forced “no-win” scenarios so beloved of philosophy professors and villains, and loathed by most audiences.
“Dream Harder, Dream True” by Charles de Lint is more optimistic. A young man finds a woman hiding by the back steps of his apartment building and takes her in, because helping is what you do. And in return, she teaches him much more about stories and dreams than he ever imagined.
“Dateline: Colonus” by John M. Ford is a retelling of the death of Oedipus in modern dress, from the perspective of a reporter who is traveling with the family. Can good come from an evil life?
“Woman with Child” by Kristine Kathryn Rusch is about a woman who is cursed (literally) with an unwanted child. She would do nearly anything to be rid of it, but there are still regrets.
“Choices” by Mary Frances Zambreno features another woman, but she is uncertain if she wants the child she bears. That is why she has come to a witch for a divination. One kind of child will bring more vengeance, another temporary peace. Once she knows, what choice will she make?
“The Stranger” by Patricia A. McKillip is a meeting between two weavers, one of cloth, and the other of skyfire. If you know that the art you make is harmful, but you have no passion but that art, what are you to do? Is beauty worth any price?
I like the de Lint and Rusch stories best, I think.
This book was a souvenir of the 1993 World Fantasy Convention held in Minneapolis, Minnesota and not sold in any store. Thus it may be a little hard to find a copy. However, it’s quite possible to track down the individual writers’ stories in anthologies of their own work.