Book: Heat of Fusion and Other Stories by John M. Ford

Brilliant writing but quirky

John M. Ford
Heat of Fusion and Other Stories
Tor, 2004
ISBN: 0-312-85546-X
366 pages

I first came across John M. Ford's writing in a post on Teresa Nielsen Hayden's excellent blog. Actually, Ms Nielsen Hayden made that post; Mr Ford had written what she posted in the comments of another post. I quickly came to the conclusion that anyone who would write something so brilliant and funny in blog comments was worth my time to read. Clicking over to Amazon, it didn't seem that a lot of Mr Ford's fiction was in print. I picked Heat of Fusion to read first pretty well at random.

It turns out that there's a lot of brilliant writing in Heat of Fusion, but it's not a conventional book of science fiction stories by a long shot. It appears that writing hilarious and enormously inventive verse isn't something that Mr Ford does only in blogs. Oh, there are stories here too, but even they aren't what you'd call ordinary. "Shelter from the Storm" is perhaps the most conventional. There's easily enough material in it that it could have been a military-SF novel, but Mr Ford manages to get it all into 60 pages without its seeming rushed. "The Persecutor's Tale" is about someone whose job it is to hound people who are guilty but whom the law can't reach. "Erase/Record/Play: A Drama for Print" is about people whose memories have been destroyed in what were presumably state-sponsored "re-education" camps. It's told as an interview with a therapist (who was also a victim) while he directs his patients in a production of A Midsummer Night's Dream that's intended for their therapy. Mr Ford manages to tell the back-story, mostly by means of the interview, and at the same time keep us engaged with and following the patients as they put on the play and the play-within-the-play. I can barely describe that comprehensibly; Mr Ford manages to write it. "Erase/Record/Play" isn't unique in being set after some terrible upheaval; many of the stories here have an apocalyptic or post-apocalyptic feel to them.

On the more unconventional side, there's "SF Clichés: A Sonnet Cycle" which is exactly what the title says. "The Man in the Golden Mask" is a Three Musketeers adventure in verse. Indeed, rhyming verse. I'm not aware of an extended narrative in a rhyming poem like this one that has been written since the nineteenth century. And "Winter Solstice, Camelot Station" begins:

    Camelot is served
    By a sixteen-track stub terminal done in High Gothick Style

It's a remarkable poem.

Though none of the works here seem rushed, many of them are dense with meaning. Much is implied rather than stated oughtright, and I'm sure that I missed some of the implications.

Much here is very arguably genius work, but it's genius applied in rather unusual ways. Perhaps that's to be expected.

Posted: Fri - June 25, 2004 at 08:01   Main   Category: