Long Walks, Last Flights, and Other Strange Journeys is one of the few short fiction collections that I have managed to read all the way through. I enjoy short fiction, but it can be said that I enjoy it in small bursts and so I rarely ever make it fully through a collection unless the stories are good enough to keep me attached. Indeed, this book is the second that has managed to do so and will likely be one of three before the end as I do have Neil Gaiman's Smoke and Mirrors sitting on my shelf.
I bring up Gaiman because the other book I managed to read all the way through belongs to him. Fragile Things is not a book I often comment on, especially not in a post like I am doing for this, but it remains one of my favorite books. Neil Gaiman is a wonderful author with the ability to feed off myth and create something fascinating that grabs your attention and sense of wonder and refuses to let go. His novels are great works of fiction and I have little doubt that they will eventually be referred to as classics, just as his work in the field of graphic novels is well regarded. He does better than most in both fields, but it is his short fiction that truly shines. And brightly it does.
While I would not write such a post for one of Gaiman's novels, I am certainly doing so now, but why for this author? Gaiman, as good as he is, has a huge fanbase that goes beyond fantasy and into the mainstream. He does not need any such posts to introduce his work, if you have been around enough you have likely already been introduced several times over, even if only in recommendation. The man is popular and even that is a bit of an understatement. Ken Scholes has been around for the better part of a decade, writing short fiction for various outlets. Some of his stories can be found online, but they are few and far between--just one or two that I know of. The majority has been published in print magazines and for a large part of the fantasy community I do believe that is the equivalent of tucking it away in a safe to which only a handful of people know the combination. A sad thing, both for the readers who do not get to know these authors and for the print magazines that are slowly fading away. I am one of the many who only just heard of him with the hype given to his recently released novel, Lamentation, and I am glad I heard of him.
After reading a little more than halfway through Lamentation I managed to happen across this collection and bought it without hesitation. I enjoyed his writing thus far in Lamentation and something told me that I would enjoy his writing in Long Walks, Last Flights, and Other Strange Journeys. I cracked into it shortly after I received it and I have to say that I was surprised. The writing I found inside was quite a bit different from what I found in Lamentation. Most of the stories took a historical fantasy bent, a complete turnaround from Lamentation, which was more along the lines of epic fantasy with a touch of science fiction. This is far from being a bad thing. Without further ado, since I am undoubtedly a wordy bastard and have already spent a hell of a lot of words on this thus far, I shall begin on the meat of the post.The Man With Great Despair Behind His Eyes -
The first story in the collection, it is a work of historical fiction with science fiction qualities to it. The story follows Meriwether Lewis (of Lewis and Clark) as he journeys across the breadth of the US to find the source of bits of currency from the future depicting the faces of the presidents. He battles depression during and after his travels and comes across a figure from our own recent history whose disappearance is still a mystery to us. I cannot go any further, though I would like to because it would spoil everything. Let me say that this story may not have been the best, but it was an interesting theory as to what could have happened in the aforementioned mystery.Action Team-Ups Number Thirty-Seven -
An elderly hero, placed in an old-folk's home, takes up his former mantle when his nemesis turns up as another occupant. Antics ensue as the two go back to their old ways and fight to avoid the orderlies. This one was pretty good and funny at times. At the very least it gives us a view of what happens with the super heroes and villains when they are forced to retire.Soon We Shall All Be Saunders -
A weird story in which everyone in the world becomes a man named Saunders, with his greasy hair, his sweaty hands, and his stink of onions and menthol shaving cream. There is one man who notices what is going on, notices that people are turning into Saunders and he flees for his life. Again I can go on for spoiler purposes. It is a decent story, short and, as I said, weird. Certainly not the best in the collection, but not bad.A Good Hair Day In Anarchy -
A science fiction/western hybrid that is far and away from that which you will find in Firefly. This one lacks humor and goes for the drama, but it is done well. The story is one of a bounty hunter looking for a famous, and quite wanted, gunslinger who has disappeared into the fray of normal life. The bounty hunter, a famous one who lets his hair grow out until he finds his mark, tells this to Anarchy's barber, a nervous old man afraid of guns. The town has a secret and that secret is the fate of the gunslinger, though they say he is dead. The bounty hunters thinks his target is the sheriff of the town and he calls him out on it. You guessed it, I cannot go on. This story is one of the better ones in the novel, if only because it is a neat little story with a setting that is actually somewhat developed throughout. The story shows just how much a person can change and how a person gets caught up in things that take them further than they could ever imagine.Into The Blank Where Life is Hurled -
One of a few stories in the collection devoted to showing life in hell, all of which I enjoyed perhaps the most out of the collection. This one is a mix, since it involves hell and two historical figures: William Hope Hodgson and Harry Houdini. The story itself is pretty good, there is a reason why the stories are amongst my favorite and that is because they have a nice mix of both character development and setting. This one displays the machinations and punishments of hell and shows us that they are not at all simple. They are complex and designed not to inflict bodily pain, but that of the soul. William, a writer in his former life, has been given a job as a journalist and may only write with a pencil. Travel too far along the path of fiction that the pencil breaks each and every time. The Fallen, the governing force of Hell, offer him a pen to apply Houdini's punishments, so that he may write (for the pen is holy). Houdini is treated as a celebrity in hell and it continues like that as the Fallen's plan is put into place, but the punishment the choose is a good one and how it comes about is pretty damned good as well. The Santaman Cycle -
Less of a short story and more of a truncated history, it tells of the fall of one world and the creation of another by the mythical figure known as, well... the Santaman. A red-suited figure with a sword and a wolf-stallion that avenges the ill-deeds of the rulers of the failing world and bestows his love upon the people by giving them another. Very short, but it provides a refreshing (and odd) look at the mythology of Santa and provides us an alternate version.Hibakusha Dreaming in the Shadowy Land of Death -
The story takes place in Japan just after World War II and revolves around the human forms of several mythological figures from Japanese folklore. Each of them were in the war in some fashion and as a group they see an American psychologist to better learn English and to try and figure out who they really are. This is another favored story, there are bits and pieces that I do not like, but overall I found it to be quite good. The main character is the only one in the story that doesn't know who he is, but he was also the only one to be caught in the blast at Nagasaki.One Small Step -
Intelligent monkeys take over a lunar base with murderous intent. Enough said.Of Metal Men and Scarlet Thread and Dancing With the Sunrise -
The short story that would eventually become Lamentation. Having read the novel first, this short story read as little more than an excerpt with only a few small differences between the two. I will not say anymore because I do not need to, my praise for Lamentation goes right along with this.So Sang the Girl Who Had No Name -
Another story based in hell and another favorite. It involves a trucker, his guilt, a mysterious woman, and the song she gives him. What I like about these stories is that they display a hell that is not filled with eternal torment. There are people there with lives after death. Yeah, they have their punishment, but it is not the sadistic sort that we all hear about. This is another example of it, with the story taking place first in a bar, then in a semi rig on the road, and then going full circle back to the bar. The people joke over their ever-warm beers as they wait out the terrors of night, hoping that their vehicles are not torn apart. In the end this story and the others like it are my favorite and for reasons that I can only partly explain. It is unfortunate that of the short stories you can find online from Scholes, none of them consist of these two.Edward Bear and the Very Long Walk -
A science fiction story concerning Winnie the Pooh and a very long, very brave walk. This is one of the ones you can read online.That Old-Time Religion -
A religious story that is rather odd. It involves personal gods and the one man who does not give in to it, who is also chosen by God to be Steve. Steve being the name that God refers to all the people he talks to by, no matter who it is. The personal gods spread like wildfire, after all who would not want to follow a god that actually granted you what you wished for? God, on the other hand, is not so happy at the newfound idolatry and being a bit of a jealous bastard enlists the help of "Steve". And then everything pretty much goes downhill. Good story, though a bit on the redneck side and the main character is a little unlikable at the beginning of the story.East of Eden and Just a Bit South -
Redneck telling of Cane and Abel. Perhaps the least liked of the stories in the novel for me, but then I dislike redneck culture.Fearsome Jones' Discarded Love Collection -
An ex-con with a habit of collecting bits of discarded love (rings, notes, etc...) finds something altogether different one day: a child, thrown in a trashcan by the mother. An ugly thing, three-eyed and psychic, he resolves to take care of it. The past is presented, including the tale of Jones' own son and the woman he once loved, as Jones tries his best to take care of a child with no previous experience. All right, so that one was especially shitty for a brief bit about the book, but it is a decent story, nothing special.The Doom of Love in Small Places -
A bureaucratic nightmare of a love story. Taking place in the world given by The Santaman, the story tells of a supply manager and his fight to keep things the status quo. When a woman from one of the floors shows up looking for supplies, of which there is only a little... stashed away, she is told there is none, but is offered to wait until the shipment can arrive (of which there isn't one) as it took her several weeks just to make it down in the first place (what with the elevator broken). Yeah, another bad one, but this far into this damned post and I am ready to be done. Basically, another story that I found decent, but not really all that special. Others might take something else from it, but I did not.Summer in Paris, Light from the Sky -
An alternate history that has Hitler arriving in Paris as a struggling artist and befriending Hemingway and Charlie Chaplin. This story makes you like Hitler and I am not joking about that. He never becomes that evil man we know of, but something else entirely. A man celebrated for what he did to help the Jewish. I liked this story, especially the bits of excerpts written about the new Hitler. You can find this one at Clarkesworld
.Last Flight of the Goddess -
I have to admit that this was my favorite of the bunch. It reminds me of Morgan's The Steel Remains. Not in content, as this story is relatively family-friendly, but in the way that is feels modern despite being epic fantasy. I found that not only did I find them similar, but I preferred this story over The Steel Remains. Last Flight of the Goddess just does it better. I'm not going to go on because I really don't have to. In this case I find it better that you see it for yourself and luckily enough Tor.com has provided the story for free via download of the .pdf file. You have to be registered in order to download it, but it is worth it. Here.
If you skipped all that, do not worry. I honestly cannot blame you. My overall thoughts are thus:
I stated in my commentary on Lamentation that Ken Scholes was "an author with a lot of imagination and a talent for storytelling" and I stick by that. Ken Scholes has a wild imagination that lends to his work in whatever he sets his mind to and he has the talent to pull it off. Though he has been forced to lay off writing short fiction as he works on his novels, I look forward to the day when I have yet another collection in my hands. His ideas are a wonder and he has the ability to execute them well. I anticipate that Scholes will be among the larger names in the genre within a few years, for his novels and hopefully for his short fiction.
Oh, and here
is a link to a bunch of other short stories, some from this collection and some that are not.