Nancy O'Toole's Reviews > Straying From the Path

Straying From the Path by Carrie Vaughn
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Nov 19, 11

bookshelves: fantasy, science-fiction, short-fiction
Read on November 11, 2011

Carrie Vaughn may be best know for her Kitty Norville series, but she’s been writing short fiction for a long time. Straying from the Path collects ten short stories that cover topics that aren’t necessarily the first thing that comes to mind when one thinks about a paranormal author. The result is an impressive variety of stories that shows off Vaughn’s range as a writer in a way that one book series never could.

For a brief review of each story, please continue.


This is the Highest Step in the World- The name Joe Kittenger isn’t one I remember learning about in school but after reading this story, I wish I had. Joe Kittenger holds the record for the highest altitude parachute jump ever taken. This story tells what that jump could have been like from his perspective, while drawing parallels to the story if Icarus. A very interesting true story with just a hint of the fantastic

Peace in Our Time- In the second story, Vaughn asks the question “what will happen when the last war veteran dies?” I enjoyed how the futuristic elements were kept light in this science fiction story about a world of peace, keeping the emphasis on the characters and their emotions. This story has really stuck with me since reading it.

Silence before Starlight- In her notes, Vaughn refers to "Silence Before Starlight” as her “elves in space” story. It tells about two astronauts orbiting around Europa. While outside of the ship, one astronaut comes face to face with a beautiful woman who seems to be calling to him. I enjoyed how this story mixed the idea of something very old and mythic (sirens), with something very futuristic (colonizing a moon).

The Happiest Place- In this story, a woman who spends her days dressed as Cinderella in Disney World struggles with some of the emotionally difficult parts of the job. Then, she is given the power to change things. As someone that grew up on Disney culture I appreciated how Vaughn took a respectful yet less happily ever after adult perspective on the scene. The ending is quite powerful too.

Swing Time- Swing Time may not be as strong as some of the other stories in this collection, but I enjoyed it’s unique take on time travel and the romantic tension between the two leads. Perhaps I feel this way because "Swing Time" seemed to be the story that resembled the Kitty books the most, this story seems like it would be successful if Vaughn chose to flesh it out in a full length work.

The Librarian’s Daughter- This is the only example of a traditional fantasy story in this collection. Perhaps it was because it was about a girl and her horse, but it reminded me a bit of early works by Robin McKinley and Mercedes Lackey. I appreciate the fact that she went for a rather daring ending.

The Bravest of us Touched the Sky- This is an interesting story about female fighter pilots who were alive during World War 2, and what happens when a pair of them are asked to fly a strange aircraft. I didn’t get into this story as easily as some of the others but I ended up enjoying the mix of history and fantasy.

The Heroic Death of Lieutenant Michkov- This story asks us about the power of stories. It tells about two dispatchers who relay stories to an emperor each day about the status of a long, hard war. One gives the facts, the other tells stories. I thought Vaughn addressed some really interesting issues in this tale (is it okay to make up stories if the results are positive?), and I found the ending very effective.

Real Time- This story looks to the past to tell the story of the future of cinema. Just like certain silent film actors had a hard time transitioning to “talkies” Real Time,shows us a future where most films are shot in one rooms with all of the costumes, props, and backgrounds are added in digitally, and how difficult it can be to transition between the two mediums. What I liked the most about this story is the fact that everything felt very plausible. As a movie fan, I already see that we are well on our way to a world where movies are shot in the boxes as opposed to the real world.

In Time- The final story in the collection is the one that “strays from the path” the most as it’s about Emily Dickinson and her dog. I found I appreciated what Vaughn did on a technical level here (changing her writing style to imitate Dickinson’s style of writing. Not enough dashes though!), but the story was just okay. Still enjoyable, but my least favorite of the collection.

Straying from the Path is the second short story anthology Vaughn has released in 2011 (along with three novels. Yikes!). Unlike the other, Kitty’s Greatest Hits, Straying from the Path is actually a special edition, with a 500 copy print run from WSFA press. Each copy comes numbered and signed. I kind of wish that they had chosen to release this as a regular book because, despite the fact that the collection is very well put together, I know it will result in fewer takers. Only dedicated established fans will pay $25 for a tiny collection of less than 200 pages. In my opinion, this is clearly Vaughn’s strongest release this year. I wish more people could experience it.
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Reading Progress

11/11/2011 page 92
47.0% "About halfway done with this short story collection. So far, I'm quite pleased."
11/11/2011 page 196
100.0% "Done! You know, I think I liked this even better than the Kitty anthology. Review coming next week."

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