James's Reviews > Drumlin Circus / On Gossamer Wings

Drumlin Circus / On Gossamer Wings by Jeff Duntemann
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it was amazing

Full Disclosure: I /wrote/ the On Gossamer Wings side of this book, and I was probably no more than the third person to read Drumlin Circus, after Jeff himself, and probably his wife. So I'm not a disinterested party here.

That said, let me talk about Drumlin Circus first. Jeff writes a /tight/ short novel. From the opening fanfare when Simon Kassel is first noticing something odd in the bleachers to the end when, well, everything disintegrates into total, entertaining mayhem, the pacing is tight, the dialogue is snappy, the people interesting, and the ideas. Good heavens the ideas. I'm intimately acquainted with this universe, so it takes me a moment to step back and boggle at the sheer volume of ideas. A blown FTL jump leaves colonists on a completely unknown world on the wrong side of the galaxy. There are machines there that can, if you know a drum pattern to give them, make pretty much anything. And everyone has an agenda, from the Institute to the Grange, to the Tears, to the Circus, to the very things the thingmakers make. Truly boggling, and Jeff pulls it off with aplomb. In the past, I've said Jeff writes old school science fiction, and while I meant that as a compliment, I have to say he pulls off new school just as well. I liked Kassel. I liked Lizzie, the Tear witch who is his on-again off-again girlfriend.I liked her boss, the Mother Exalted. More than that, I felt like i knew them, and I kept wanting to give them faces of people I knew because Jeff has fleshed them out as people so very well. And far from the utopia a planet with mild weather, low population, and replicators seems like it ought to be, Valinor (the Drumlin World) seethes with conflict, as people pursue, contest, and fight over different visions for the future of humanity there. Even if I didn't have a stake in this book. Even if I didn't have a novella of my own on the back side of this book, I'd recommend it highly on the strength of Drumlin Circus alone.


On Gossamer Wings, like I said, is my story, so I can talk a little more freely about its creation. Jeff invited me to write in his world several years ago. It wasn't until the idea for On Gossamer Wings popped into my head, nearly full fledged, and wanted a world where flight did not exist, and where Natalie could invent it without also being a machinist genius and a materials science genius, and frankly more geniuses stacked up than were really believable. The story idea /begged/ to be in Jeff's world. Rural? I can do that. Late 19th century technology? I can do that, albeit with much research. (For pete's sake, I had to research /underwear/ to finish that story. Think about it. Elastic is 20th century science.) Tragic story? That's what I had in mind. And as I sat down to write the first few lines, I thought, "Channel Steinbeck. It's that kind of story." I think it worked quite well. The most challenging parts were Natalie's lines and the ending. Natalie doesn't /speak/. She doesn't have human language at all, really. Working up all the gestures for when she was communicating with someone else and then describing them clearly but without repeating myself was tricky. And the ending, of course, was hard to write. By the end of the story, I /liked/ Natalie. I wanted so badly for her to succeed and live happily ever after. But the story needed, with equal urgency, a different ending than that. An ending nobody wanted, but that every step along the way of the story led to, one link in the chain after the other.

About the book format: This book, like the old Ace Doubles before it, has two stores. Drumlin Circus begins with the front cover - the one without the barcode - and runs to the middle of the book. Flip it over to the back - note the barcode hiding in the cover art - and you'll see completely different cover art, and the /front/ of the second story, On Gossamer Wings, is there. Because English is read left to right, with the book "upside down," the second story is rightside up and reads normally, ending in the middle. The ebook is more conventional, mostly because when we built it, there was no nice way that was well supported by ereaders to give access from the "cover" of the ebook to any particular page inside. So the ebook version is much more like a normal anthology, with only two stories, and combined cover art.

-JRS
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Reading Progress

Started Reading
March 11, 2011 – Finished Reading
November 25, 2011 – Shelved

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