Inverarity (inverarity) wrote,

Book Review: Straying from the Path, by Carrie Vaughn

Ten excellent short stories in a book that sadly few people will buy.

Straying from the Path

WSFA Press, 2011, 198 pages

Best known for her New York Times bestselling urban fantasy novels, Carrie Vaughn has also written dozens of short stories for Talebones, Realms of Fantasy, and many other magazines and anthologies.

Collected here for the first time are ten of her favorite hard-to-classify stories covering the full range of speculative fiction -- science fiction, fantasy, horror -- sometimes all in the same story. Read about Emily Dickinson's dog, women pilots in WWII, future Hollywood, a haunted Europa, and more!

Acclaimed author and editor Jay Lake contributes an introduction to this unique collection.

Stories did have power over life and death. Michkov had always believed that.

Carrie Vaughn is most famous for her Kitty Norville PNR werewolf series. I did not much like Kitty and the Midnight Hour, and a book called "Straying from the Path" with a winsome fairy-girl on the cover would seem to have even less appeal for me.

I only picked up this book because I was at last year's Capclave, where Carrie Vaughn was one of the Guests of Honor. Straying from the Path is a tiny collection of ten previously-published short stories. As a signed, limited edition small press anthology, it's a rather pricey collector's item and not something the casual Vaughn fan is likely to pick up. Which is a shame, because it turns out that Vaughn's short stories are uniformly good to excellent.

Straying from the Path collects ten short stories, mostly science fiction and fantasy, though the fantastical elements are usually not very pronounced. This is not a collection of "high concept" speculative fiction; the heart of each story is the person starring in it. Or in one case, the dog.

There are several tributes to veterans, WASP pilots, and astronauts past and present: This is the Highest Step in the World, Peace in Our Time, and The Bravest of Us Touched the Sky.

In her author's notes, Vaughn calls Silence Before Starlight an "elves in space" story and expresses bemusement that some of her readers thought the elves were aliens. That's hard-SF readers for ya. Personally, I thought they were hallucinations. It's a slightly spooky tale that can be read in multiple ways.

I am not a big romance fan, but there are two romantic stories in this collection. In Swing Time, there's a slap-slap-kiss relationship between a pair of dancing time traveling thieves, a premise that probably could have been expanded to a full book but which Vaughn kept nicely self-contained in 25 pages. Real City is a near-future Hollywood romance for those who like their traditional HEAs.

The Heroic Death of Lieutenant Michkov is both a Kafkaesque tale of war and Russian bureaucracy, and a parable about the power of storytelling.

The two darkest stories in this collection were The Happiest Place on Earth and The Librarian's Daughter. The Librarian's Daughter is also the only story in the collection that falls into the category of traditional fantasy, about a librarian's daughter (duh) who can see the future. When she meets a handsome rogue who turns out to be a thief, she runs into the usual tragic dilemma faced by people who can see the future, but Vaughn's ending is somewhat unusual and quite grim. The Happiest Place on Earth is a dark Disney World tale, which Vaughn executes without shitting on Disney.

I don't know if In Time was my favorite story in the collection — I haven't read enough of Emily Dickinson to know if Vaughn's attempt to imitate her style is effective — but it might jerk a few tears if you've ever owned a dog.

She knelt and held his stout head in her hands, looking into his clear brown eyes. "Don't forget, when you've gone far enough ahead, come back and get me." A kiss on the nose, like she gave him when he was a puppy.

Poll #1871368 Straying from the Path

Have you read Straying from the Path?

No, but now I want to.

Have you read any other books by Carrie Vaughn?

Yes, I'm a fan.
Yes, they were okay.
Yes, but I didn't like them.

Verdict: It's a shame this book is so rare and expensive, because for someone like me who is not a big Carrie Vaughn fan, it was well worth reading. This collection of short stories is a nice assortment of themes, and none of them struck a sour note, so if you have a chance to read it, you should. If you are a big Carrie Vaughn fan, it's worth buying.

Also by Carrie Vaughn: My reviews of After the Golden Age and Kitty and the Midnight Hour.
Tags: books, carrie vaughn, fantasy, mount tbr, reviews, science fiction

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