In the interest of full disclosure, I’ve read Willett’s work before. I’ve enjoyed every novel of his that I’ve consumed and hoped that his latest work would reach the same high bar. It didn’t – it hurdled right over that bar and left it hanging.
This collection of twenty-two short stories spans Regina-based Willett’s career. Some of the stories were written as far back as the 1980s while others are from this century. I assumed I’d be able to detect which tales are his earlier works but I was wrong; all of the stories are expertly written. The only indicator of when Willett penned the stories was the blurb at the start of each one.
It’s a requirement of mine for science fiction works to push the boundaries of imagination. And Willett didn’t disappoint. Who else would’ve thought to create a slug that sings (“A Little Space Music”) or a hibernation induction trigger that can put a human to sleep for seventy-two hours (“The Strange One”)? The readers are the ones who benefit from Willett’s willingness to push the already stretched boundaries of this genre.
My favourite short story in the collection is “The Wind”. This tale is the only one that featured a ghost and Willett handled the situation with his usual panache. A close second is “Devil’s Advocate”, which deals with the subject of a programmable afterlife. The concept of designing what you will experience after you die is a fascinating one.
Willett’s powerful writing style shines in this story collection. He has mastered the art of showing and not telling, a skill not enough writers can claim to have these days. For example, when talking about the view of the three-quarter Earth, it “hung in the sky like it did in the famous Apollo 8 photograph that decorated one full wall of the dining room.” He describes lanterns as “…not made of eggshell. Nor are they glass. They’re of a substance woven by tiny worms that feed on vines from the hot, sunny hillsides above this city.” Genius!
Lovers of sci-fi will find Paths to the Stars hard to put down until they finish “Je Me Souviens“, the last tale in the collection (and Willett’s personal favourite). This book hits all the checkmarks for what I feel are the hallmarks of a science fiction work: imaginative, fantastical, and mind-bending. If this work was a meal instead of a book, it would deserve a Michelin star.
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