Thursday, March 04, 2010

"Fantastic" Review

Serial Distractions, a web site maintained by Sherick Pittman-Hassett here in Texas, has reviewed "Fantastic Texas". I can hardly see how I could hope for anything better:

Review: Fantastic Texas by Lou Antonelli

I first encountered Lou Antonelli at ConDFW in 2009. He either moderated or participated in the more excellent panels that I attended that year. He struck me as a very practical-minded writer who was passionate about what he was doing. His descriptions of some his published stories intrigued me: steam-powered rockets in the Republic of Texas, alternate universes where witches resided in Waxahachie, and the rebuilding of East Texas after a nuclear incident.

Fantastic Texas collects the best of these tales. All are set in Texas and display a unique brand of native Texas charm and sci-fi “weirdness”; which is ironic as Mr. Antonelli is a transplant from Massachusetts. Nevertheless, his stories demonstrate that if he wasn’t born here then he’s definitely assimilated Lone Star culture.

Most of the stories are told in either first-person or in monologue which brings a personal touch to the stories and gives them an immediacy that I enjoyed. These stories are also inherently optimistic; there are dastardly deeds done to be sure, but there is a thread of that can-do Texas determination woven into the fabric of each tale that reassures the reader that no matter what happens the characters will keep moving forward and striving for a better life.

The best demonstration of this quality is the story “Avatar”. in which the residents of the Republic of East Texas have rebuilt as best they can after a nuclear apocalypse and may have discovered a way to resist the sickness caused by fallout–as well as uncovering the tragic secret of an ancient race. This is not the post-apocalyptic world of Mad Max or Gamma World (though I love those works dearly). It is a world where some people have descended into barbarism, but where many have simply picked up what was left and made the best of it. This is as true a picture of human nature as any punk-future setting and just as entertaining.

Like any anthology, its strength and its weakness is variety. Some stories are stronger than others, but there’s not a bad story in the bunch. I particularly enjoyed the aforementioned “Avatar”, “Professor Malakoff’s Amazing Ethereal Telegraph”, and “Body by Fisher”. The former is a nice piece of western steampunk about a carpetbagger with a broken telegraph who encounters a little too much local color. The latter is set in a near future where the staff of a small news outfit deals with a nuclear accident. In “Fisher” Antonelli best captures characters who deal admirably with an adverse situation.

Antonelli is an experienced journalist and is currently the managing editor at the Mt. Pleasant Daily Tribune. This background enhances his writing; the prose is lean and the dialog rings true. The “real” East Texas shines through each and every one of these stories. Anyone looking for weird tales with a decidedly Texan twist should pick up Fantastic Texas.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the mention! I really did enjoy the collection and look forward to seeing more...


Latest reviews

"It’s possible that you haven’t run into the stories of Lou Antonelli. Since 2003, he’s been publishing delightful short tales of alternate history all over the nooks and crannies of the SF world. Thanks to Fantastic Books, we now have 28 of these little gems in one place. "Many of Antonelli’s stories have an unexpected twist ending. And many of them are what he calls “secret history” stories, which aren’t exactly alternate history—they’re set in our familiar history, but there’s always some element that contemporary observers missed. " -

- Don Sakers, The Reference Library, Analog July-Aug. 2014

A better path develops for a distraught man in “Double Exposure” by Lou Antonelli (debut 6/11 and reviewed by Frank D). Jake is about to end it all. He has been trying to keep his high maintenance wife happy for decades and has needed to embezzle to satisfy her spending habits. Now, on the verge of indictment and abandoned by his spouse, he buys a gun. Before he pulls the trigger, he spies a Kodak one-day photo hut. Curious, he pulls up to the window. They are holding pictures of him and his last girlfriend from 30 years before. The package is a lot thicker than it should be. Double Exposure” is listed as an Alternative History story but I would classify it as a Magical Realism tale. It is set as a second chance tale, a look into a life that should have been. The author is inspired by his memories of the old photo huts (I remember them) and of their disappearance. A cool idea (photos of another life), one that I could imagine would make for a great anthology.

- Frank Dutkiewicz, Diabolical Plots

“Great White Ship”: A traveler stuck waiting for a flight strikes up a conversation with an old airline employee. The Old Timer tells him a story of a Great White Airship that arrives from a most unusual destination. The story of a craft from an alternate reality and how it got there is only the precursor to the final act. This is one of my favorite stories from this site. I have a great passion for lighter-than-air craft and their potential as a future means of transport, which opens the story. The author uses this speculation to launch into an engaging tale. As fascinating as the main story line is, the alternate history premise that accompanies it is just as worthwhile. This story was well written and very well thought out. It is well worth the read. Recommended.

- James Hanzelka, Diabolical Plots

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