“Thirteen Phantasms” By James P. Blaylock: A Digital Domains Review

Copyright © 2010 by Ellen Datlow. Cover design by Stephen H. Segal.

“Thirteen Phantasms” is a story by World Fantasy Award-winning author James P. Blaylock that was published in 1996 by OMNI Online.

Good to get that out of the way.  Now, onto the review!

The Story: Science Fiction Readers of the World, Unite!

In the 1990s, a man named Landers comes across a few boxes in his attic that are full of science fiction magazines from the 1940s collected by the previous tenant.  As soon as he starts reading, Landers becomes hooked and sends a letter with a money order to the original publisher, the Newtonian Society.  To his surprise, he gets a letter back–from the year 1947, no less.

In the meantime, Russell Latzarel and Roycroft Squires are trying to put together another meeting of the science fiction book club hosted by the Newtonian Society when they begin to receive correspondence with stamps and postage marks that have never been seen in their era before.  The stage is then set as Landers sets out on his journey to discover this place outside his own time–but not outside Los Angeles–and reach some sort of encounter with the men whose publications have completely enthralled him.

The Cast: A Tale of Two Generations

Landers is an interesting protagonist because he has no real roots.  He’s only had his house for a short while, having wandered around his whole life, and finds some kind of anchor in these classic stories.  Mr. Landers is also curious and doesn’t hold too many preconceptions, so he’s a good character for finding things out and thereby solving the tricky issue of how to handle the exposition.

Occasionally, we jump back to the perspective of Latzarel and Squires.  It was a little weird because at first I didn’t realize they were from another era than Landers.  Their dialogue and topics of discussion didn’t seem all that far removed from the main character, and perhaps that was the point: that fans of this genre, no matter their background, can always come together with their stories and enthusiasm.

Final Verdict: Looking Into The Past With An Open Mind

“Thirteen Phantasms” started off a little slow and without much connection between the two character perspectives, but it soon ties them together and keeps the story exciting.  I also love how Blaylock is able to bring a little sci-fi magic into the world of sci-fi fans, which both generations would appreciate.

Bibliography: Blaylock, James P.  “Thirteen Phantasms.”  Digital Domains: A Decade of Science Fiction & Fantasy.  Edited by Ellen Datlow.  Prime Books, 2010.

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