Reading Other People’s Mail

GardnerLettersCovMedLetters From Gardner
Lou Antonelli
The Merry Blacksmith Press
Trade Paper, 238 p., $14.95

Full disclosure time. I’ve known Lou Antonelli for nearly a decade. I met him because his wife was one of my students, although we had both attended a nearby convention a few months before but hadn’t met. I’m sure we would have eventually.

Lou was kind enough to give me a copy of his latest collection for review. (Thanks, Lou.) So far he’s only written short stories, but he claims he’s writing a novel. He tells lies for a living, so I’ll believe it when I see it. (Don’t tell him I said that.)

Anyway, this is an interesting collection. Lou shows us how his writing career got started. Each of the stories in this volume was submitted to Gardner Dozois during his last couple of years as editor of Asimov’s. In fact, the final story in the book is the last one Gardner bought. Immediately after buying it, Gardner left for vacation. When he came back, he announced his retirement. (Draw your own conclusions.)

What we get with this volume is an inside look at the growth and development of a writer from his first attempts to tell a story to his hitting the top market in the field.

If Lou (or anyone else) thinks I’m going to give him a pass just because we’re friends, he should think again.   Fortunately, I’m not inclined to be harsh.  Nor is there much reason to be.  Lou has been a journalist all his life.  He knows how to write.  So his first effort at fiction writing, or rather his first effort that he was willing to show the public, “Insight” isn’t at the level of his later stories in the collection.

The story is short and concerns the disappearance of a scientist at a private research company.  The science is pretty shaky, but Lou openly admits that he’s not a scientist.  But it’s as good (or better) than a lot of stuff out there.

Lou and Talisman

Lou perusing his latest publication. (Photo stolen from Lou Antonelli’s blog.)

Lou is a carpetbagger transplanted northerner who has made Texas his home.  As is often the case with transplanted people, he’s more knowledgeable about his adopted state, its history and culture, than many natives.  This shows up in his fiction, as many of these stories are set in Texas. “Rome, If You Want to” concerns a tour guide in a future Dallas who is hired by some very interesting clients.  This one reminded me a lot of C. L. Moore’s  “Vintage Season” with a more modern setting.  (After I read the story I emailed Lou to ask him if he had read Moore’s story, and he replied he hadn’t.)

One of my favorites, “Berserker”, has some thinly disguised local personalities, such as an outspoken sportscaster and a local pro football team.  I especially enjoyed seeing what Lou had done with them.

Lou Antonelli is best known these days for his alternate history stories.  As the book progresses and Lou’s work matures, we see the development of his authorial voice.  which is becomes clear in “Pen Pal” and is firmly established in “A Rocket for the Republic”, in which the first manned trip into space is made from the Republic of Texas.  (The first one.  The second one hasn’t been founded.  Yet.)

It was this latter story that Gardner bought.  It’s a fully polished tale, told in a unique voice, and well worth reading.

There are remarkably few clunkers here.  All of the stories are entertaining, even though some are flawed.  All of the stories herein have been published by the way.  There’s a considerable variety in both subject matter and tone.

As entertaining as the stories are, and they are entertaining, the real heart and soul of the book is reading Lou’s introductions and afterwards in which he discusses the things he learned from writing these stories and his discussion of the advice Gardner gave him.  Gardner’s letters are all included.  In a way, what we get is a brief course in short story writing team taught by one of the most acclaimed editors in the field and one of his most accomplished pupils.

Letters From Gardner was part of the Sad Puppies slate that Larry Correia, Brad Torgersen, and other members of the Evil Legion of Evil proposed for a Hugo Award in the category of Best Related Work.  The final ballot will be announced in less than 24 hours from the time I’m writing this (2:00 PM Saturday CDT).  Hopefully it will be on the ballot.  Good luck, Lou.

UPDATE:  The Hugo ballot was announced a little while ago.  Not only did Letters From Gardner make the final ballot, but Lou is also a nominee in the short story category with “On a Spiritual Plane.”  Congratulations, Lou, and good luck.

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