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Tales of the Hidden World by Simon R. Green
Review by Drew Bittner
Open Road Media Sci-Fi & Fantasy Paperback  ISBN/ITEM#: 9781480491168
Date: 08 July 2014 List Price $14.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK

Links: Author's Website / Show Official Info /

An old man reminisces about his life of duty. A street wizard shares jokes with prostitutes while keeping Soho safe by night. An elderly woman discovers the truth of her childhood, and Jesus finds ways to stay busy out in the desert.

All of these are short stories by Simon R. Green, now collected in Tales of the Hidden World. They span his writing career, from its start in the late 1970s to an all new tale of the Drood family of Secret Histories fame. They run the gamut of the strange and fantastic, including a pair of pirate stories, with notes from the author describing the story of how each came to be written.

In "Question of Solace", a major figure from the Drood novels contemplates his mortality and asks the timeless question, 'Was it all worth it?' He relives several key moments in his life, and how he arrives at his answer is both elegant and poignant. It might seem a bit odd for Green to say farewell to such an important individual outside of a Drood adventure, but this allows him to give that character a singular spotlight and his own moment to shine. It's quite likely the one that will stay with the reader long after the book is done being read.

"Street Wizard" describes a night in the life of a minor wizard employed by the City of London to go forth and protect the innocent of Soho. Replete with odd folk, Green says it is his tribute to the weird and wonderful Soho of his youth...though one imagines his Soho had fewer monsters in it.

An extraordinary revenge is enacted in "From Out of the Sun, Endlessly Singing", wherein mankind's farflung colonies are destroyed and Earth itself poisoned by an alien race. That's going too far, decides an eldritch society, and so they devise a plan of exceeding brilliance and cruelty--if only the necessary components will cooperate.

When "Jesus and Satan Go Jogging in the Desert", you’re not entirely sure what kind of story you'll get. Except that this is the untold story of what Jesus was doing out in the desert by himself...because he wasn't exactly by himself. (If you've been to Sunday school, you probably know this.) Satan narrates this parable, wherein he does his level best to tempt Jesus, while Jesus does his best to understand Satan. Turns out these two half-brothers have something in common after all....

"Food of the Gods" is quite short, about the dangers of believing 'you are what you eat', while "He Said, Laughing" transposes a horror trope into the very real-world horror of a terrible, misguided war. "Soldier, Soldier" is his first work to see print, about a dehumanized trooper who only sees point scores instead of people, and "Manslayer"--a fantasy of a hired killer seeking to protect a valuable secret--represents his first sale.

Though primarily known as a bestselling novelist, Green has a knack for shorter tales as well. His command of character and setting are on full display throughout, though several contain a knockout ending that most readers won't see coming. If you want a travelogue of one writer's career in short fiction, with annotations from the man himself, then this is clearly the book for you.

Recommended.

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