Evocative details and strong science fiction themes make this short story collection fresh and intriguing.
In The Land of REM by James S. Earl, fantastical worlds are populated by vivid characters who beg to be revisited, all laid out with humor, compassion, and measured detail, with themes of time travel and transcendence running throughout.
The Land of REM, the titular novella in this collection of short stories, centers on the first stop that everyone takes on their journey through the afterlife. In REM some stay a while, some move on quickly, but most enter through the conventional lighted tunnel. There exists a pre-death back door, however, and Tim Stubbs manages to find it in a recurring dream. He meets a man there named Marvin, and after he wakes up, the man starts to impact his conscious life as well. Tim’s only hope for figuring out what it all means is to find a way to return to the Land of REM. The implications of fantastical travel are a theme that runs through most of the other stories in the book as well.
Throughout the stories are memorable characters who stand out for their compassion and warmth. One is Professor Emit N. Relevart, who evokes the ghosts of Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol, if with a much warmer and sympathetic personality, as he sends people through time and space in an effort to help them learn a lesson. The professor shows up in a few stories, sometimes as a protagonist, sometimes in a cameo.
Stories are composed with subtle beauty and sparse, perfectly chosen details. In “Felicia Nightingale,” a squad in Vietnam is transported to one soldier’s home in the Louisiana bayou after things go wrong on patrol. The man’s dead wife is there and serves them home-brewed honey beer and a giant crawfish boil. Much of the story flows along on dialogue, but the small, simple details paint a complete picture of the setting, from the breeze through an open window to a hand on the shoulder.
Because there is such a strong theme of science fiction and fantasy in the titular story and elsewhere, the few stories that don’t fit that genre feel out of place in the collection. This is most true of its single nonfiction piece, “The Tooth Fairy, God, and Everything Else” and the medical satire, “An Inconvenient Truth.” While both stories are entertaining and engaging, their positions in the middle of the book feel like speed bumps in an otherwise smooth road.
The Land of REM will appeal to fans of science fiction and fantasy who enjoy thoughtful pieces with sly dialogue and memorable characters.
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