fantasy and science fiction book reviewsSpace Magic by David D. LevineSpace Magic by David D. Levine

Before picking up this story collection, I was only familiar with David D. Levine from a couple of his stories that I’ve read in anthologies. Space Magic sparked my interest because it contains a Hugo Award winning story (“Tk’Tk’Tk’”) and because it has recently been released in audio format, read by the author himself.

It rarely happens that I enjoy every story in a collection, but that’s what happened here. All of these tales are entertaining, I was pleased with the diversity of themes and styles, and I was pleasantly surprised at the quality of the audio production. Here are the stories you’ll find in Space Magic.

“Wind From a Dying Star” — (first published in the anthology Bones of the World, 2001) A tribe of post-humans who travel the universe in freeform bodies decides to visit the galaxy that spawned the human race. The Earth is dead, Sol is fizzling out, and the solar winds are dangerous. They need to find an energy source so they can recharge and get away. This sad story is a celebration of “the headstone of humanity,” a warning about how we are using our planet and energy resources, and a speculation about the future evolution of the human race.

“Nucleon” — (first published in Interzone, 2001) Looking for inspiration, a concept artist discovers a huge junk yard owned by an old man who seems to be able to find anything his customers need. The two men strike up a years-long friendship and marvel together about the source of the strange junk yard’s power. I loved this sweet story about art, friendship, and wonder. It left me smiling. This was probably my favorite story in Space Magic.

“I Hold My Father’s Paws” — (first published in the magazine Albedo One, 2005)This heart-wrenching story is about a father and son who’ve been estranged for 20 years but meet again when the father decides to undergo an operation that will turn him into a dog (only in California!). As the two get reacquainted, we learn why the father has made this drastic decision. I cried at the end of this story.

“Zauberschrift” — (first published in the anthology Apprentice Fantastic, 2002) A former magician’s apprentice is called home to help the villagers deal with a curse that’s affecting their weather. After a bit of deduction, he realizes that he needs to debug an ancient magic spell.

“Rewind ”— (first published in L. Ron Hubbard Writers of the Future, Volume 18, 2002) An elite soldier who’s been designed to be able to rewind time by a few seconds is trying to escape from the U.S. government unit he belongs to. He gets help from a “terrorist” group of citizens. I liked the concept of this exciting story and when it ended I wished there was more. It would make a great novel.

“Fear of Widths” — (first published in the anthology Land/Space, 2003) In this very short story a man returns to the Midwestern town he grew up in so he can attend his parents’ funeral. He becomes disturbed that he can see the horizon, something he never notices in Portland, where he’s been living for years. Turns out that he’s right to be nervous….

“Brotherhood” — (first published in the anthology Haunted Highways, 2004) Gus and his brother are working in a steel manufacturing plant during the Great Depression and are being paid extra by management to spy on workers who want to unionize. When, due to management’s negligence, Gus dies on the job his ghost returns to urge his brother to do the right thing. But what is the right thing?

“Circle of Compassion” — (first published in the anthology Gateways, 2005) In this Oriental-inspired fantasy, a priestess lends her special skills and a piece of magical jewelry to help her besieged village by spying on the enemy and getting civilians and soldiers to safety.

“Tk’Tk’Tk” —(first published in Asimov’s, 2005) An interplanetary travelling salesman is so far out of his comfort zone and has such a hard time making a deal with the aliens he’s visiting that he takes a serious look at his profession and the American lifestyle. I love how David Levine made his aliens feel so alien while at the same time the real focus of the story is on rather mundane but essential human concerns. This is the story that won a Hugo Award.

“Charlie the Purple Giraffe Was Acting Strangely” — (first published in Realms of Fantasy, 2004) This cute story is about a comic book character who realizes that he’s being watched and laughed at by readers. The premise of this story is funny, but what I liked best were the vivid little details that made me actually visualize a comic book while I was reading it. I smiled all the way through. This was another favorite.

“Falling off the Unicorn” — (original to this collection) Misty is a teenage girl who shows unicorns and she’s competing in the Nationals. This story cleverly blends and twists two unrelated clichés: unicorn-virginity myths and pageant moms. I totally believed it.

“The Ecology of Faerie” — (first published in Realms of Fantasy, 2005) A 16 year old girl whose mother is dying of leukemia discovers that faeries exist, and they’re not very nice! Because she doesn’t have any support from her parents, she must do her own research to figure out how to get rid of them. This story is disturbing both because of the scary faeries and the leukemia.

“At the Twenty-Fifth Annual Meeting of Uncle Teco’s Homebrew Gravitics Club” — (first published in OryCon 25 Souvenir Book, 2003) Old friends from a gravity hacking club reunite at their annual convention and reminisce about the good times and the bad times. This story has a nostalgic feel and lots of cool props.

“Love in the Balance” — (first published in All-Star Zeppelin Adventure Stories, 2004) Zeppelins and Zombies! This strange steampunk-style story has tons of atmosphere, reminding me a little of the Girl Genius comics and, because of the sentient airships, a little of Isaac Asimov’s I, Robot. It’s another one that would make an interesting setting for a novel or two. I want to read that.

“The Tale of the Golden Eagle” — (first published in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, 2003) This fascinating story is a legend about an eagle whose brain is used to guide a spaceship by changing the shape of space. When the spaceship is retired, the eagle’s brain powers an android whose body is made of jewels. “The Tale of the Golden Eagle” is beautifully written and has lots of cool ideas. It was nominated for a Hugo Award.

The diversity of the stories in Space Magic shows David D. Levine’s broad range of subject matter and his aptitude with many styles and themes. As Levine explains in the afterword, the title “Space Magic” is intended to convey the point that the collection contains both science fiction and fantasy stories. This title seems too soft, dreamy and nebulous to me. For me it evokes swirly sparkles and rainbows. It doesn’t get across the reality that these stories are vivid, detailed, and sometimes dark and hard-hitting.

I was a bit wary of trying Space Magic on audio because in my experience authors are not usually the best narrators for their own material — or anybody else’s for that matter. There are a few exceptions, with Neil Gaiman being the most obvious. However, I needn’t have worried. In fact, I was surprised at how well Levine’s audiobook turned out. He used a range of pleasant and realistic voices and his cadence was nice. (You’d think this would be easy for the author to get right, but apparently it’s not). Space Magic is a professional quality audiobook and one I have no trouble recommending both for the stories and the audio production. I’m looking forward to reading more of David D. Levine’s stories.


  • Kat Hooper

    KAT HOOPER, who started this site in June 2007, earned a Ph.D. in neuroscience and psychology at Indiana University (Bloomington) and now teaches and conducts brain research at the University of North Florida. When she reads fiction, she wants to encounter new ideas and lots of imagination. She wants to view the world in a different way. She wants to have her mind blown. She loves beautiful language and has no patience for dull prose, vapid romance, or cheesy dialogue. She prefers complex characterization, intriguing plots, and plenty of action. Favorite authors are Jack Vance, Robin Hobb, Kage Baker, William Gibson, Gene Wolfe, Richard Matheson, and C.S. Lewis.

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