- Irvine does a good job of describing intricate, odd settings, but he's less adept at actual storytelling, as shown in the 13 tales ranging from surrealist fantasy to hard SF that constitute his first collection. One of the best, "Gus Dreams of Biting the Mailman," is a charming riff on the old idea of characters aware they're in fiction, like a Philip K. Dick story but without the tension generated by Dick's paranoia. "The Golems of Detroit" has an intriguing alternate-historical setting, a mass-production factory for rabbinically magicked clay soldiers during WWII, but there's little plot or character development. Technical descriptions of mining diamonds on Neptune delay the action in "Shepherded by Galatea." "The Lorelei," on the other hand, offers memorable characters and evokes the kind of real emotion to be found in such Irvine novels as A Scattering of Jades and The Narrows.
As a quibble, I will point out that Pictures is not in fact my first collection. Unintended Consequences was, and PW should maybe have known that because, well, they reviewed it. (And liked it.) At least they spelled my name right this time.
On to happier sentiments from Library Journal:
- From an eerie tale of a nursery rhyme gone disastrously wrong ("For Now It's Eight O'Clock") to the subtle menace of a communal delusion among space colonists ("Volunteers"), the 13 stories collected here exemplify Irvine's astonishing storytelling ingenuity. Unexpected turns of plot and mesmerizing character studies bring these genre-crossing stories to new heights of excellence. Fine work from the author of A Scattering of Jades and The Narrows, this volume belongs in most libraries.
So there you have it. You'll never know who's right unless you read the book.