Shawn Speakman was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma in 2011. This was not the first time he had been diagnosed with cancer. In fact, he had survived cancer almost ten years earlier and was confident he could do so again. Already having faced and accepted his mortality previously, the thing scaring him most this time around was the financial aspect of fighting cancer. Shawn quickly amassed a large medical debt that he knew he had no chance of repaying on his own. So what did he do?
Shawn reached out to his friends in the writing world and asked for short stories he could put into a collection to help raise money for his medical expenses. He got a better response than he could have hoped for and the result of all this is an impressive collection of sci-fi and fantasy stories, Unfettered.
This is a large collection with some fantastic writing in it, so I’m going to do more frequent and focused blog posts on a couple of stories at a time.
Let’s get started with Terry Brooks’s Imaginary Friends.
Imaginary Friends by Terry Brooks
I wish I had heard of Terry Brooks before reading this story, because the man is an excellent story teller.
In the introduction to “Imaginary Friends”, we learn that Brooks originally wrote the story for an anthology of modern fairytales in 1990. At the time, he was interested in writing a new fantasy epic set in the modern world. He used Imaginary Friends as a sort of trial story for his new idea. He wanted to create a story with magic that could plausibly exist in the world we know.
In Imaginary Friends, we are first introduced to our protagonist, the 12 year old Jack McCall, who learns that he has leukemia. He becomes enveloped in the memory of an adventure he had once had in the mysterious park behind his house. During that adventure, he met an elf named Pick that showed him a magical world within the park complete with trolls, ghosts and an imprisoned dragon, Desperado. For weeks after his initial adventure there, he spoke frequently to his parents about it. Although Jack’s parents initially convinced him that Pick was just an imaginary friend almost 10 years ago, he now believes that he must find a way back to the elf and the magical park.
This was a great story to start the collection off with. It seemed relevant as it featured someone dealing with cancer, similar to the editor but in a very different situation.
Jack was quite obviously scared when he learned that he had leukemia. He told his friend Waddy Wadsworth at school about it, who pointed out that no one dies in seventh grade. Despite seeking comfort in this though, Jack needed something more that the real world wasn’t able to provide him. He needed an elf named Pick and his imagination.
Stories like this and fairy tales in general often have a moral to them, something the child being told the story should take way from it. They can also serve as a tool for children to face the trials of growing up and I think that’s what Brooks designed Imaginary Friends to do. By facing the dragon, even if just in his imagination, Jack McCall was able to face cancer as well.
How Old Holly Came to Be by Patrick Rothfuss
A short story by Patrick Rothfuss set in The Four Corners. According to the author, this story is not normal for him by any means. It wasn’t written painstakingly over a long period of time. And it certainly isn’t a quarter of a million words long. This story is shy of 2000 words and was written by Rothfuss in just a single day with almost no revisions to it.
Other than realizing I need to reread The Kingkiller Chronicles to get a better idea of what this story might possibly be about, I found the writing beautiful. The story had a sort of rhythm to it and I think it would be served well by being read out loud.
The basic plot, or what I gathered, is of a woman, a tower, and a holly. The woman cared for and shaped the holly and a lot of other things around it. That’s why I think it’s possible the woman is a singer or shaper or both, though I don’t remember the specifics from the other books, hence why I need to reread them. Anyways, something likely to do with the creation wars.
The Old Scale Game by Tad Williams
The story is a fantasy version of a movie with a similar name and plot called Skin Game. In the movie, a couple of friends—one black, one white—run a scam where the white guy pretends the black guy is a runaway slave he has caught. The white guy then takes his friend to the authorities for a bounty, then helps his friend escape and splits the money with him. Then they go somewhere else and do it all again.
In The Old Scale Game, we have a similar scam being run by the most unlikely of pals: an old dragon slayer and an old dragon, who both realize that they aren’t quite as good at killing one another as they used to be. Sir Blivet, the knight, and Guldhogg the dragon come to an agreement upon meeting each other. Guldhogg will terrorize a town for a bit and then surrender to Bilvet. Then Blivet collects the bounty and they split it, move on to the next town, and repeat.
After running things this way for a while, Blivet starts to think about finding a woman and settling down. However, after going after an ogre, Ljotunir (and letting him get in on the business), on what was supposed to be their last business venture together, Guldhogg convinces Blivet to allow the ogre to join them. Which means they wouldn’t be settling down quite as soon as Blivet had hoped…
This is a really funny story that was completely ridiculous at a lot of points but ultimately super enjoyable. The dialog is really what shines here for me. Lots of puns and miscommunication between a human and a dragon had me laughing quite a bit. The ending was kind of cheesy, but it fit the story well.
Well, that’s enough for this part of my unfettered review. Next time I’ll by reviewing the following 3 stories from the collection:
- Game of Chance by Carrie Vaughn
- The Martyr of the Roses by Jacqueline Carey
- Mudboy by Peter V. Brett.
Until next time!