Speculative Fiction Reviews
An Occasional Review Journal
You've probably noticed there are no new reviews here. I simply haven't time for reviewing and writing recently, and reviewing has had to go. For now, this journal is closed. Apologies.
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2005-01-28 3:37 PM
A Man of Light, by Jeffrey Ford - Sci Fiction, 26 January 2005
A Man of Light, by Jeffrey Ford
Jeffrey Ford's A Man of Light on Sci Fiction this week is a rather old-fashioned story. Set, presumably, in the late nineteenth century, it concerns a young reporter, August Fell, who has been granted an exclusive interview with the reclusive Man of Light, Mr Larchcroft. Larchcroft has come to fame through his art of perfectly illuminating tableaus or people. His alchemy of light has allowed Larchcroft to make corpses on a battlefield seem like sleeping angels, a bank appear to float off the ground, and a dead woman's eyes seem to move back and forth during her funeral, among other miraculous deeds. For the most part, the story consists of Larchcroft telling the story of his life and his researches--gone terribly wrong--to the reporter.
Stylistically, the narration of the story to the reporter belongs more to the early part of the twentieth century than to the twenty-first. The story, as scientific-investigation-that-went-to-far, is also the type of tale which was once more popular, before the scientism--science as infallible--became a more dominant motif in the pages of Analog and its predecessors.
Ford is, of course, a fine writer. His prose is smooth, the story he tells interesting. If the ending is a little too easy to see coming, it isn't over-telegraphed. It seems somewhat churlish to criticise such an accomplished work, but in the end, despite Ford's skill, I was left feeling that we had been here before, not often as well as this, but often nonetheless.
This piece is fine as a retro exercise, and is entertaining in an old-fashioned way. It just doesn't stand out as much as some of the other fiction that I've read recently, such as Merrie Haskell's Huntswoman or Alex Irvine's The Lorelei. I enjoyed it, but I wasn't blown away, and from a writer of Ford's stature, that is unusual.
-Patrick Samphire, 28 January 2005
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