Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Review: Dreamrush by Garrett Calcaterra

Dreamrush is a collection of short stories, so I'll review them each individually.

The Knight's Dog

The description says this is often compared to Game of Thrones, and it's easy to see why. As soon as you're juxtaposing a knight bleeding out with a mastiff's pendulous scrotum, you know your fantasy has gone beyond pretty elves and manichean battles between good and evil. But don't think that, just because you've read G.R.R. Martin, this story won't hold any twists and surprises for you. The Knights Dog is a solid, grounded, gritty piece of short fiction, and a great opener for this collection.

Page Fault

My favorite of the collection. "Page Fault" is the dual narrative of a far-flung apocalyptic future where a tiny nucleus of survivors ekes out a pitiful existence, defending banks of ancient computers which store the digitized personalities of the bulk of humanity, allowing them to live on in simulated realities. But the glorious digital immortality promised to the digitized survivors comes with unsurprising caveats and conditions. For one, the primary simulated world was designed to run on the same rules as ours, including a stratified society of haves and have-nots. Worse, it seems that some of the haves have figured out how to rewrite the rules for their own benefit. Worse still, in the outside world, the barbarians are at the gate, and the lives of millions are on the line. If this sounds like I'm gushing, it's because I am. This is such an inventive, well-written, and fun story. Crossing genres in new and interesting ways, it combines Mad Max with Snow Crash, then throws in a dash of Al Capone and World of Warcraft. I love it!

Deus ex Aurum

Grounded in the actual history of the California gold rush, "Deus ex Aurum" tells an alt-history story of James Marshall. In reality, Marshall was among the party who first discovered gold, but was bum-rushed by prospectors and never reaped the rewards of his discovery. In this story, we see what might have happened if Marshall sought compensation by way of the supernatural. I liked this story overall, but I think it failed in one important aspect: the attempt to explore the forgotten cultures of the gold rush. While the portrayals of Chinese-American and Nisenan characters were mostly informed and respectful, I was disappointed right off the bat by a wizened-magical-Chinese-man stereotype. Things got a lot better from there, but the story is still fundamentally focused on a white guy. There's a parallel narrative from the perspective of Marshall's Nisenan friend, Meesham, but even his narrative is still centered on Marshall. This is still a good story, but it would have been a great story if it ditched the stereotype character, and if it had more and stronger parallel narratives that really belonged to Nisenan, Chinese-American, and Mexican-American characters.

Gold Comes Out

This is a fun one! Set in the same alternate, gaslamp reality as "Deus Ex Aurum", "Gold Comes Out" follows pirate captain Jardine, who's still plying the waters and seeking his fortunes long after the age of piracy has come to an end. Without spoiling things too much, by the mid-19th century, being a pirate is neither safe nor easy. When Jardine enters the world of the gold rush, he begins plotting the greatest individual act of piracy ever imagined. You just can't go wrong with an enjoyable adventure/heist story set against an interesting, well-imagined backdrop.


I haven't read the Dreamwielder books, which this is a prequel to, but I plan to now. A tale of loyalty and betrayal, "Wulfram" follows the eponymous character as he seeks out the last heir of a kingdom in upheaval. Wulfram is a fascinating character. He was magically twisted into a living weapon during some previous war, and is now striving to rediscover the nurturing side he lost, as he tries to protect this child king. I believe he's one of the villains of the Dreamwielder series, but he appears here as a tortured soul, caught between worlds. This is a great short, and I can't wait to read the books.


Wonderful short fiction. Grab this collection if you like gaslamp fantasy, genre bending, gritty fantasy, or if you just want some bite-sized stories that you can read start-to-finish before bed. As of this writing, the collection is priced at $8 for a paperback or $4 digital, which for 124 pages of solid fiction is quite reasonable. Highly recommended!

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