“The Willow Pattern” by Joel D. Lane, from the inaugural issue of Icarus, Summer 2009. Edited by Steve Berman.
This is the inaugural issue of a magazine that, sadly, is no more. Now, I’m not going to try to pretend I’ve ever been a regular reader of this or any other non-news periodical. As I’ve said here already, until a couple of years ago I thought I didn’t like short stories, and I got burned by bad fantasy novels early on, and I thought all science fiction was about little green men from Mars. Thanks to the revelations of the past couple of years, though, that’s all changed, and I want to know what I missed.
What I am a huge fan of is the concept of kids and adults who think they are all alone in the world discovering they are mistaken. The idea of someone standing in front of a magazine rack at a bookstore*, picking up a copy of Icarus, or Glitterwolf, or Educe, or Wilde and so on, and finding that someone is telling a story similar to their story delights me. I’m all in.
You may recall that I reviewed another story by this author quite recently (365/262). If you read that you know that this author died suddenly just a little over a year ago. It would be shocking and terrible in any case, but it’s worse because he was so talented. His death leaves us all poorer.
In that story the speculative element was introduced late. In this one I’m not certain I see it at all and it doesn’t bother me one iota. The main character gets news that a former lover has died. He has no one to talk to about his feelings. He can’t share his remorse with his current boyfriend. The relationship is too new, too fragile. He tries to throw himself into his work. A little while later he’s alarmed to discover he’s begun sleepwalking. No, that’s not right. He sleepcooks (breakfast). He sleepwatches (television, though the set stays off). He might also sleepwalk, taking a stroll down to the canal where he and Richard used to go together sometimes, but he double bolts the door to keep himself in and safe.
He does take that walk to the canal, while awake. Or at least he believes that he does. It’s hard to say for sure just what is real and what imagined. He questions his own sanity throughout the piece, questions Richard’s, too. The line between reality and dreams blurs, but the voice throughout is always clear and strong, and the writing is just beautiful – sparse, perfect and gorgeous. It’s gut-wrenching to think we won’t have decades more of it.
* I continue to picture it this way, despite the fact that I no longer purchase things, other than very occasionally, in that manner. Of course, the happy truth is that it’s now much easier for a person who’s searching to find other people like themselves. A simple Google search can open up a whole new world. And even better, inventory in the digital bookstore only ever expands. There’s no such thing anymore as missing an issue, there’s only whether or not you’ve read it. The eighteen issues of Icarus are simply waiting for new readers to discover them.