Dreams of Dust* is a collection of science fiction and fantasy stories by Jeff Shelton Davies. It contains three stories, all rather long short stories (is that novellas? Novellettes?)
The first story, Devil Come-A-Calling, is a dark fantasy that takes place in a wild-west setting. Jeff pulls the setting, tone and atmosphere off very well, though the story would have started with more of a bang if he would have included the bank-robbery-gone-sour in the story instead of just having the main character tell the reader about it. It might also have made me care more for Jack, the main character, which I really did not. The story is dark, on the very edge of horror, but since I didn’t care about Jack I felt distanced from the story, and was waiting for it to end. You see, Jack is a bad man, not just a vulgar anti-hero that we root for, but a bad man. The reader dislikes him and so the ending, though interesting and well written, fails to hit home.
The second story, In His Image, is the best of the three-story collection, but ultimately suffers from the same flaw as Devil Come-A-Calling; the main character’s unlikeability. Fitzhugh has just lost his son in a battle, humans vs insect-like aliens. The setting in this story is very interesting and rich, and the alien race is no stock evil-alien race. The story is interesting, and the most memorable of the three, but also the most predictable (though I will not spoil it here). Fitzhugh carries his son into alien territory to get help from their gods, as some of the aliens are a not interested in the fighting and have actually joined the humans. Things don’t go exactly as planned, of course. The world the story takes place in is one that I would like to read more of. However, Fitzhugh is like Jack: I don’t care for him, and so I don’t care what happens to him, and this is a great detractor. I still recommend this story, however, and would love to read more in the world he creates.
The last story, The Overlord’s Dream, is the weakest one, but also the weirdest (a good thing). It is about an insect-lord that dreams the end of his world but is unable to act on it. Again, Mr. Shelton Davies creates a deep and rich world that is a joy to read. And again, he gives us a main character that we, the readers, are unable to connect with so it somehow feels like the story is being told to us by a third person; there is a certain distance. But the writing is good, as it is in all three stories, and Jeff Shelton-Davis clearly has a rich imagination that he is in full control of.
Final verdict: An interesting collection of fantasy and science fiction, that shows off the rich and vivid worlds of Mr. Shelton-Davis but lets the reader down by filling them with unsympathetic characters. Three-and-a-half stars.
Jeff Shelton-Davis needs to work on creating more sympathetic characters. If he manages this (and cuts down on using “grumbled”, “sputtered”, “gasped” and “hollered” instead of the simpler “said”) he will soon be writing world-class novels. Because he sure knows how to create a setting, and he sure knows how to write.
Dreams of Dust is a quick read, and if you are a fan of dark fantasy or rich sci-fi worlds, it is for you. If you have a thing for dark anti-hero type characters, this is definitely for you. Buy it now.
*Clarion Publishing supplied me with a review copy of Dreams of Dust.