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Last Updated, July 2010

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Casey June Wolf

    Finding Creatures & Other Stories
    by Casey June Wolf

    Wattle & Daub Books, 2008. 236pp.

    Finding Creatures is a nice little anthology.

    I am fully aware of the dangers of damning a work with faint praise, and being labeled 'nice' is probably as devastating for an anthology as it is for someone aspiring to a blind date. But try as I might, I can't find a more suitable word to describe these stories — unless it's 'quiet', which probably wouldn't improve matters. But hey, wouldn't it be great if our daughters occasionally took a second look at that nice, quiet guy in the library, instead of always being fixated on the 'bad boys' hanging out 'round the pool hall? Maybe it should be the same for SF. Just this once, put David Weber back on the shelf, and pick up a Casey June Wolf.

    Casey Wolf is that archetypal Canadian writer whose stories are about — well not much of anything, really. They are quiet little character studies built around some simple conceit. There are some interesting SF ideas here, some fantasy elements there, but it's character and setting that drive these narrations, not plot. And with one exception, pacing is strictly Canadian, so 'faced-paced' and 'page-turning' are not phrases that apply here. 'Quiet', 'thoughtful', perhaps even 'meditative' are a better approximation.

(I'm not saying all Canadian stories move slowly; I'm just saying Canadians tend to be careful: no rushing about firing off blasters until everyone has been, you know, properly introduced. If a Canadian had written Star Wars, it would have been from the pov of the kid who bussed tables in the Cantina and had had to come in on her day off to clean up after some stupid old Jedi had cut off some loser's arm.)

The opening story, "Claude and the Henry Moores", is typical. It's the story of a night security guard who falls in love with a group of Henry Moore statues. And that's pretty much it, plotwise. No Night at the Museum mayhem. But it's a nice little story. Charming, even.

Same with the title story, "Finding Creatures". That one's especially nice. Absolutely nothing threatening happens — there's not enough action to even register with the adult characters — and yet it's a lovely study of childhood, friendship, tolerance, and empathy.

Of course, when I say 'nice', I mean the Canadian version of 'nice': the tough-spirited 'nice' that can survive -40, the isolation of a trapline, the death of loved ones, the unfairness of life, and still remain optimistic, still value diversity, still be nice where others might have sought revenge, given up hope, or at least been kind of grumpy about it all. The kind of 'nice' that after a life time of abuse, still puts itself out and walks through a Canadian winter to help a total stranger, just because it's the right thing to do, as in the second story, "Thunderbirds." That kind of 'nice'.

Admittedly, not all of the stories worked for me. I closely empathized with the situation in which the heroine of "Dana's Hand" finds herself, but I couldn't see the point of the central metaphor of 'the hand knows'. "After Hours at the Black Hole" was too much a one-idea story lacking Wolf's typically moving characterizations. "The Ziz", Wolf's mytho-Biblical rant, was annoyingly pointless a bit like protesting the Roman invasion of Gaul by writing a letter to The Times. And you probably have to be Catholic to get "Saint Francis and the Green Man"; I'm always a little nervous about attributing opinions and events to actual historical figures, but Wolf's story seems reasonably respectful, if ultimately a bit of a *shrug*.

But few anthologies hit with every story, and some of these pieces are quite wonderful. "The MagniCharisma Machine", for example, is worth the price of admission alone: It defines what makes Canadians heroic, why 'nice' is tougher, stronger, more courageous — better. On the whole, there are far more hits than misses, and you're not likely to find stories like "Equals" (an archetypal Canadian approach to diversity) any where else.

To sum up: limited action, challenging settings, and thoroughly developed characterization. Given the choice between buying this anthology or seeing the extravagant action of Night at the Museum II, Finding Creatures and Other Stories is unquestionably the better value.

2009 Robert Runté. Reprinted with permission from Neo-Opsis Magazine #18 (winter, 2009).

See also interview with Casey Wolf.

Last updated August 2010

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