Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Side Jobs by Jim Butcher

I'm not big on the short story form. Outside the Nero Wolfe short story collections, I could count on one hand the number of short stories I've read in the past 5-10 years. Lately, there's been a decent number of my favorite Urban Fantasy writers contributing to short story collections--usually on a theme, and usually using characters I really want to read about. But being short fiction, and being surrounded by stories about characters I don't care about/don't know/don't have time to get to know even if I wanted to, I don't get around to getting my hands on them.

From what I can tell, that's resulted in me missing some interesting stuff--even the start of a series I'm invested in (maybe more than one, come to think of it, but I'm not going to double check now).

Which is a whole lotta rambling set up to saying why I was very happy to hear that Jim Butcher was going to release a collection of previously published and new Harry Dresden stories. And even happier to get my hands on it last week.

Being short works of fiction, basically every story was this--some sort of problem, Harry investigating rather quickly and then moving right on to the fireworks, usually dazzlingly so. Wham, blam-o, thank you, sir. Each of them also tended to focus on at least one member of the supporting cast in a way we don't get enough of in the novels. I really appreciated getting to spend a little time with each of these people in this setting.

It was, admittedly, a mixed-bag. The first story, "Restoration of Faith," was the first Dresden story, and it's clearly that. There's a lot to our favorite wizard PI that is recognizable here, and a lot that get's tossed before Storm Front. A fun read, but I'm glad Butcher tweaked things the way he did.

The rest were better executed--mostly because Butcher's grown a lot as a writer since then, all were good reads, some better than others.

A couple of other stand-outs for me were the lighter, "Day Off" about Harry's fruitless quest for a quiet, relaxing day; "The Warrior" in which we get to see post-Small Favor Michael in action--even if it was a tad preachy, Butcher pulled it off, and I was so, so glad to see Michael like this; and "Love Hurts," which is the kind of story we've seen/read countless times about what happens when two will-they/won't-they friends fall under a spell/temporary delusion/whatever and fall madly, temporarily in love--it's been done a lot, frequently poorly, but not here.

"Love Hurts" was also a perfect set-up to the novelette Aftermath, which starts up hours after the jaw-dropping/rage-inducing last page of Changes and was, for me, worth the purchase price. If I'd remembered that this was going to be at the end of this collection, I'd have finished the thing in one setting, rather than over a period of days. Great, great story, both for the plot/characters itself, and for what Butcher shows us about how these characters will act without the man in the duster around. Loved it.

Now, this hasn't convinced me to get these other collections I mentioned earlier--but I just now have hope that some of my other favorite authors will get in gear and publish collections like this one.