Model J. Ford
By Cheryl Morgan
Often a collection provides a useful way to get a good idea of the work of a new author. Recent books such as In the Palace of Repose by Holly Phillips, In the Forest of Forgetting by Theodora Goss and, of course, 20th Century Ghosts by Joe Hill all fulfilled this requirement. The Empire of Ice Cream by Jeffrey Ford is another matter entirely. To start with I have already read and reviewed many of the stories it contained. And that, of course, means I am very familiar with Fordís writing. So why did I want a copy? Well firstly for the fabulous John Picacio cover. But mainly because I wanted all of those wonderful stories in one convenient volume where I could find them and come back to them easily.
This, you will remember, is from Cheryl, who really doesnít like short fiction all that much. Not only do I want to own a collection of Jeffrey Ford stories, I want to be able to read them again and again (well, if only I had the time).
Just to rub the point in, the book opens with "The Annals of Eelin-Ok" from The Faery Reel, which was my favorite piece of short fiction from last year. I was stunned that it didnít get onto the Hugo ballot, but it did win the Fountain Award. Then there is the title story, "The Empire of Ice Cream", which won the Nebula for novelette in 2004 and was short listed for Hugo, World Fantasy and Sturgeon Awards. Moving back into 2003 we have "The Weight of Words" from Jeff Vandermeerís Leviathan #3 anthology, which was a World Fantasy nominee. And oops I just missed that "The Trentino Kid" was an International Horror Guild nominee for short story in 2004. Two other stories from the collection, "The Beautiful Gelreesh" and "A Night in the Tropics" were mentioned in the Locus Poll but did not get any other awards.
The dead kid came up spluttering, silently coughing water out of his mouth and nose. His eyes brimmed with terror.
"What the hell are you?" I yelled.
His arms, his fingers, reached for me more urgently.
From "The Trentino Kid"
That, ladies and gentlemen, is one heck of a collection already. And if you are not yet convinced, there are other stories. I particularly liked "Jupiterís Skull", a very creepy tale about a small town that may not exist and a shop called Thanatos whose owners tend to commit suicide. Also very good was "Boatmanís Holiday", in which Charon the Ferryman is given a day off from his work in Hell and decides to find out whether it is true, as some souls have told him, that there is a way out.
Three steps forward and the prescription would be filled. A short flight of freedom, a moment of calm for the tortured soul, and then endless rest on the rocks below surrounded by the rib cages and skulls of fellow travelers once pursued by grief and now cured.
From "The Beautiful Gelreesh"
What concerns me about all this is that I know Jeffrey Ford quite well. With other writers you might wonder where they get their ideas from, but with Jeff you wonder how he comes up with all this weird and creepy stuff and is still so sane. I mean, this is Jeff, right? I have sat in bars and drank beer with him. Maybe, like Jeff VanderMeer has his Evil Monkey to write rude things in his blog, Jeffrey Ford has an Inner Demon who writes his stories while he has a beer with his mates. But however he does it, I am glad that it works. You wonít find a much better collection of short stories than this anywhere.