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Christopher Barzak

Christopher Barzak's stories have appeared in a many venues, including Nerve, The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror, Teeth, Interfictions, Asimov's, and Lady Churchill's Rosebud Wristlet. His first novel is One for Sorrow.

Blurbs

"[Barzak] has established himself as one of the most distinctive voices and lyrically effective prose stylists in recent fantasy."

– Gary K. Wolfe

"Masterfully crafted . . . each one packs a punch."

– Publishers Weekly

"It's the way he sees plain ordinary people that gives his stories such power. Bravo."

– Bookslut

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Featured Book

Before and Afterlives

Surreal Imaginings, Harrowing Hauntings, and Beautiful Masterpieces

05/20/13

I first discovered Christopher Barzak a few months before I moved to Korea. A friend of mine mentioned his book The Love We Share Without Knowing which is, among other things, about expatriation in Japan. While Japan is certainly not Korea, I thought it might be nice to get a glimpse at what I was stepping into. And it was beautiful yet painful. Stories of love and loss, tenderness and beauty, all touch by bits of magic, the unreal, the more than real. What struck me most was how perfectly they described what it was like to be a stranger in a country, even when it is your own.

I had previously lived in Ireland, which is much more similar to America than America is to Japan or Korea, but I had felt all these things. The enormous joy, the intense strength of friendships so new, the distance between you and so many others, what it meant to be American, to be American abroad, to be human: Barzak had captured it all in the interweaving stories that make up The Love We Share Without Knowing, and so I could not wait to read his short story collection Before & Afterlives.

It does not disappoint. These are stories published between 1999 and 2011, covering his career, and they are all fall under the umbrella of speculative fiction, but as you read this collection you are reminded how silly genre distinctions are, because why can’t a love story be between a person and a haunted house? Who is to say that the unreal and the real cannot inhabit the same pages? Barzak’s skill here is making a foundation in reality so solid and believable that when the world’s glimmering shifts fantastic you are so swept up in it that it had to be that way. His fiction does not contain magic and monsters to illustrate magic and monsters but to show how beautiful and unknown and haunting our world is.

Reading these seventeen stories that stretch over twelve years we are given an overview of his career, of his concerns as a man. Identity, culture, sexuality, Ohio, rural and suburban youth, family, and always love. I believe love and the transition to adulthood stick out most clearly in his fiction and these are perhaps best captured in “The Language of Moths” and “Maps of Seventeen,” which are two of the longest stories in the collection, and, to me, the most perfect. Burgeoning sexuality, the disconnect of generations, the competitions and barriers that form within families, between siblings, the desire to get away from small town life, the comfort of home, and all the while, just beneath this so real reality, there is a bubbling, a slow rise of magic that shifts everything from a simple story about being a teenager and creates this sublime image of a girl and moths, of a man painting his lover.

While many of these stories traverse similar ground, they are surprisingly varied. There are ghost stories, steampunk adventures, distant future prostitution, surviving an apocalypse, cloning, saving a mermaid, and on and on. There are playful touches, surreal imaginings, harrowing hauntings, and beautiful masterpieces.

To put it short: this is a fantastic collection of fantastic fiction by a man soon to be a household name. His first novel, One for Sorrow, is being made into a film titled Jamie Marks is Dead, and you will know his name, so say it now, write it down, and look for his books. And if you are looking for an overview of Barzak’s writing, start here, with Before & Afterlives.

You will fall in love and it might hurt but it will be glorious.

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