Edited by Jeffry Dwight

The Wildside Press / 290 pages / August 1998

ISBN: 1880448564

Between the Darkness and the Fire marks Jeffry Dwight’s first foray into editing. Hmmm… doesn’t show. Either Dwight has a natural ability to select quality material, or he’s just assembled a stellar collection of authors for this initial anthology from the father of SFF Net. Of course, he’s been involved in the science fiction and fantasy genres for some time — maybe he just knows his business.

Whatever the reason, Dwight and his authors have put together a multi-author reprint anthology that is a pure pleasure to read, and an excellent introduction to some writers you may never have encountered before. While not every story is a blue diamond, they are gems, nonetheless.

In selecting the stories, Dwight “gave precedence to stories with strong characters facing real human conflicts.” There is no question he achieved his goal, then. Though I said the stories are a pleasure, it is a decidedly bittersweet enjoyment; human conflict producing isolation, grief, fear, and despair, in most cases.

Take the example of “Ebb Tide,” the standout piece of the group. A mother faces the wrenching choice of how she will lose her child. Mary Soon Lee’s near-future piece explores a horrifying situation without sinking to the maudlin or degenerating into a tear-jerker. The woman’s desperation rings true, perhaps because it is a scenario we can all too easily imagine.

Deborah Coates’ melancholy “The Queen of Mars” puts a new twist on an old theme — the loss of a parent. The father’s method of dealing with the absence is touchingly human, flawed but understandable. Unfortunately, it is a problem faced by the tatters of families everyday.

Love and lives misused and lost are the focus of “Rift” by Kurt Roth and “Keeping It Together” by Tim Waggoner. The characters have made all the wrong decisions. Although the narrators obtained what they bargained for, the end result is pain and ruin, for themselves and the others they involve in their choices.

Are you seeing a recurring theme? Loss permeates the lives of the characters in Between the Darkness and the Fire. Loss of love, loss of hope, loss of a future, flow from one story to the next. Isolation and resignation seem to be the end results of life ahead of us.

If it’s such a somber atmosphere, where is the pleasure in submerging ourselves in these broken lives? Aside from the obvious — the stories are beautifully written and enthralling — there are the moments of light. (“The Boys From Bethlehem” is a scandalous scream.) Unexpectedly, the sun will burn through the haze, just for a moment, perhaps, but isn’t that how life is sometimes. And with Between the Darkness and the Fire you don’t have to take the bad with the good, because it’s all good.

And the best news of all, Between the Darkness and the Fire is the first of five such anthologies planned by Dwight. If each volume is as good as the first, you’ll want to save room in your own private collection.