Mark Bourne

Cover art by David Delamare

Scorpius Digital Publishing (April 2001)

ISBN: 1931305102

You’ve put it off long enough — time to get with the digital program and dive into the pleasures of e-books. There are some titles there that you simply aren’t going to find anywhere else and it would be such a shame if you missed them. Our example today is Mark Bourne’s Mars Dust & Magic Shows, a collection of short stories that flutter along like butterflies and come back to burrow into your mind like yellow jackets.

Upon first reading, these stories are fun, light reading, just the thing to bring a smile to your face. It’s later, after you’ve set the book aside, that the full significance of the tales comes back to weigh on your mind. What could be funnier than a story where a young woman opts to become a living dirigible, where a tired, middle-aged woman learns about her true place among the kingdom of the fairies? On the other hand, what is so laden with wistfulness than these very selections?

No one can resist tales of redemption — either reading them or writing them — but “Mustard Seed” and the deceptively winsome “Baby Talk” are examples such as you’ve never encountered. Perhaps the highest praise I can heap on “Baby Talk” is that it is irresistibly reminiscent of that masterpiece of collaboration, Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman.

The standout story of the collection is one of such deceptive subtlety that many may never get the full import of the ending. Of course, many may choose not to adopt that interpretation, but there it is. A parade of eccentric and laughable small town folk traipse through “Brokedown,” showing all the glaring flaws and delicate kindnesses of unsophisticated people everywhere, but there is more to them. Much more. Perhaps, that is what gives the story its lingering feeling of wistful submission. For a town so crowded and so too-knit, it is a lonely place.

Audience and industry get a thorough beating in the star-struck and scary “What Dreams Are Made On.” The repulsive characters in front of the camera, those running the show, and those glued to the “entertainment” should make us all ashamed of how far we are willing to go for titillation. Certainly, it’s futuristic, but is it so distant from the endless, emetic “reality-based” programs clogging the schedule right now?

History (even fictional history) does not escape Bourne’s imaginings. Never really satisfied with the way “King Kong” turned out? Perhaps, you’ll lean more toward the version here in “The Nature of the Beast.” Purists may find fault, but that’s what fiction is for, isn’t it? Historians will probably pull out handfuls of hair at the mere thought of a mobster turned president of the United States, but in “Boss” the more troubling aspect is how possible it really is.

That will give you something to chew on. Really, that’s what Bourne does best: leaving you plenty to mull over later, whether you had planned to or not.

And to think you would miss all this if you clung to the printed page, instead of trying something new.