Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Oddest of All: Nine Odd Stories by Bruce Coville

Perhaps when you were young, you read some of Bruce Coville's books. Maybe Jeremy Thatcher, Dragon Hatcher or My Teacher is an Alien or one of the hundreds of other books he wrote. Perhaps you didn't know that he writes novels for teens, or retellings of Shakespeare plays. Or collections of short stories, like the ones in Oddly Enough,Odder Than Ever, or today's selection, Oddest of All.

The book contains nine short stories, some that are decidedly science-fiction (as is the case with the first story, "In Our Own Hands", in which aliens arrive and make an offer to the inhabitants of a struggling Earth: They will give Earth the superior science it needs to fix all its ills - including curing illnesses and more - if Earth will vote to let the aliens have complete control until such a time as the people of Earth are ready to handle all the new ideas and technology they will receive. What would you do? Would you give up your autonomy if the entire planet could be cured? With a nod to prior stories like Frank Stockton's "The Lady or the Tiger", the story leaves the reader to ponder the question without knowing the precise outcome.

There are contemporary stories of real life, as with the unfortunate events that befall Murphy Murphy when he reaches the age of 13 and Murphy's Law really kicks in for him in "What's the Worst That Could Happen?", and horror in "The Thing in Auntie Alma's Pond." (It's way worse than a creature. Or is it?) And one of my favorite of Coville's short stories ever, "The Hardest, Kindest Gift", a retelling of the story of Melusine, a woman under a spell, or alternately, a fairy under a spell, who is the perfect wife and mother as long as she gets to spend her bath time uninterrupted. Too bad her husband doesn't honor his promise, cursing her to an unhappy half-life . . .

Then there's "The Mask of Eamonn Tiyado", something like an unfunny version of the movie, The Mask, or like a more thoughtful version of R.L. Stine's The Haunted Mask from the Goosebumps series aimed at an older audience, in which a boy trying to escape his own existence becomes trapped in a hideous world where his wish to look different is granted, but it comes at a terrible cost: he's got on the mask of an attractive young boy, but he cannot take it off, and there are "Faceless Ones" after him.

  "The Faceless Ones were my husband's victims. They were--had been--people born with great beauty but weak character. Or perhaps their character was weak because of their beauty, because it made life too easy for them. In any event, they were my husband's natural prey, and he was able to bring them under his power and steal their faces."
  Harley shivered. Against his will, his fingers crept to the handsome face now covering his own plain, pudgy features.
  "He stole their faces then sold them as living masks to men and women who were rich and royal but hardly fair of feature. The customer would go off on a journey ugly and months later return home with not only a new face but a new name, telling some story about being the favored first cousin--and heir--of the rich and royal man or woman who had died tragically while traveling abroad."
Does the story end well? I leave it to you to read and find out.

Sadly, the hardcover appears to be out of print, though you may luck into a copy at a library near you, but the book was recently released by the publisher as an e-book in all the various formats, and can be found at the usual online retailers.

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