The author Nalo Hopkinson says in her introduction to Sparks and Shadows: "It's a bacchanalia in there." She's not kidding. If you've only read one or two stories by Lucy A. Snyder, you may not suspect the amazing range she can display in a collection that spans this many stories (17) and poems (7) and essays (4). Yes, almost every piece here is short, but we all know that sometimes brevity is . . . well, you know. The point is, Snyder's work is vibrant and resonant and superbly measured—but it is never bloated. In fact, it'd be hard to find others' stories as emotional as several toward the end of this collection that didn't weigh in at several thousand more words. This economy works on various levels. On one, it avoids distracting readers with unnecessary details—those used are perfect and need no more support. On another level, the stories just move. In the best of ways, they don't belabor their own points. On yet another level, the brevity lends itself to the sly humor that wends its way through most (but not all) of the selections here represented.
Let's focus on the fiction, shall we? Short, sharp, and sometimes slightly shocking, Snyder's fiction is always memorable. The earlier stories tend to revolve around some gentle and not-so-gentle SF humor ("A Preference for Silence" and "Boxlunch"), but the progression quickly turns serious with "Through Thy Bounty," a devastating SF story of alien conquest . . . and much, much more. Here the collection's major theme centered on loss and guilt and love of mother first takes hold, to be expanded upon in "Sara and the Telecats," for instance, yet another story of deep personal loss. There are digressions, such as Snyder's take on the Wild Hunt folklore of "The Dogs of Summer." "Soul Searching" takes on long-standing grudges, while "Flesh and Blood" nudges into vampire territory, both examining different levels of retribution. The SF-based "Burning Bright" and "Roses of Gomorrah" offer sexy, strong women getting what they want and need even in a male-dominated, bizarrely Russian off-world universe.
But the core tales are gathered near the end of the collection, though they are strongly supported by earlier outings such as the inventively dark "Through Thy Bounty." The stories "Forgetting," "The Doll's Hearts," "So Lonely as the Grave," "Next on Channel 77," and "Darwin's Children" all pack a punch completely disproportionate to either their length or their language—they literally transcend the limitations of words on paper. Whether exploring death and the pain of loss, or the hungry loneliness brought as a side-effect of death, or family responsibility, or the kind of love that quietly burns brighter than we can even discern, these stories are all devastatingly effective at evoking a primal response. Some will wrest emotion from you, even while shocking with their simplicity of style and syntax, proving once again that the best writing avoids staring at itself in the mirror so much. These are all stories that make Sparks and Shadows ever so much more than just a miscellany of a writer's work, creating instead a subversive and deeply emotional impact to be felt long after the last has been savored.
The essays and poetry in the collection share many of the stories' qualities and bring their own sensibilities to the table, though Snyder's use of humor shines most in some of those. In Snyder's work, darkness and light alternate both within and without. Social commentary explodes like a stealth bomb sometimes well after the words have faded from sight. The fiction and non-fiction blend seamlessly. No matter the rhetorical device used, Lucy Snyder's approach is to covertly engage and then massage a little-used muscle in the reader's psyche. Sometimes blatantly, explicitly erotic, sometimes sardonic, sometimes tinged with a great sadness, always just a bit off-kilter, and often just downright funny, the stories in Sparks and Shadows weave a spell that'll prove hard to shake. It really is a bacchanalia in there, and you just might find you don't want to turn the last page. Nicely presented as a limited from HW Press with a distinctive Deena Warner cover, this volume belongs in any serious dark fantasy collection.