There were a variety of interesting ideas here, from enchanted highways to novel dead-end careers. The stories tend, on average, toward the pessimistic, but there are upbeat tales as well – mostly in the form of light gags. Unfortunately, the prose in which the stories and ideas are presented, is often not up to the task. That’s not to say the stories are bad – most of them are adequate – but there’s little of the magic that makes you say “That’s an author I’m putting on my must-read list.”
In general, I found the style, and particularly the dialogue, to lack subtlety. The stories and characters and sentences go pretty much where you expect them to, without much in the way of flourishes along the way. That can work well; complexity and decoration are as often distracting as they are attractive. Not everyone is Roger Zelazny or Jack Vance. Equally, not everyone can manage the simplicity of an Isaac Asimov. In these stories, Jansen could have used the occasional ornament in character or language.
The ideas behind the stories are sometimes good, sometimes fun. However, Jansen tends to fail to do more with the ideas than present them, and say “Look. Interesting.” This is especially true with the comic stories; the ideas are fine, but they’re thin, and the stories do little to flesh them out. Jansen does better with the serious stories, but often fails to bring home their initial emotional promise.
The best stories in the collection:
- Bigger Fish – a comic look at domestic pressures and the struggle to get ahead.
- Black Dragon – uncovering the mysteries of a family heirloom. This is one of the stories that comes close to being quite good, but falls short toward the end.
- Legal Aliens – a quirky look at immigration. Another idea that could have been a very goodstory, but ends up being only okay.
- Metal Dragon – gods pass the baton. One of the strongest stories in the collection, and one that could have been great, had the ending been stronger.
All in all, adequate, but not great. There’s better out there.