Charles de Lint, Refinerytown (Subterranean Press, 2003)

Charles de Lint has a tradition of writing a short story every year, publishing it privately in chapbook form, and giving it to friends as gifts. Those of us devoted de Lint readers who have heard about, but never seen, these chapbooks tend to elevate them to near-mythical status. When Subterranean Press announced a limited edition press run of one of them -- 750 chapbooks, 100 hardcover copies, all signed -- I leapt at the chance of owning one.

And here it is in my hands, Refinerytown, a handsome little chapbook. I'm the chapbook editor for Green Man at present, so believe me, I've been examining this one closely. It's standard format for a chapbook: five and a half by eight and a half inches (the size of a standard sheet of typing paper, folded in half), thirty-two pages, cardstock cover, stapled at the spine. The front cover has a blue and black tone picture by MaryAnn Harris, wife of the author, with an added touch of piping running around the picture for a border, looping onto the back cover, and ending in a splash of black oil. The piping-and-oil theme continues on the inside of the cover. A sillouette of a refinery serves as the page headers, and oil splashes act as text dividers. The continuity of theme is nice. My only wish would be for a colophon -- I'd like to know what font Subterranean Press used! It reads easily and has a good balance of dimension and white space.

My apologies to those of you who are now bored stiff. Moving hastily along... The story in hand is "Refinerytown," and it's set in de Lint's imaginary city of Newford, scene for a great many of his stories and novels. It's based on the continuing adventures of Mona, whom you'll remember from "My Life as a Bird," published in the anthology Moonlight and Vines, and from her romance with the wolf shapechanger Lyle in "Trading Hearts at the Half Kaffe Café," published in Tapping the Dream Tree. Mona's a cartoonist, and she's recently started a project with Nina Kiriki Hoffman to write a comic book about fairies who live in an oil refinery.

Yes, Nina Kiriki Hoffman. De Lint has broken one of his long-standing rules in this story and included real people as characters: Nina Kiriki Hoffman and Sharyn November. This may normally be a no-no, but I'll say in de Lint's defense (as if he needs me to speak in his defense) that, real or not, Hoffman and November are the sort of folks who definitely belong in Newford. In case you're not familiar with them, Hoffman is an author of quirky, get-under-your skin novels, and November is the goddess who edits the Firebird imprint of Penguin Putnam. We've written rave reviews of both of their work. Look under their names in our indices.

Mona and Nina are just getting started when they're visited by one of the characters in their story, who insists that they're getting it all wrong. Her name is Diesel (a lovely double-play on the refinery theme and the fact that "deasil" is a magic turning-direction when working spells, the opposite of widdershins), and she's a bodacious, eight-inch-tall boot-wearing fairy with an attitude. Will Mona and Nina listen to her side of the story, or risk the wrath of the refinery fairy clan? As you might expect, it's a playful slip of a story. It's got a moral of a sort, but the moral floats easily on the plot, not weighing anything down. And it's full of the odd, visceral character and location details that keep readers coming back to Newford for more. I'll tantalize you with just one such detail: there's a point in the story at which de Lint, intentionally or not, reveals conclusively that Newford is definitely not on the Pacific side of the North American continent. Any observant reader who finds that bit in the story and e-mails me will win free tickets to Danse Macabre's next gig.

[Grey Walker]