Tim Pratt, Little Gods (Prime Books, 2003)

Every generation, there are writers who emerge who seem to get it a little better than the rest of us. They're the ones who understand story and myth and the ways we write our own histories. They see the world through a unique perspective, and bring us their vision of that world in astonishingly beautiful prose. Jeff VanderMeer is one recent example of this type of writer, with his award-winning fiction in the phantasmagorical locales of Ambergris and Veniss. Tim Pratt is another.

Pratt grew up in North Carolina, and got his B.A. in English from Appalachian State University in 1999. Throughout high school and college he was writing stories; before graduating from ASU he attended a writing workshop with Orson Scott Card in Washington, D.C. After graduating, he attended Clarion. Others were taking note of his talent. He worked a few jobs that didn't satisfy his tastes, so in his wanderlust and desire for change, he moved to Santa Cruz in the summer of 2000. Soon after, he met his now-fiancée, the writer Heather Shaw, and moved to Oakland to live with her. He and Shaw have produced two chapbooks of fiction and poetry through Tropism Press, Living Together in Mythic Times and Floodwater, and they now co-edit the fiction zine Flytrap. Pratt's day job is the envy of many in this industry, assistant editor and book reviewer for Locus magazine. He also edits Star*Line, the journal of the Science Fiction Poetry Association. His story "Little Gods" made its way onto the final Nebula ballot this year, and his poetry has been nominated for the Rhysling Award. The dude is good.

The title story in Little Gods nearly made me cry the first time I read it. I was at work browsing the fiction online at Strange Horizons (shhh, don't tell my boss), and couldn't stop reading after the first section. The absolute heartache when you lose someone close, someone who feels like that missing piece of your soul, is expressed exquisitely in this story. When I read it again recently for review purposes, I cringed at that first scene because I knew what was coming, but again was pulled in so completely by the prose that I couldn't help but keep reading. On the surface, the little gods in the story seem derivative of Neil Gaiman's pantheon-pulling within The Sandman and American Gods, but Pratt makes these gods his own: the minor deity of hot fudge on a wooden spoon, the modest avatar of scents with sad associations, the King of Grief, the little goddess of cinnamon. The prose is lyrical and tight, and shows grief and the ways we get over it with unflinching honesty. There's a reason this story almost won the Nebula Award.

The fourteen other stories and four poems collected here display Pratt's wide range and confident handling of the written word. There are stories in which a witch's bicycle is as evil as its owner, a faerie is raised by human parents who clip her wings, a superhero from the fifties with short-term memory problems who's pulled out of retirement to again battle the forces of evil, a girlfriend from an alternate universe who attempts to cheat death. "Pale Dog," a novelette original to the collection, introduces a new subgenre: sorcererpunk. The poem "My Night with Aphrodite" made me laugh so hard I nearly sustained internal injuries. Pratt's love of myth, legend, and folklore is represented well in these stories and poems, and the nice introduction by Michaela Roessner explains where it all began. You'll have to read it to find out for yourself.

These pieces have been published all over: from Realms of Fantasy (to which Pratt is a frequent contributor) to Lady Churchill's Rosebud Wristlet to Asimov's to Weird Tales, not to mention many more anthologies and 'zines. Pratt's street cred keeps getting better by the minute, only to be outmatched by his prolific output. The oldest story of the sixteen in the collection was published in the year 2000 (though it took him two years to sell it). He has produced a dizzying amount of quality fiction and poetry in the last few years, and shows no sign of slowing down. Watch out for Tim Pratt; his name will soon be associated with all the big awards, and his books displayed in stores for years to come. His career is just starting, and if this collection is any indication, it will be a long and fruitful one.

[Jason Erik Lundberg]

Find out more about Little Gods (including cover blurbs from Terri Windling, James Morrow and Karen Joy Fowler) at the official Web site.