Reviews of Tim Pratt's Work

What They Said

Presented without comment, in order from newest to oldest works: the good, the bad, and the mixed reviews. If you know of a review of my work that isn't mentioned here, send me e-mail and tell me about it:


Captain Fantasy and the Secret Masters (Realms of Fantasy, 4/03)

  • Marvellous tribute to comic book superheros - Pratt does a lot with his piece, a delight to read.

    I am not an X-Men reader, but I have seen the movie. (I prefer comic books in the Sandman, Hellblazer style.) Still, this story seemed very much in that vein: of mutant men who are superheros, some work for Good, as defined more or less by their organized resistance to the rogues who pursue World Domination (or, occasionally, Destruction).

    It is tribute, but a richly thinking one, infused with several contemporary themes. Captain Fantasy is the greatest of all superheros because his superpower is simply this: he can do whatever he believes he can do. Shared reality is a projection of his personal beliefs. He cannot fly, because he does not believe he can fly. But he believes almost everything else. Unfortunately, Captain Fantasy has never been the same since he lost his sidekick, Spaceboy. In fact, he has developed that brain condition made famous by Memento, Karsakov's syndrome. The last thing recorded in Captain Fantasy's long-term memory was the last conflict he and Spaceboy had undertaken.

    Unfortunately, as always seems to happen, his nation needs him again, and the only way they can think to get Captain Fantasy into fighting form is to bring him Spaceboy. Spaceboy being dead, they use a minor superhero, Li. Li is a shape shifter, and our protagonist for this story. Captain Fantasy was Mr. Li's childhood hero, and it is a shock to meet him in the flesh. Through this very savvy setup, Pratt shows both respect for the superheros of yore, while also bringing a contemporary viewpoint to them. Better still, using realistic, first person style, Pratt manages surprisingly subtle characterization.

    One of the most compelling reasons to hope for publication in Realms of Fantasy is the care with which stories are presented. The illustrations, design, and typography of "Captain Fantasy and the Secret Masters" is unusually inspired, and may contribute to my conclusion that this is the best of issue. --Bluejack

  • The best story in the April Realms of Fantasy illustrates well how an antic conception can acquire gloomy freight. Tim Pratt flawlessly performs the "Wild Cards" routine in "Captain Fantasy and the Secret Masters": the history of the 20th century rewritten to incorporate superheroes and supervillains; secret powers and conspiracies underlying the surface of normality; melodramatic resolutions to all conflicts, histrionic and in costume. Captain Fantasy (essentially an augmented Captain America) issues from a long retirement to combat malefactors masquerading as the Nazi super-criminals he became famous fighting; the pace is heroic; but Pratt is centrally analyzing the arid nostalgia and fetishism of the cultural icon of the superhero, and his conclusions rather dampen the mood. --Nick Gevers, Locus, 5/03

  • Any reader that grew up with a love for the garish, action-filled stories of the Golden Age of Comics is likely to feel a real sense of nostalgia when reading Tim Pratt's latest story in Realms of Fantasy, "Captain Fantasy and the Secret Masters".

    Li is a Metamorph, able to change his appearance at will. A year after attempting to give up the superhero game and leave the Facility, he is recalled to active duty when a plot by an evil mastermind engineers the escape of Joseph Mengele and a whole string of other evildoers. It appears that the only way to stop the plot, and of course save the world, is to pose as Spaceboy, the shinily clad offsider of the mentally infirm immortal superhero Captain Fantasy.

    It would be completely unfair to detail any more of the plot. Suffice it to say that, like the very best stories in the early days of George R.R. Martin's "Wild Cards" series, Pratt keeps his story note-perfect, balancing a love for the pulps with a careful deconstruction of them. Like the recently-reviewed Fable from a Cage, it's well-worth seeking out. --Jonathan Strahan, The Coode Street Review of Science Fiction, 5/03.

  • This is my favorite story of the issue, by far. As the title suggests, this is a superhero story; Captain Fantasy is somewhere between Captain America and Superman in his powers and personality. However, this story manages to work both as a superhero story that might have been found in comics thirty, or even fifty years ago, with a battle of pure good against pure evil, fought at a smash'em up pace, and to critique and deconstruct such stories, much as Watchmen did. Captain Fantasy's exploits are put into context with period sexual attitudes, contemporary ethnic clashes, and a larger human context of what it means to be human, to have heroes, to face them as people, and to still admire them. The story's plot is complex, and is a true "plot," in that there are multiple double crosses, and meanings within meanings; I was happy just to hold on for the ride. The only thing I objected to was the quick pace with which everything was resolved at the story's end, but that too fits with comic book storytelling. Highly recommended. --Greg Beatty, Tangent Online, 5/03.

Fable from a Cage (Realms of Fantasy, 2/03)

  • The February Realms of Fantasy opens with two fine longish stories. The prize is Tim Pratt's ''Fable from a Cage'', a nasty story about a thief captured by a witch who needs him to help her steal something of great value to her. It will surprise no one that both characters have treachery in mind, and Pratt twistily and cynically shows serial betrayals. --Rich Horton, from Locus, 2/03

  • This story is a study in subtle dissonance.

    It is structured as a fable (and titled one as well, of course), but the relationship of the storyteller to the story is increasingly apparent. The motive for the telling, however, is not. The typical fable is instructive, but this one has no moral (and very little morality). The effect is jarring, but not disappointing.

    The story concerns faerie, and as such, is built out of olde time faerie language -- with the exception of the frequent use of the word 'shit'. This tended to have the effect of knocking me out of the story a bit, particularly as the word count grew. More jarring still was the usage: 'you shits' directed at the listeners of the fable. I don't know how long this usage has been in parlance, but it feels very contemporary. Moroever, since fable-listeners are generally intended to stand in for us, the reader, I was wondering whether Pratt meant to insult us. By the end I could see why Pratt might do this, but the dissonance here was not to my taste.

    The main character of the story is a small-time thief, little more than a vagrant. Pratt makes a point of showing us how utterly worthless and debased the man is (or at least, the storyteller does). But, as the story progresses, he is shown to have sacrificed what would have been a life of privilege -- or at least opportunity -- to embark upon this desultory quest for other people's farmyard animals. The question is never answered to any sort of satisfaction, either explicitly or by any truth about the man's character. He ends as he begins: petty, amoral, offputting, but not wholly villainous. This particular dissonance would have been brilliant had it coalesced into a character I could understand, but the contradictions never gelled for me.

    In conclusion, although very competently done -- possibly even masterfully, depending on what his goal was -- the story did not have much impact on me, and will probably be less memorable than his previous: "The Witch's Bicycle." --Bluejack

  • In the interests of full disclosure, I should probably make it clear that not only do I regularly edit Tim Pratt in his capacity as reviewer for Locus, but I have in fact spent some time in Locus's hilltop hideaway chatting with Tim and found him to be an entirely personable individual. It is probably for that reason that I've been more than passingly interested in Tim Pratt, the Nebula nominated writer. However, because he mostly appears in the ridiculously hard-to-find-in-Australia Realms of Fantasy, I haven't read any of his work till now, and I'm quite impressed.

    Pratt's "Fable from a Cage" is a cover story in the February 2003 issue of Realms of Fantasy, and it's a tricky bit of work. The title immediately points to the conflict that lies at the heart of the story - fables are typically instructional tales that contain some kind of clear moral message, and yet for some reason this one comes from a cage.

    From the story's opening line we know that this is fairy tale territory. "Let me tell you a little fable" Pratt offers, before commencing to introduce his protagonist, a young, immoral thief too lazy to actually plan his crimes, but rather instead preferring to stumble across the opportunities that fund his life-in-exile. It is while pondering exactly what crime he should next commit that he literally stumbles across the hidden prison of a strange woman who it appears comes from faerie and is graphically nasty and brutal. She rapidly completely dominates him, and turns him to her purpose.

    "Fable from a Cage" is not a perfect story, but Pratt handles it with real skill, balancing the stuff of the fairy tale with the sharply nasty and dissonant voice of his protagonist in a way that keeps the reader slightly off-balance and unsure what to expect. --Jonathan Strahan, The Coode Street Review of Science Fiction, 5/03

  • Novelette "A Fable From a Cage" by Tim Pratt is a mesmerizing tale, structured with a framing story of a caged thief being fed by owls and taunting the local boys as they taunt him. His fable to the boys is a cautionary story of a greedy thief who gets tangled with a faerie witch, come to retrieve her mistress’ bauble; she has need of a thief. Wielding a bit of necromancy, the faerie brings the thief back to his roots, where the stories play out, coming full circle to the thief caught in the cage. All in all, a wonderful story, marred in spots by two logical flaws which may well be the result of the unreliable and amoral narrator. Excellent. --Paul Melko, Tangent Online, 4/03

The Witch's Bicycle (Realms of Fantasy , 8/02)

  • "The Witch's Bicycle," by Tim Pratt, is my favorite story of the issue. Powerfully and vividly written, it features a contemporary setting overlaid like a palimpsest with fairy tale memes. And I mean the old fairy tales, the sort collected by Grimm; Pratt's bicycle-riding witch is quite aware of the power of archetypes in action as she watches, and occasionally interferes, with the old set-up of Boy meeting Girl, and having to fight a Rival for her fair hand. Cory is a nerd waiting around after school for the bus. He's about to get beaten up by Rocko, a bully with two sidekicks, but for the timely intervention of Heather, a new girl to town who makes friends with Cory. Rocko's mulling over what he'll do to Cory next time he sees him is interrupted by the witch on the bicycle, who freezes him, then encourages him to go after Cory in a nasty way. Rocko scarcely comprehends his agreement to become "the Rival." As the kids are maneuvered into the ancient conflict, the witch hungers for the inevitable bloody end. Can the power of archetype overcome the complexities of the human spirit? The tension ramps up terrifically before an ending both satisfying and tough to predict. --Sherwood Smith, from Tangent Online

  • Tim Pratt's "The Witch's Bicycle" really caught my attention. ... Magical forces are at work here, not least of which is the beautiful and brilliantly accurate illustration for the story. Something about this painting had an unwholesome power over your unfaithful reviewer, so if the rest of this review seems uncharacteristically enthusiastic, just chalk it up to Michael Kerr's witchery.

    Exploring the subtleties between Cory and Heather, I find myself painfully reintroduced to the agonies of adolescence. Among this exploration, one finds a lovely throwback to a previous era of authorship -- the literary recommendation: Tim Pratt references de Lint, Orson Scott Card, and Neil Gaimann as the two young lovers orbit each other.

    "Then they played video games." -- this to reaffirm that we are, in fact, reading a male fantasy. Still, there is the dreadful sense that Things Are Not What They Seem. The exquisite mastery here is that you really, really, wish things were, just this once, what they seem. What about the witch? What about the bicycle? Enigmatic. She claims to be a good witch, but like any witch worth her salt, you won't be wise to take her word for it. Don't neglect the first sentence: "Even her bicycle was evil."

    What follows is quite a treat: "That was the power of imperative resonance, the magic of recurring situations." Rather to my dismay, for I became quite infatuated with the initial illustration, the witch of the title rapidly took on more villainy than I could stomach. I rather wished she had turned out to be something more ambiguous.

    While the witch bewitches poor bluejack at the outset, particularly strong performances by both bully Rocko and strident Heather overwhelm his transparent fascinations, culminating in a satisfying conclusion that only makes me wonder: why did Heather pick the wimp and not the bully? He seems far more interesting, really. --Bluejack

Unfairy Tale (Say... Was that a Kiss?, 10/02)

  • Tim Pratt visits familiar territory in "Unfairy Tale," which plays with the old story of Sleeping Beauty. The Green Folk have brought their sleeping beauty to a desert, which under their influence is greening. To defend her, they strike a deal with a local djinn, Molter Keen. But Molter doesn't like what the wetness and green have done to his familiar desert, and when the faeries seem ready to surrender the beauty to the mortal prince who's pursuing her Molter takes matters into his own hands. A diverting little tale. --Jeff Verona, Tangent Online, 3/03

  • Tim Pratt turns Faerie vilely on its head in ''Unfairy Tale'' -- Nick Gevers, from Locus, 2/03

  • Tim Pratt's "Unfairy Tale" [is] a striking retelling of Sleeping Beauty from a very different point of view. --Rich Horton, from SF Site

Little Gods (Strange Horizons, 2/02)

  • There's a pile of weathered tropes in fiction, sort of the Tarot Cards of narrative where a few elements can substitute in a whole breadth of emotion and experience in a calculus of culture. Child abuse, unicorns, dying mothers, you name it. Dragging these artifacts out of the closet can be a chancy business. I applaud Tim Pratt for pulling this off with grace, verve and good taste in "Little Gods." He avoids making the casual murder of the narrator's wife, Emily, a cheap shot or a throwaway story driver, but rather the brutal, soul-destroying experience that it is -- a private little hell. Then Pratt uses the narrow sliver of Emily which opened the story to build a life-affirming legacy, all within the space of a few words. And at the end the reader is treated to a water colored mirror of Bergman's keystone image from The Seventh Seal, another delight among the unexpected rewards of this brutal, sensitive story. -- Jay Lake, from Tangent Online

  • This is tale that Neil Gaiman might envy, as it is full of wonderfully rich imagery with a theological twist. The text is alive with sensuous cues that create a vibrant mind tapestry for the reader. These are woven together with an openly expressive story that never descends into over-sentimentality or maudlin musing. It is, quite simply, a beautiful story. Make sure that you don't miss it! --Little Behemoth

  • Tim Pratt's "Little Gods"... sets up the cute title concept nicely, then shows a man dealing with his wife's murder, maybe with a bit of help from little gods. --Rich Horton, from Locus, 4/02

  • "Little Gods", by Tim Pratt, has made it onto the Nebula ballot. And very splendid it is too. Quite Gaiman-esque in its portrayal of supernatural beings. --Cheryl Morgan, from Emerald City, 3/03.

Annabelle's Alphabet (Lady Churchill's Rosebud Wristlet, 10/01; The Year's Best Fantasy & Horror, 7/02; Best of the Rest 3, 7/02)

  • "Annabelle's Alphabet," by Tim Pratt, has me torn. Written with the pseudo-Ballardian -- or perhaps Edward Gorey-esque conceit of passages following from words beginning with sequential letters of the alphabet, it tells the story of young Annabelle and her parents. There's a secret about Annabelle which becomes plain by the letter J. I have the impression that Pratt had no real intention of holding this "secret" until a dramatic last-minute denouement, but the problem of delivering it to us so soon is that the subsequent progress of the story is very predictable. Should the fact that Annabelle is a found faerie child be held back until later in the story? I think the only way to have accomplished that would have been to have written the story with a "straight" style. There's where I'm torn. Having a story about a faerie child told in this alphabet-soup manner is entertaining and thoughtful. But the story could have been more effective as a story if told differently. I go round in circles, but I suspect that to Tim Pratt writing a story that leaves a critic unable to decide whether to call it good or not would be just as satisfying as writing a story that the critic declares good without hesitation. --Matt Nadelhaft from Tangent Online

  • Tim Pratt's "Annabelle's Alphabet" [is] a tale of a changeling who discovers her fairy identify after having been adoped (and had her wings clipped) by a human couple, but the story's intriguing premise is weakened by its affected alphabetical structure ("A is for Annabelle", etc.). --Gary K. Wolfe, from Locus, 8/02

53rd Annual Mantis Homecoming Dance (Maelstrom, Winter '99)

  • "53rd Annual Mantis Homecoming Dance" by Tim Pratt is reminiscent of Harlan Ellison's work during the 1970's. (Say, does anyone want to be the "next Ellison"?) It's about a high school dance that involves more risk than just the embarrassments most of us remember trying to escape. Pratt's writing is very tight and he builds tension speedily, letting the pressure off at just the right moment. His one mistake is taking his Ellisonesque surreality a bit too seriously, leading the protagonist to recognize the night's victory as the first step into inescapable defeat. The problem is, he must always have known this and so the story's not-too-serious premise, which should have been a backdrop for exploring high school angst, overwhelms the characters' reactions and becomes what the reader notices the most. --Stevens R. Miller


A Bestiary: Laughing Blood and Poor Bahamut (Strange Horizons, 4/02)

  • These poems are both wonderful mythological pieces. There is a tragic quality to both, which contradicts the vastness/power of the subjects - brilliantly done, with a balance of compassion, evocation and exploration. Hope he gets a full-length Bestiary book together and has it illustrated by a bag-load of talented artists -- why *don't* they make books like that? Am I the only reader in the world that likes amazing poetry/artwork combinations? Damn, sometimes I really wish I was a billionaire with a business degree... --Little Behemoth

Incident (Asimov's, 7/01)

  • Tangent Online does not review poetry, but I wanted to mention "Incident" by Tim Pratt. Pratt has written a meditation on that most archetypical of Fortean events, the fish fall, that opens the heart and the mind. Even if you are not a fan of verse, pause at the sign of the fish on page 61. You might learn a few secrets. --Jay Lake, from Tangent Online

Bacchanal (Asimov's, 4/01)

  • Oh, and a final accolade goes to "Bacchanal" by Tim Pratt, a poem that summarizes with poignancy how much of a cliché frat parties are -- they go back millennia. Like certain SF plots. --Nick Gevers, from SF Site

Go to my bibliography to find out more about these stories and poems.

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