In the introduction to his 2017 collection Heroes and Villains, Lewis Shiner points out that the best length for purely entertaining fiction, whether it be horror, action, spy thriller, etc., is the novella. And I have to agree. If you want to relax after a long day and just escape for an hour or two into a complete story that does not tax the brain, a novella can really hit the spot. Putting his money where his mouth is, Heroes and Villains (2017, Subterranean Press) features three novellas previously published in Subterranean magazine, as well as one original short story. Representing the more genre-heavy side of Shiner’s fiction, it is a relaxing, escapist collection.
Like the film Valkyrie but with a Houdini twist, “The Black Sun” tells of a group of stage magicians who hatch a plot to take down Hitler. Playing with the Fuhrer’s belief in the magical, destructive potential for the Spear of Destiny, the group devise an intricate plan, complete with ‘stage effects’. Near misses abound setting up their plan, when the big day comes all their cards are on the table. The time and place of Hitler’s real death a historical fact, from the outset the group’s goal would seem to be a failure—or the set up for an alternate history. Surprisingly, Shiner takes a third option. To say more would naturally spoil matters, but at least I can say the build up is resolved in organic fashion. The story backdrop probably could have been expanded a touch (there is a bit of character and setting detail missing, details that normally give a story that full feeling), but the build up and climax make it worthwhile.