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Book Review: _Casting Fortune_, by John M. Ford.
Bar Harbor
alexx_kay
_Casting Fortune_ is a collection of three stories by John M. Ford, all set within the fantasy shared-world of Liavek. The stories are not strongly connected with each other, though some characters do show up in more than one story in minor ways. The first two stories, while enjoyable enough, didn't inspire me enough to write anything about them. The third, however...

"The Illusionist" is by far the best of the batch -- and the longest, taking up fully half of the book. The protagonist is a Playwright/Director, who has earned great fame for his tragedies. He has now turned his hand to a comedy, though the new play still has an impressive body count by the final curtain. The new work is full of characters who lead double lives and are not what they seem. This is reflected in the casting of the play as well, and on multiple levels. He casts a mere four actors to play twelve parts, so each actor has multiple lives within the context of the play. And, naturally, each actor also has a "second life" at home, very different from their theatrical one, and often with dark secrets in their past.

The story is about The Theater, which is a genre I always love. But that's not all of it, by any means. There's human Drama in the lives of the actors at home. There is also murder and Mystery -- not just "whodunnit?" but "who's *gonna* do it?" There's a strong foreboding that not all of the corpses on stage will be able to rise and give a final bow after the applause. Will the story ultimately turn out to be Comedy, Tragedy, or Something Else Entirely? To say which would be a spoiler, so I won't. The uncertainty as to genre is one of the delights of the story (if you like that sort of thing).

I've read very little of Liavek before, so didn't know the setting, but that wasn't a problem. Well, no more a problem than in any *other* Ford book. One of the reasons that Ford has never become Rich And Famous is that he carries the art of interwoven exposition almost to a fault. While, on the one hand, he never commits the common sin of "As you know, Bob", he sometimes goes too far in the other direction. The information is all *there*, but concealed with great subtlety. One can generally tease out an explanation for every event and motivation (and piece of worldbuilding) in a Ford story, but you have to work fairly hard at it, paying close attention always, and thinking carefully about the implications of both what is said and what is left unsaid. This is more work than many readers are willing to invest.

Digression: I recently watched the film of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead. Hence, the Playwright/Director of Ford's story was played, in my head, by Richard Dreyfuss as The Player King. I think this only enhanced my enjoyment :-)
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God I loved that book, and the third story is why. Awesome.

I tink another reason Ford is not commercially more popular is that he keeps shrugging off formula stories, even when he writes a story that should be, by all rights, a formula story. I've read a few in this series and even without having read the Ford book, I expect it will be a standout from the others, the same way his Star Trek novel was and the same way his Borderlands book was (Last Hot Time, that was a Borderlands, wasn't it? I only read one of the others and was pretty bored so didn't read any more of the series).

Readers may deny it, but it seems to me the majority of readers want a predictable storyline, aside from any explicit clues or subtext demands. This is the only way I can explain why Danielle Steel, Robin Cook, Chicken Soup series, and, gods help us, Robert Jordan, keep selling the same scrapple over and over.

Okay, now I am going to go interrupt your WOW game so I can shake this book out of you, and you only have yourself to blame for pouting I never read your LJ.

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