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Binding Energy
Daniel Marcus

I never liked the smell of the inside of a police car. Gun lubricant and Lysol. Spilled Coffee. From behind the wire mesh separating front and back seats, the faint odor of unwashed bodies."

Reviewed by M. Bobowski

Binding energy is the energy that holds a system together, that keeps its parts from going their separate ways. In a bound system, the potential energy of the whole is less than that of the sum of its parts. It's an odd title for a collection. (It's also apt, but I'll come back to that later.)

Binding Energy is also the title of one of the stories in the collection, the reminiscences of a physicist in his twilight years, and well suited to it. Marcus's interweaving of contemporary American history with the humanity of Emil, in all his humiliation and injured dignity and past glory, are its backbone, but the use of present tense and unconventional punctuation obfuscate rather than accentuate the wonderful story underneath. It reads like an experiment in style, but that lack of subtlety is rare in this collection. 

Most of the stories in Binding Energy are more conventional in form, and my favorites are Marcus's more recent work. That same willingness to experiment is evident, though less obtrusive. In An Orange for Lucita, one of the things that makes it stand out is the distinctive voice of the first-person narration. It's also a departure in theme, leaving the more traditional stomping grounds of the genre in favor of something more like magical realism.

There doesn't appear to be a trend away from futurism in Marcus's newer stories though. Love in the Time of Connectivity, Echo Beach and Halfway House (my favorite story in this collection) are all very much science fiction. But that doesn't mean that Marcus is static, either; his newer work clearly displays more originality and unique vision than his more thematically conventional earlier stories. It's a pleasure to see how his work has evolved and bodes well for the future. 

Back to the title--and its strange appropriateness. The individual stories that make up the collection Binding Energy are stellar. Each one, taken by itself, is a delight. But you can't consume them too closely together or they begin to lose their flavor. To read Binding Energy all at once is to overindulge and begin to find faults that are not faults with the individual stories, that are not really faults at all, but idiosyncrasies of Marcus's style. Like the detailed menu of what various characters consume at various meals. It doesn't detract from any given story, but taken as a whole through the collection, it became tedious. 

I would recommend Binding Energy to anyone that enjoys science-fiction and fantasy, and perhaps more importantly, to those that are not adamant fans of the genre. Daniel Marcus doesn't just write for genre fans; the appeal of his stories lies in the quality of his writing and the humanity of his characters, as well.

Read one of Daniel Marcus' stories on DanielMarcus.com.

M. Bobowski lives with her much-suffering cat and extremely patient boyfriend in northern Sweden. She is currently working on either an extremely disjointed novel or an exceptionally cohesive short story collection.

M's other Short Reviews: Ursula K. Le Guin "The Birthday of the World and Other Stories"

James P. Blaylock "13 Phantasms and Other Stories"

PublisherElastic Press

Publication Date: 2008

Paperback/Hardback? Paperback

First collection?Yes

Author bio: Daniel Marcus has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and was a finalist for the John W. Campbell Award. His stories have appeared in ZYZZYVA, Asimov's Science Fiction, Fantasy & Science Fiction, and Realms of Fantasy and his non-fiction has been published in Boing-Boing, Wired, and other venues.

Read an interview with Daniel Marcus

Buy this book (used or new) from:

The Publisher's Website: Elastic Press

The Author's website: DanielMarcus.com




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