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Circus World Paperback – July 1, 2001
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About the Author
Hugo, Nebula, and Campbell Award winner, Barry Longyear is author of the acclaimed Enemy Mine, made into a major motion picture by Fox. Recent works include The Enemy Papers and Yesterdays Tomorrow. Having completed training as a PI, his current work is a mystery titled The Gentleman Prefers Blood. He lives with his wife, Jean, in New Sharon, Maine.
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I'd reviewed the short-story version of the final chapter of this book in the mid-1980s, as a story in Asimov's Science Fiction, but never read the whole story until now. Finding the notes for an old book report spurred the purchase, some thirty years later.
But here we have _Circus World_ (1980), a collection of seven science fiction circus stories from _Isaac Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine_. I suspect that if you asked Longyear back in the seventies why he wrote them, he would have said mainly for fun. Yet Longyear's stories are better written than some more pretentious circus tales.
The background of the story is this: 200 years ago, the circus ship _Baraboo_ crashed on the planet Momus. The ancestors of the survivors have built up a planetary culture based on the circus: big top performances, apprenticeships, bartering, magic, and acting. Throughout these stories, Momus is being threatened by a hostile planetary power.
My two favorite stories in the collection are "The Quest" and "The Magician's Apprentice". The first is about the absent-minded old storyteller who _lives_ his tales and accidently foils an invasion. The second is about an upstart magician's apprentice who pits herself against a powerful black magician.
Stories on the passable but fair side are "The Second Law" and "Dueling Clowns". Both are comical tales that strain a little too hard for their punchlines.
Good stories, but not quite as good as the first two, are "The Tryouts," "Proud Rider," and "Priest of the _Baraboo_". "The Tryouts" introduces Lord Allenby, Ambassador _exraordinaire_, whose job it it is to lead the individualistic citizens of Momus away from disaster. "Priest of the _Baraboo_" is the final story, in which we see that Momus does not altogether escape disaster. My horse loving niece would love the equines in "Proud Rider," but she would be less enamoured of their stern trainer.
So come to Momus for some old fashioned story telling. See the clowns and lizards and bareback riders. Marvel at the Magicians. Listen to the newsvenders and the storytellers. You will, alas, see no elephants. But that is a subject for another book.
Please note that this is really a collection of previously written short stories collected in to one book, but the charachters feel real (both good and bad), and the politics is unique. You won't be anle to put it down even after the 4th reading, and you will still find some new nugget of gold after the 6th reading. I want to get a hardcover of this book and the 3rd book in the series.