Thirteen Phantasms does not present the stories in chronological order, but reading them chronologically reveals Blaylock's evolution into a great writer. His first sale, 1977's atmospheric ship-of-fools/bus-of-bozos fantasy "The Red Planet," is creepy, but too mysterious and underdeveloped to please many readers. A decade later, Blaylock would win the World Fantasy Award with the deserving and powerful "Paper Dragons"; set in a world in which matter has become mutable, it is one of the most unusual dragon stories ever written. The most recent story, 1998's "The Old Curiosity Shop," is a tremendous work in which a man who abandoned his wife discovers she has literally dwindled away from grief, and the objects she left behind, curios sold to a strange shop, are so invested with the weight of memories that a man might be crushed beneath a single item.
Most of the stories take place in contemporary California, but three of the exceptions ("The Ape-Box Affair," "Two Views of a Cave Painting," and "The Idol's Eye") are set in an alternate-history England in which H.G. Wells's science fiction must be fact; and they belong to that rarest of subgenres, comic steampunk. These entertaining adventures feature Langdon St. Ives, a Victorian scientist-adventurer after the manner of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Professor Challenger, and the hero of Blaylock's novels Homunculus (winner of the Philip K. Dick Award) and Lord Kelvin's Machine. --Cynthia Ward
A short story collection from [Blaylock] is cause for celebration and rejoicing. -- Neil Gaiman