The God Box – Barry Longyear

The_God_Box_-_Barry_Longyear_cover

Rug merchant and con artist, Korvas has had a hard life. It gets no easier when he finds himself suddenly on the wrong side of the infamous Captain Shadows of the King’s Guard, nor when a priestess and her cohort attach themselves to him. Least helpful of all is a mysterious and powerful box that never seems to give him what he wants.

Sometime around 1985, I was sitting in the Railroad Square theater, listening to Barry Longyear. Memory is fickle; I don’t recall whether I knew who he was – whether I’d already read his long-ish contribution to the Liavek anthology (which I liked a lot). I think he was speaking in advance of a showing of Enemy Mine – his story adapted to a depressingly poor movie. In any case, I ended up with a copy of Longyear’s collection It Came from Schenectady – his stock answer to where stories come from. The stories (like the phrase) were funny and unexpected. On the strength of that, I eventually bought The God Box.

Like his short stories, this book is consistently funny and unusual. Korvas is a likeable rogue just trying to make the world a better place – for himself – and his self-centered efforts are charmingly amusing. The writing is smooth, the humor neither too broad nor to subtle. On a chapter by chapter basis, the story succeeds admirably.

Unfortunately, while the haphazard nature of Korvas’ adventures keeps us guessing, the ending confirms all too well that Longyear was making it all up as he went along. The last third of the book falls apart almost completely, leaving a jumble of badly mismatched pieces. Nothing fits together, and Longyear’s proffered resolution simply doesn’t work. It’s not quite in the “and it was all a dream” category, but it’s not much better. That’s a real shame, because the bulk of the story is a lot of fun.

A quarter century after my first reading, I retained only a vague memory that Longyear was funny, but the book was not great. I was right on both fronts. I had fun reading the first two thirds, but had I recalled the morass of the ending, I wouldn’t have bothered.

Overall, hard to recommend. If you like the journey more than the destination, read this for some pretty fun and funny travels. If you insist on finding some sort of satisfaction or resolution in a story, this isn’t the book for you.

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