The Sound of Angels by Lisa Silverthorne

Tuesday, 31 January 2006 16:36 Paul Abbamondi
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“When Sparrows Fall”
"The Sound of Angels”
Image“Midnight Oil”
“Wild Feed”
“Homecoming”
“A Universal Spectrum”
“Peace of Lace”
“Surviving the Elephant”
“Central Premise”
“Snow Angels”
“Rena 733”
“The Mermaid’s Looking Glass”
“Nightweaver”
“Whispers”
“Safe as the Dark”
“The Essence of Place”
“Music to Her Ears”
“The Spirit House”
“Circle of Life”

Lisa Silverthorne
’s collection of short stories, The Sound of Angels, opens with “When Sparrows Fall,” a doleful account of the crash of flight 1155 and how Stacia Evans helps in locating the plane’s lost black box. Evans has the gift—she calls it a curse—of interacting with the dead and seeing tragic events before they happen, and it is with this that she assists the local authorities. This story is beautifully written with several poignant moments. It’s a sad tale with an uplifting ending, and after reading it, the question Evans asks at the end still resonates with me.

“The Sound of Angels,” the title story of Silverthorne’s collection, is heart-wrenching from opening to conclusion. Carrie and Ellen, sisters, share a neuro-crosslink; Carrie is out on a ship watching for whales in the Puget Sound while Ellen is dying in a bed a thousand miles away. Ellen has only an hour before her internal organs shut down and she dies. Together, miles apart, the two will share one last experience out on the open water. There is a prevailing theme of death in Silverthorne’s stories—no one wants to die alone, to be forgotten—eloquently highlighted in this story.

“Midnight Oil,” in its short length, tells of good and evil witches, the power of fire, and a revenge bent on the past. While the writing is fast and filled with clear images, I didn’t feel enough compassion toward the main character, Jake, to care whether or not he was burned at the stake á la the Salem witch trials. His emotions came and disappeared like smoke on the wind. Interesting idea, just not thorough enough for me to care.

A harsh mixture of reality and reality TV come to a clash in “Wild Feed.” A game show, REAL-TV’s On-The-Job Hero, selects three real-life heroes and watches them in extreme situations. Then it’s up to the audience members to vote for their favorite hero and watch events unfold. Davy is fighting the war in Iraq, and his family can do nothing but watch as REAL-TV’s On-The-Job Hero portrays his bravery as nothing more than mass entertainment. Silverthorne depicts a society so sick with obsession for reality through a screen that when tragic events happen and commercials follow, it is just secondary in nature. Wonderful story, but a bit scary in its eerie closeness to our own society.

“Homecoming” is a science fiction tale taking place on Mars. Chasovi has just buried her firstborn baby, and does not understand why. Her husband demands that they return to Earth where doctors can make sure she’ll never lose another baby, but Chasovi can’t leave until her dead daughter’s restless spirit is salved. Once again, death is the main focus of “Homecoming,” but through Chasovi’s actions, the theme turns around to end centered on life. A great story set in a far away place, that still hits close to home.

I’m not really sure if I understood what was happening in “A Universal Spectrum,” but I enjoyed the writing regardless. A young girl named Dana deals with the hardships of an abusive father while Johnny, a boy (or something deeper than that), offers her his guidance and protection. Maybe a second read would help me get it, but I was put off by the open-endedness.

In “Peace of Lace” Sam is attending the funeral of her kind Aunt Mabel. Her sisters are there as well, but she hasn’t spoke to them in many years. She used to be an alcoholic. She used to ruin her family’s lives. Now, at the moment of an important death, can she overcome her past and rejoin her family? With only hints of magic transfused into the lace that Aunt Mabel created, this story is more literary than genre, but still a decent read.

Silverthorne has a knack for writing war stories. “Surviving the Elephant” takes the realism of the war from “Wild Feed” and adds in ghosts. Tim Adams is a young man in the 14th Massachusetts Volunteer Rifle regiment, fighting the battle against the Rebs to safe his father’s life. The action is exciting and gritty, but I had the story figured out before its end.

Since it is quite short, to reveal anything about the plot of “Central Premise” would ruin its effect. Take five minutes from your day, read it, and enjoy. The same can be said of “Snow Angels.” A story that starts out so safe and normal ends in a completely different place. Questions go unanswered, but in this case, it’s for the better.

“Rena 733” takes us to the autopsy room. Here, Dr. Kingston is ordered to recover a microfeed and memory replacement chip from her latest corpse. To get what she needs, Dr. Kingston will have to relive the last memories of the dead corpse, and worse, her own. “Rena 733” is another chilling tale of warfare. Silverthorne does not back down from showing its harsh side, and her thoughts on those involved and how they manipulate their soldiers isn’t too far off from reality.

I was disappointed with “The Mermaid’s Looking Glass.” It seemed to build up to something that it wasn’t. Lily Pratt has been followed by the curse of a float she found on the beach as a young girl, but now, as an older woman tired of life, means to be rid of it. The dialogue is forced, and the ending a little too predictable for my liking.

“Nightweaver” is a vampire story like all other vampire stories. Silverthorne’s words and setting are superb and eerie, but little else moved my senses.

“Whispers” is a wonderfully written story, but it contains one element that always puts me off: the antihero. It’s hard to root for a character’s redemption when you only know their dark side. I admit that Silverthorne has a magical way of describing her angels, and I found myself drifting up to heaven with them on feathery wings. I just can’t bring myself to care for a drunk.

I’m not sure what the intent was of Silverthorne’s “Safe as the Dark,” but I found the blatant comparison to high school shootings and video game linkage appalling. Cory Barnes, following after friends Turner and Rick, kill six students in their high school and survive the ordeal, although that was never the original plan. They are then sent off to the Plexus Juvenile Correctional Facility where they must survive what they sowed day in and day out. I’m not going to use this review as a soap box, but Silverthorne weaves video game examples into the boys’ thought processes as they fire their rifles at other kids. Bad parenting leads to bad kids, not excessively violent video games.

After a string of disappointing stories, “The Essence of Place” was a welcomed rescue. Field archaeologist Hannah Alvarez and her crew land on a mysterious planet to study the city of dreams, Nakin’sii. Here, many things happen that science cannot explain. Will Hannah’s memories help her understand the what and why? This is classic science fiction and a great piece of storytelling.

“Music to Her Ears” is a moving piece. Eleanor is able to communicate with her dead husband through a music box he won for her the night they got engaged. She wishes to stay in the musical boxland, in 1916, dancing with her husband and feeling loved and comforted. She doesn’t want to return to her hospital bed in the real world ever again.  Silverthorne paints the past and the future as one seamless magical world, and just like Eleanor, I wanted to stay there forever.

The problems I had with some of Silverthorne’s stories that employ the villain as the main character are not present in “The Spirit House.” Instead, it is an uplifting tale of redemption and trust as convict Kelly Thorpe is sentenced to community service after assisting in a murder. Under the orders of Mary Margaret, she helps monitor old folks’ souls as they prepare to die. It is her time spent with the dying that strengthen Kelly’s character and make this a magnificent example of fine genre storytelling.

“Circle of Life” is nearly impossible to describe in plot and character; but in terms of quality, it is momentous. Silverthorne’s words ring clear and her prose flows well. The outcome of the story is a perfect end to The Sound of Angels.

This collection of stories center around death—some more prominently than others—yet Silverthorne always finds the brightest side of mortality. Her stories are thought-provoking and engrossing, and in The Sound of Angels, abundant.

Publisher: Wildside Press
Price: $17.95
Trade Paperback: 190 pages
ISBN: 0809556065