Thursday, August 19, 2010

Review: Diana Comet and Other Improbable Stories by Sandra McDonald

A writer of whimsy and passion, Sandra McDonald has collected her most evocative short fiction to offer readers in Diana Comet & Other Improbable Stories. A beautiful adventuress from the ancient city of New Dalli sets off to reclaim her missing lover. What secrets does she hide beneath her silk skirts? A gay cowboy flees the Great War in search of true love and the elusive undead poet Whit Waltman, but at what cost? A talking statue sends an abused boy spinning through a great metropolis, dodging pirates and search for a home. On these quests, you will meet macho firefighters, tiny fairies, collapsible musicians, lady devils and vengeful sea witches. These are stories to stir the heart and imagination.
I've read one book by Sandra McDonald, The Outback Stars a military science fiction fantasy. I loved her writing and eye for detail, and her ability to create fantasy and human characters. In Diana Comet and Other Improbable Stories, Sandra McDonald uses all those talents to their full extent. The result is a collection of unique, reality-based fantasy stories that are just plain gorgeous.

There are fourteen short stories in this collection, some are obviously related and some seemingly stand on their own, however all of them share the same fictional setting. Although the characters in this collection are varied and unique in each story, the most prominent and the one who binds this collection, is Diana Comet. The intrepid Diana is a gorgeous transgendered character who is fearless in her love and beliefs.

McDonald begins with a Prologue that sets the whimsical tone to this collection, and continues with the story of Graybeard and the Sea, a sentient wooden figurehead who longs for what he can't have, and where he first meets his young friend Cubby, a story that seems light and fantastical. As the book progresses, the subject matter in the stories gain depth with each telling and by the time Women of the Lace is read, the realization sets in that all the stories have been neatly and cleverly tied up by the writer.

McDonald's unique characters are as diverse as their stories. There are statues that come to life, terrifying sea witches, bewitched music boxes and aliens, rooting this collection firmly on fantasy. And then there are the highly effective human characters that populate these stories and give them that touch of passion and reality: Landers, the gay cowboy hiding his nature from society in Diana Comet and the Lovesick Cowboy, Lieutenant Teague and her Sergeant Liss fighting attraction in the middle of a war in The Goddess and Lieutenant Teague, Cubby and Rev. Sawberry Chicken's interactions in The Land of Massasoit, the general's fear in The Instrument, Jaleesha's family as they struggle between conforming and having the courage to fight the status quo in Kingdom Coming, and Diana dealing with grief, changes and taboos in Diana Comet & the Collapsible Orchestra.

Diana Comet and Other Improbable Stories felt different and unique and I re-read it once before writing this review. I loved this book and there's no doubt in my mind that this was essentially due to Sandra McDonald's writing and execution. She reels the reader in with the light fantasy and then goes deep, while using a light touch as she addresses contemporary issues through fantasy. Some characters and stories make more of an impact than others, but undoubtedly as a whole, this collection is a winner.

Genre: LGBT Fantasy
Series: None
Released/Source: June 1, 2010 by Lethe Press Books
Grade: A

Visit Sandra McDonald here.


  1. Thanks for the kind words! I appreciate them (so does Mom :-)) and I'm glad you liked the collection.

  2. i think one of the reasons i couldn't find the time reading my tbr novels is because of the short fictions i've been reading lately, which mostly for school. they sounds ancient, feels ancient, looks educationally ancient...the boring kind ancient.

    it's about time to close the gotham book and dive in straight to collections like this one. but wait, linked short stories? that is sort of interesting anthology i'm sure?

    by the way hils, i really like how you ended this post. "She reels the reader in with the light fantasy and then goes deep, while using a light touch as she addresses contemporary issues through fantasy." That is an A writing if I may say...

  3. I really loved this collection, Ms. McDonald. It was my pleasure... (glad your mom enjoyed the review *g*).

    Natalie, awww... you've been bogged down with studies. Time to clear out the cobwebs. This is a surprising collection, the stories are quite unique. We'll discuss it at our bloggers meet next week. :)

  4. Oh, I didn't know Sandra MacDonald had an anthology out. I loved The Outback Stars - military sci-fi that was plot and character driven! I enjoyed the second book, but less so - I don't think the mythology aspect was what I was looking for. I haven't read the third book yet - I tried, but I wasn't in the right place so hope to go back to it at some point. I might look out for this too.

    Thank you Hilcia - I love your review :)

  5. Hi Orannia.

    I remember you enjoyed McDonald's writing. This LGBT collection is fantasy, but quite different from the trilogy. If you decide to read it, I think you'll find all the specific writing qualities we both enjoyed in her novels and like me, you may find more. :)

  6. I agree so much with this review.

    I loved Diana Comet so much I read the book twice in a row.

    Sandra has a wonderful talent for rendering the ordinary fantastical.

  7. I read it twice too, Adam. I also liked it that much. I absolutely agree about Sandra's talent and hope she'll write more stories like these.


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