Like Ray Bradbury, Jeffrey Thomas writes dark science fiction at the border of horror, and like Bradbury's collection, The Martian Chronicles, Thomas's Punktown uses a shared setting to tell very different stories of very different characters, both human and alien. The Martian Chronicles follows the rise and fall of the human colonization of Mars, while Punktown's nine stories (seven previously unpublished) follow a more subtle arc, examining the course of human development, from destructive youth through the dangers of parenthood and career to late adulthood, when losses and the weight of memories bring their own horrors. As The Martian Chronicles uses the future to consider mid-American, midcentury concerns, Punktown uses the future to reflect a fin-de-siècle present shaped by brutally rapid change, by rampant abuse, by the dehumanizing acts of governments and corporations, and by serial-killer epidemics and schoolroom massacres. But in the end, Punktown little resembles The Martian Chronicles. And, though it is not in the same league as Bradbury's classic, Punktown demonstrates that Thomas is a rising talent of considerable power and imagination.
In "The Reflections of Ghosts," an artist clones himself to make art for sadistic patrons, until he finds himself trapped in the ultimate self-absorption. The shadows of Poe and Lovecraft lie subtly over "The Palace of Nothingness," a mysterious, abandoned factory that may not be empty after all. And a chip-implanted detective who can forget nothing must examine mass-murder scenes in "The Library of Sorrows." --Cynthia Ward