A Large and Remarkable Talent
by Mike Resnick
I’ve been waiting a long time for this book.
Hell, everyone has been waiting a long time for this book.
The first time I ever encountered the name of Nicholas A. DiChario was when an unsolicited story arrived in my mailbox for an invitation-only anthology I was editing. I probably should have sent it back without looking at it—and if I had, I might well have robbed the science-fiction field of one of the most remarkable talents ever to come down the pike. Instead I started reading it (just to see how bad a story I hadn’t solicited could be, you understand), and by Page 3 I knew that nothing in the world could keep “The Winterberry” off the Hugo ballot. Yes, it was by an unknown, and yes, anthologies had about a quarter the circulation of the major magazines, and yes, there was no traditional science fiction element in it—and there was still no way it could fail to make the ballot.
I wish I could pick horses the way I pick stories. “The Winterberry” was a Hugo nominee, and a World Fantasy Award nominee, and Nick himself was nominated for the Campbell, which is science fiction’s Rookie of the Year Award. And we were off and running. From that day forward, it was almost unthinkable for me to edit an anthology that didn’t have a DiChario story in it. And since I didn’t edit enough anthologies to get my fill of DiChario stories, I started collaborating with him. When we had sold enough collaborations we gathered them and sold them as a book entitled Magic Feathers: The Mike and Nick Show.
Not that Nick needed my collaborative or editorial efforts to shine. He made the Hugo ballot again a few years later, and in between produced one of the three or four best novellas of the decade, a strange and wonderful piece called “Unto the Valley of Day-Glo.”
In fact, just about all of Nick’s stories are strange and wonderful. We collaborated on a story for an anthology about kings—and while everyone else was writing about British and French kings, Nick came up with King Kong. It wasn’t a funny story, either; that would have been too easy. Instead, it was a sad and sensitive one. For an erotic anthology assignment during the time that The Joy of Sex was at the top of the bestseller list, Nick came up with “The Joy of Hats.”
We—the reading public, of which I am a small part, and the almost-as-large DiChario fan base, of which I am a small but always-vocal part—kept waiting for Nick to write that first novel and blow us all away. And we waited. And we waited. And we waited.
And while we were waiting, Nick taught some writing courses, and bought a bookstore, and did some other things, none of which we cared much about except that if it made him happy enough or secure enough to finally give us that novel, we were all in favor of it, whatever it was.
And then one day came the phone call I’d been waiting for for about a decade. It was Nick. He’d sold his first novel, and would I possibly consider taking a look at A Small and Remarkable Life? I explained that if he swore on a stack of Bibles, Torahs and Korans that he would e-mail it to me within twenty-four hours I probably wouldn’t come to upstate New York and rip his computer out of his office and take it home with me. A master at the art of self-preservation, he e-mailed it to me that night.
I had no idea what to expect, but I knew what not to expect: there would be no generic space battles, nothing that one could see in the mindless “sci-fi” films that permeate the landscape, nothing that you could look at and say, “Heinlein (or Asimov, or Bradbury) did it better,” or even “Heinlein (or whoever) did it earlier.”
I’m not going to tell you much about the book you hold in your hands, because you are holding it in your hands, and you’ve either bought it or are preparing to buy it, and Nick will tell you the story of Tink Puddah a lot better than I ever could.
But I will note that, as always, it’s a story told in a way only Nick could tell it. Where else does a story begin with the rather lengthy funeral of the protagonist? And where else do you feel you know the protagonist better before you’re even introduced to him than you know most heroes halfway through a book?
I don’t think there’s ever been a true villain in a DiChario story. But the one who fills the structural role of a villain here, which is to say, the man who finds himself in opposition to the hero, is guilty of only one “sin”: he wants to save the hero’s immortal soul. A hero who begins the story dead, and a villain who wants to keep the hero from going to hell. That’s the kind of spin my pal Nick puts on the ball.
There are a lot more spins in the pages up ahead, but as always with the best writers in any field, be they the Bradburys and Sturgeons of science fiction, the Chandlers of the mystery story, or the Eric Amblers of the international intrigue novel, the characters are always the most important and memorable things you’re going to encounter.
By now you’ve figured out that I’m glad and proud to know Nick DiChario. After reading this novel, I can truthfully say that I would have been just as glad and just as proud to have known Tink Puddah. There are not a lot of characters I can say that about—but if enough of you encourage Nick to write another novel, I’m sure there will be a few more such characters before long.