<b>A newcomer's remarkable debut</b> Mary Rickert's <b>Map of Dreams</b> is the type of debut collection bibliophiles dream of stumbling across. Rickert's stories, most of which were published in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction between 1999 and 2006, are tiny fireballs shooting across the reader's brain, delving into dark and scary parts of our imagination that other writers don't reach. The title story, original to the collection, is a short novel of time travel, art, grief, loss and love. The story comes to a not-unexpected end, but on its way there detours through startling places. In the best of the other stories, Rickert's writing is reminiscent of Margaret Atwood, Connie Willis or Doris Lessing, writers who are unapologetically political and who use mythology as the underpinning to explore modern life. As with those writers, Rickert occasionally uses humor to heighten the darkness of her writing. But, in this collection at least, Rickert is very comfortably settled in the use of science fiction and fantasy to explore the lives of the outsiders and misfits who populate her work. All of this comes together in stories such as Peace on Suburbia, an odd Christmas tale about a family dealing with a grandparent's Alzheimer's, snowflakes that might be angels and the random suburban paranoia triggered by worries about who is knocking on the front door. Rickert has a satisfyingly vigorous imagination which scales from the smallest detail to the grandest conceit, and she corrals and controls it in an incredibly skilled manner. <i>Gavin J. Grant is the co-editor of</i> The Year's Best Fantasy &andamp; Horror: 2006 <i>(St. Martin's).</i>

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