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Someplace to Be Flying

by Charles de Lint

If you had to put a label on this latest Charles de Lint novel, science fiction would come the closest. But it’s not the sci-fi stuff we’re used to, where the familiar world is swept away in a high-tech orgy free of ties to planet Earth. The rules of gravity don’t always apply in Someplace to Be Flying, but this story evokes the mysticism of the past, not the glitter of the future.

Out of shadowy legends from a dim past come animal people. The predominant species are “canids,” the fox family, and “corbaes,” the crow people. They appear in human or animal form, interacting with characters who appear to be regular humans. However, few things are what they seem, and it turns out that these humans also have a few winged or four-footed relatives among their ancestors – they just didn’t know it.

There’s conflict, a budding romance that crosses class, if not species lines, and the nasty presence of a gang of hit men who turn out to be cuckoos, the trouble-making dregs of the animal-people world.

De Lint uses story-telling in the oral history tradition, which is a useful tool, but it’s overdone in this novel. The dramas of the various lives play out against a backdrop of modern-day urban blight. A decaying city centre abandoned by the middle and upper classes has a teeming life just below the surface. The inhabitants make their own rules, and here this novel takes on mainstream sci-fi trappings with clear lines between good and evil. A diamond-in-the-rough good guy puts his life on the line for a damsel in distress. An apocalyptic world-ending threat rounds out the plot, a morality play with highly imaginative characters. Without the flying around and the switching back and forth between human and animal forms, it would be a naive story with a stereotypical cast. Deft writing, intriguing creatures, and a careful buildup of tension rescues it for the most part, but a much tighter package would have been more effective.