(Critical Survey of Science Fiction and Fantasy)

Holdstock’s greatest strengths lie in his ability to extrapolate and re-create in full and convincing detail a past so distant that it has all but retreated into the fog of myth, and in his clean, straightforward prose. He refuses to obscure the sublimity of his mythic vision with literary pyrotechnics. “The Bone Forest,” written in much the same style as Mythago Wood, is an apt example of this. The events are startling and uncanny, but Holdstock, through his narrator, relates them almost matter-of-factly, with a detachment that not only is appropriate to George Huxley the scientist but also adds an immediacy and realism to the events, making them all the more powerful.

The stories in this collection offer enough variety to demonstrate Holdstock’s strengths as well as his weaknesses. The greatest of the latter is an occasional tendency to give free rein to either the metaphoric or the pathetic impulse. “The Time of the Tree,” essentially an extended metaphor about the human body as an ecological system complete with climatic changes and inhabitants, takes an interesting image and expands it past the bounds of interest and into the realm of the absurd. When Holdstock restrains himself, however, the result can be sublimely powerful, as in “The Shapechanger,” with its somewhat worn premise of escape from distress through fantasy enlivened and deepened by Holdstock’s delicate handling and subdued tone, which is given release only in...

(The entire section is 447 words.)