A to Z Reviews: “Hamlet’s Ghost Sighted in Frontenac, KS,” by Vincent Czyz

A to Z Reviews: “Hamlet’s Ghost Sighted in Frontenac, KS,” by Vincent Czyz

A to Z Reviews

Published in the Festschrift volume Stories for Chip: A Tribute to Samuel R. Delany, Vincent Czyz’s “Hamlet’s Ghost Sighted in Frontenac, KS” has a promising title, which the story doesn’t quite live up to, although it is accurate.

Calling it a story may not be correct. It is more the relating of a slice of life, an evening in Frontenac, Kansas, when Jim Lee, UFO enthusiast and former Marine, spends a night with friends, likely the same as the night before, the night after, and every other night.

The evening begins with him shooting the breeze and sniffing cocaine with Logan, apart Native American whose head was injured in a horseback riding accident. They eventually head over to the local dive bar to hang, shoot the breeze, and sniff more cocaine with addition friends. Their conversation turning to their own histories, giving them the air of men who know that their best days are behind them and anything they do in the future won’t matter. There is a sense of futility to the story.

Stories for Chip

The strength of the story comes from Czyz’s evocative language. From the very beginning, he paints a picture of Jim Lee, Frontenac, Kansas, and the characters’ pasts and presents, leaving their futures an empty void. His repeated references to Chicago, Kansas City, and even New York, indicate that nothing will happen to Jim Lee and his friends as long as they stay here. Jim’s own high point was when he learned to scuba dive in the Marines, far from Kansas.

The characters are made up of their memories, even more than their presents. For Jim Lee, that means he is constantly reconsidering and reliving his father’s death in a car accident, which also killed the teenager who hit Jim’s father’s car. Although he has no evidence, and can’t even figure out how it could have been done, Jim is positive that his father was killed by Cal, Jim’s uncle. Jim is as haunted by his certitude that Cal killed Jim’s father as Hamlet was haunted by the certitude that his uncle, Claudius, killed Hamlet’s father, King Hamlet. Unlike Hamlet, who eventually comes to act on his suspicions, Czyz makes it clear that Jim Lee is never going to confront Cal about his suspicion. Lee will live a life of futility, but he won’t destroy multiple lives in doing so.

Coincidentally, two weeks ago, I reviewed Monica Byrne’s “Alexandria,” which didn’t have any real speculative content. Czyz’s “Hamlet’s Ghost Sighted in Frontenac, KS,” also set in Kansas is another story that, despite published in an anthology compiled as a tribute to a science fiction author, does not really contain any speculative content. Jim’s father’s ghosts fails to make an appearance, unlike the ghost that appeared in Hamlet.

Steven H Silver-largeSteven H Silver is a twenty-time Hugo Award nominee and was the publisher of the Hugo-nominated fanzine Argentus as well as the editor and publisher of ISFiC Press for eight years. He has also edited books for DAW, NESFA Press, and ZNB. His most recent anthology is Alternate Peace and his novel After Hastings was published in 2020. Steven has chaired the first Midwest Construction, Windycon three times, and the SFWA Nebula Conference six times. He was programming chair for Chicon 2000 and Vice Chair of Chicon 7.

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