At long last, one of those all-too rare moments that makes being a reviewer worthwhile. The Dragons of Springplace is an exceptional book, a collection of short stories by a largely unknown (to me, you may disagree) American writer, every one of which is a scintillating gem of a tale.
I actually feel bad telling you this because it's pretty unlikely that The Dragons of Springplace will ever see the light of day outside the US, which is a crying shame of the first order. If you should see a remaindered copy anywhere, then buy it and send a copy to some British publishers, demanding they bring it out here, instead of The Official Phantom Menace Big Magic Wookie Colouring Book for Boys Part 8.
Having said that, the copy I received came in such an unpromising dustjacket I almost felt embarrassed to show people it when they asked me what I was reading. But, having read the eponymous opening story, I was more than happy to flaunt this book in front of even my most snobbish literary friends and damn them for philistines if they should sneer. It's that good.
Reed clearly loves to think about his stories, to take them to some of the way-out places that other writers baulk at. He doesn't turn away from logical conclusions in favour of nice, cosy endings. Each story creates an entire universe and decorates it with enough details and incidental human observations to put many an entire novel (indeed, many an entire bloated trilogy!) to shame.
And every single story is completely different, sometimes bringing in original ideas, and sometimes stretching and testing more traditional ones. They aren't rock-hard SF, but are under-pinned with some good scientific extrapolation and, more importantly, some imagination in the use of this.
Reed seldom infodumps, which means the beginnings of his stories can be tricky to grasp (though when he does, e.g. at the end of 'The Dragons of Springplace', it's with a deft and assured touch that adds to dreamlike feel of the tale perfectly). So, as with much great SF, the reader flounders for a while with these stories, before drawing the threads together into a coherent world.
The Dragons of Springplace is exactly the kind of thing I read SF for: the placing of characters very like us into a universe very unlike our own and allowing them both (the characters and the universe) to go off and do their thing. It sounds like a really obvious thing to do and Reed makes it seem very easy, but if it was that easy everyone would be doing it, and they're not.
They should be, but they're not.