The five tales in this second collection may not appear to have much in common at first glance, but McNeil specializes in encouraging her appreciative readers to take a second (and third, and fourth…) look.
A publicly-accessible virtual reality based entirely in the mind of a reclusive genius suffers a security breach that could endanger the lives and mental well-being of both visitors and host (“Dream Sequence”). A free-spirited college student trained in “the Art” falls for two of her oddball professors (“Mystery Date”). A media-shy celebrity’s infant son is kidnapped from his nursery (“The Rescuers”). And Jaeger recalls a handful of romantic encounters in which first impressions do not prove entirely accurate (“Five Crazy Women”).
Despite having diverse plots, each story here presents sympathetically imperfect characters who attempt–sometimes with success, sometimes not–to relate to one another as individuals or as members of often vastly different societies. They struggle to communicate, to balance cultural retention with assimilation, individuality with conformity, isolation with interaction. The results can be comedic or sobering or both. Reality is messy, after all. But McNeil seems to support the idea that the more we accept ourselves and others, and accept the fact that we must all share and take part in that messiness together, the better. The most vocal proponent of that philosophy is our wonderfully complicated hero, Jaeger–perpetual questioner, dispenser of wisdom, and deep reservoir of doubt–who influences every tale, whether he occupies center stage or is simply passing through. As he weaves in and out of scenes, so do other familiar faces, further tying the stories and personalities together. And while new characters may take the lead for half the volume, they make such unique impressions and are so carefully connected to the established world and its inhabitants that we accept them immediately and look forward to seeing them again.
McNeil’s dense, highly detailed art is as straightforward and honest as her narratives and she doesn’t shy away from depicting the awkward ugliness of reality any more than she does its thoughtless beauty. That openness includes some shocking violence and a great deal of sex, but they are each as much a part of existence as anything else, as versatile, useful, and flawed a form of communication as the next, and she presents them without sugar-coating or moral judgment, trusting her mature readers to consider each image in context and take away from it what they will.
This second collection of stories based in the Finder universe may not present a consistently over-arching plot, tone, or surface protagonist, but its contents nevertheless maintain a sense of unity and belonging thanks to McNeil’s prodigious imagination and skill when it comes to organic world-building, story-telling, and creating characters readers won’t soon forget. Her enlightening and often amusing end notes are as much a part of the experience as the stories themselves, as is the inevitable urge to reread the whole thing. Collecting Finder #23-#38 of the original run, this volume also includes an introduction by Warren Ellis and a color cover-art gallery.
The Finder Library: Volume 2
by Carla Speed McNeil
Dark Horse, 2011