John M. Ford was a well respected author among the speculative fiction set of his time. He also died young at the age of 49 years, and the legal oddities surrounding much of his work meant that for over a decade it remained largely out of print. While the return of older works to print was greatly appreciated, in Aspects readers get a work that was unpublished and indeed unfinished at the time of his passing.
The setting of this volume is interesting, because while it quickly reveals itself as an alternate world with various aspects it is anything but sterile. There is from the beginning a disturbing duel and a parliamentary meeting, the pair helping to illustrate that this world is a living breathing one undergoing change. Sorcerers had, it seemed, previously been immune to most aspects of the law, yet now a law is being debated to pin them within it. At the same time others, such as Varic, seek to make other reforms that are less likely to succeed. All the while political corruption and draconian law enforcement leer over these proceedings. It is an excellent and quick buildup to show the world and potential problems it contains.
John M. Ford’s Aspects is a fascinating look at what might have been. In this little volume the reader gets what was completed of the story, down to a number of the introductory sonnets that might have adorned later sections of the text. The decision to publish it mostly as a traditional novel even though unfinished is an interesting one. To be sure some emotional arcs begin to move and the world evolves, yet we’re left with far more tantalizing probabilities unfulfilled. The chances seemed high that amy reader looking for a complete story will walk away unsatisfied, which at first glance might seem unfortunate.
Yet in many ways that adds to the magic of Aspects. While the story is gripping, it is cut off far too early, for tragic reasons. In the beginning of the published volume is an introduction by Neil Gaiman. He describes his friendship with Ford, his service as a beta reader for parts of this book, and the fact that his passing hit so hard it sometimes still slips away. By the same token reading this book is interesting and fascinating, yet once the reader gets through the pages there is a persistent desire to open it and check for those last few pages.
A reader unfamiliar with Ford may not want to start with Aspects. It is an incomplete manuscript, something that never quire achieves all the reader would want. Yet John M. Ford had a great talent, and what is in the book serves well to help a reader understand that loss all the better.