Jim Butcher

Orbit (2010)

ISBN: 978-1-84149-920-8

Reviewed by Tehani Wessely

This has to be one of the best collections of short stories related to a massively popular novel series that I’ve come across. Very often, novellists are not brilliant in the short form (and vice versa), but Butcher manages quite nicely at both, and the stories collected in Side Jobs prove this. Containing both original and reprinted works, Side Jobs somehow stands alone as a collection following the exploits of a particular character, while at the same time filling in gaps for anyone who is a fan of the novels. I have read a couple of the Dresden Files novels, but not nearly all of them, and this collection really impressed – I never felt lost in the storytelling or characters, as each story was self-contained, while still adding to the larger narrative.

I had read a few of the pieces in other anthologies, but the context of time frame of where the stories sit in the Dresden universe, combined with the author forewords to each piece, helped with the reading experience immensely. Starting with the first of the Harry Dresden stories (both in the sense of when it was written, as well as when it takes place in the Dresden chronology), is “A Restoration of Faith”, a piece only published before on Butcher’s own website. While Butcher actually apologises for the story in the introduction to it, suggesting it is “a novice effort”, I quite enjoyed it, feeling it embodied the sense of fun dashed with darkness that imbues the Dresden stories. It was also a good introduction to some of the key players of Harry’s world.

This is followed by “Vignette”, which is exactly what its title says, with no plot to speak of but which is a nice character piece, continuing to set up Harry’s existence. After this comes “Something Borrowed”, which I had read before but enjoyed again, as I’ve read more Dresden since the first time I came across this one. “It’s my birthday, too” is the next story, and in it my first encounter with Harry’s brother, Thomas, a “white” vampire. It’s an over-the-top action packed piece that again nicely expands some character background as well.

“Heorot” was a lot of fun – in his foreword to the story Butcher says he “plopped Harry down in the middle of it, and gleefully watched as it caught fire.” You can tell he had fun with this one, and with the story that follows as well, “Day Off”, in which poor Harry tries his darndest just to get one day off to go on a date with his girl. Naturally, it proves rather difficult.

“Backup” is told from Thomas’s point of view, which was a nice change given the usual first person point of view (Harry’s) from which the Dresden stories are generally narrated. I really enjoyed “The Warrior”, despite not having read the book that leads up to the events covered here. This one was more somber, than many of the other short stories, covering as it does a more serious subject matter. “Last Call” then reverts to a more light-hearted tone, wherein Dresden once again has to rescue his favourite bar.

I only recently read the anthology Songs of Love and Death (edited by Gardner Dozois), and remembered the next story well. “Love Hurts” was a little bit heartbreaking, even without knowing all of the aspects of Dresden and the cop’s relationship through the books before this story.

The final story of the collection, “Aftermath”, is why I would recommend NOT reading this book unless a) you’ve read all the Dresden Files novels up to Changes or b) you don’t mind spoilers. I will not say anything more about this piece, because just about anything I say will give something away, other than it’s an original novella, and it’s very good.

I’ve always been a fan of Butcher’s short work, even more so than his novels (as evidenced by the fact I haven’t yet tracked down more of the Dresden Files books to read), and this collection did not disappoint. Even the stories I had previously read were fun to revisit, and the original, and new to me, pieces were great. The way each story expanded Dresden’s world, but was self-contained enough to work without prior knowledge was somewhat masterful, and makes the collection worth reading on its own. Side Jobs has given me the incentive to go back and start working through Butcher’s Dresden back catalogue – and in that, I guess it has achieved it’s goal!