Published by Roc, Side Jobs came out in paperback on December 6. It is a fantastic canon-fodder collection of ten previously published short stories and one brand new novellette, all bound together in 418 entertaining pages. A while back I bought the hardcover for purely canonical reasons. Short stories don’t usually float my boat — why have a bite of something yummy when I could just nom the whole enchilada? — but I’ve had enjoyed a few in the past (hello 20th Century Ghosts and Engines of Desire). More importantly, I have a fetish for reading things in chronological order (or, at the very least, the author’s preferred order) and Side Jobs is chock full of revealing interstitials bridging the gaps between earlier Dresden stories and — most excitingly — between Changes and Ghost Story. Meaning one day soon I am going to have to re-read the entire series start to finish while sprinkling in the stories in Side Jobs so I can continue existing in my Sheldon Cooper-esque geek insanity.
For years Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files books lived in the sprawling hellscape that is my “I’ll get to it eventually” library. Fringe has been occupying territory there since I gave up on it midway through the first season. That Wheel of Time series is hovering somewhere in the middle distance, popping up occassionally whenever I think of Brandon Sanderson, then vanishing back into the deeps. And one of these days I’ll finally crack open those Tolkien books and see what all the fuss is about. Earlier this summer I suddenly found myself with nothing to read and craving a new (good) series I could sink my teeth into, so I dug up an old copy of Storm Front and settled in. In three weeks I devourered five books. The Dresden Files became my literary crack. I was hooked, high, and willing to sell the soul of my first born for my next hit.
Perhaps my fangirl obsession makes me a less-than-qualified person to review Side Jobs. After all, I am fully incapable of remaining unpartisan when it comes to the great and powerful Harry Dresden (I dream of the day he and Buffy make a baby, for that kid will the most awesometastic, wit-fueled, pop culture-spouting demon hunter EVAR). But a review I shall give because we all must make sacrifices in this difficult world. Magical, thrill-seeking, glib-jiving, wizard staff wielding sacrifices. My life is so hard.
The stories in Side Jobs run chronologically, starting with a sort of prequel and ending up 45 minutes after the shocking ending of Changes, with a dollop of LARP for good measure. All except the novellette “Aftermath” previously appeared in other works. Since most of the tales take place between books 5 (Death Masks) and up, this ain’t a good start for n00bs. A lot of authors use anthologies as a back door pilot for new readers, and if you’re looking for Jim Butcher’s version of that, you’re out of luck here. Not that newbies can’t enjoy the heck out of Side Jobs, but there’s a lot of backstory they won’t catch, like why is a wizard giving a vampire a birthday present and who is that lady cop getting drunk on aphrodisiacs and what’s up with the Hermione-on-Rageahol chick? Point is, if you’re looking for an entry point into Harry’s world, don’t start here. Don’t pass go, don’t collect $200, go directly to Storm Front. The rest of us will revel in the squee of Side Jobs and meet you at Ghost Story.
It’s hard to imagine being disappointed with Butcher or Dresden: both men are so charming and geekily funny that it’s impossible to put a serious hate on them, even when they’re witholding the one thing you so desperately need. As expected, I relished Dresden’s kooky cases and nerdy wisecracks, but much to my surprise I also liked the shortness of the tales. None of the stories outstay their welcome, nor do any feel underbaked. Sometimes 42 pages is just as filling as 420 pages.
Side Jobs contains, in all its Jim Butcher-y glory:
- “Restoration of Faith”: Harry, in his para-professional days, must rescue a little girl from an evil troll (also published on Jim-Butcher.com).
- “Vignette”: Bob the Skull snarks on Harry (also published on Jim-Butcher.com).
- “Something Borrowed”: Billy and Georgia’s wedding goes horribly awry (first published in My Big Fat Supernatural Wedding, edited by P. N. Elrod).
- “It’s My Birthday Too”: Harry and Molly’s attempt to give Thomas a birthday prezzie goes, um, horribly awry (first published in Many Bloody Returns, edited by Charlaine Harris).
- “Heorot”: Harry and Miss Gard scrounge up a kidnapped bride: (first published in My Big Fat Supernatural Honeymoon, edited by P. N. Elrod).
- “Day Off”: I’m not even supposed to be here today! (first published in Blood Lite, edited by Kevin J. Anderson).
- “Backup: A Story of the Dresden Files”: Thomas takes center stage as he cleans up Harry’s mess (minus Mike Mignola’s awesome illustrations from the Subterranean Press edition).
- “The Warrior”: Everything you ever wanted to know about what happened to the Carpenters after the catastrophe on Demon Reach (first published in Mean Streets).
- “Last Call”: Mac’s beer is stolen and Harry goes on the war path (first published in Strange Brew, edited by P. N. Elrod).
- “Love Hurts”: Sexytimes with Murphy and Harry (also published in Songs of Love and Death: Tales of Star-Crossed Love, edited by Gardner Dozois and George R. R. Martin).
- “Aftermath”: Prepare to have your heart broken.
Alex Brown is an archivist and reference librarian by day, writer by night, and all around geek who watches entirely too much TV. She is prone to collecting out-of-print copies of books by Evelyn Waugh, Jane Austen, and Douglas Adams, probably knows far too much about pop culture than is healthy, and thinks her rats Hywel and Odd are the cutest things ever to exist in the whole of eternity. You can follow her on Twitter if you dare.