James Nicoll Reviews

Home > Reviews > Post

Settle For One Day

Night Lives: Nine Stories of the Dark Fantastic

By Phyllis Eisenstein & Alex Eisenstein 

4 Jun, 2024

Miscellaneous Reviews

1 comment

Support me with a Patreon monthly subscription!

Alex Eisenstein and Phyllis Eisenstein’s 2003 Night Lives: Nine Stories of the Dark Fantastic is a speculative fiction collection.

To my knowledge, Night Lives is the only non-fix-up collection of Eisenstein short works.

Except where otherwise indicated, all contents are by Phyllis Eisenstein.

Every collection should have surprises. One such surprise in Night Lives is that apparently, I reviewed In the Western Tradition memorably enough for Wikipedia to quote me. Too bad that closer examination reveals that it was less a review and more of a passing comment. Still, points to the Wikipedia editor for spotting it.

Another surprise involved Subworld. The boy’s father consoles himself with the thought that losing the boy to what amounts to Faerie is better than losing the boy to his mother, the father’s estranged ex-wife. This suggests that either the husband or the wife or both of them are awful. This is the second story in this collection that turns on bad significant others. Just how common are those in Eisenstein’s fiction? Cue a chart of the Eisenstein books I’ve read thus far.


Bad Boyfriend/Husband

Bad Girlfriend/Wife


Born To Exile



Sorcerer’s Son



One is redeemed.

Shadow of Earth



In spades.

In the Hands of Glory



The Crystal Palace



Not two only because the author was on the protagonist’s side.

In the Red Lord’s Reach



Assuming mom chases daughter’s lover” counts.

Night Lives



Arguably Alaric should be added for both of his books, although he’d argue mitigating circumstances [1]. Even without Alaric, there seems to be a pattern.

On the whole, this was a solid collection. The strongest stories were the first two, which between them account for more than a third of the collection. The slighter stories also tend to be the shorter ones, suggesting that Eisenstein had a good eye for how much story a premise could support.

Not only is Night Lives out of print, the Library Journal reviews quoted on Night Lives’ Amazon page are for other books from the same publisher.

That is it for Eisenstein’s novels and collections… but there are one or two more works to consider. See you all in July and depending on the whims of used booksellers, August as well.

Introduction: Straddling the Spectrum” • essay 

Inspired by readers’ insistence that the Alaric stories are fantasy rather than psionic SF that happen to take place in a medieval setting, Eisenstein muses about genre boundaries.

This was a diverting essay, sufficiently so to make me wish I’d read more Eisenstein essays.

In the Western Tradition • (1981) • novella 

Barry and Alison are co-workers who use time-viewing Bubbles to research the past. They are also lovers. Barry begins to suspect that Alison has fallen for a rival. Barry is correct. He is astonished when he finds out who has caught Alison’s attention.

Eisenstein is clearly familiar with Asimov’s The Dead Past, because she takes the time to explain that Bubbles can’t spy on periods in the last century.

In Barry’s defense, he’s an idiot, so it’s unreasonable to expect him to react productively as his relationship disintegrates. To his credit, his bold stratagems to keep Alison quickly move him from wronged party” to jackass that Alison is much better off without.” At least Alison doesn’t have to feel (as) guilty over how she treated Barry.

The Island in the Lake • [Tales of Alaric the Minstrel] • (1998) • novelette

Alaric’s latest noble host has a son and heir dying of a mysterious disorder. A cure is only a step away for teleporting Alaric. Alaric would have been well-served to wonder how the man slated to be heir if the boy dies will react to the sudden recovery.

The story’s setting includes a Big Lie whose preservation depends on absolutely nobody ever verifying a trivially easily tested claim. Astonishingly, it turns out that a lot of people (especially bored, curious kids) know the Big Lie is a lie. They’re just too polite to let on that they know.

Nightlife • (1982) • novelette

Jane becomes smitten by Jack. Too bad Jack appears to be a figment of Jane’s unconscious, a man she can only meet in dreams. In this case, there’s more to the situation. A little detective work will be rewarded… after a fashion.

Wallpaper World” • (2001) • short story by Alex Eisenstein and Phyllis Eisenstein

A supernatural phenomenon gives Edward the means to save Nora, with whom Edward has long been secretly smitten. Edward is also provided with sufficient plausible deniability to avoid manslaughter charges.

Edward and Nora also benefit when the investigating cop doesn’t really care how the very bad dead guy ended up dead. Curiosity only means more paperwork!

Subworld • (1983) • novelette

A young boy is offered an irresistible deal by uncanny beings.

This is very much a Faerie Tale, very nearly of the cautionary variety. It only avoids being cautionary because the characters have reasons to enjoy their fate.

Altar Ego • (1977) • novelette by Alex Eisenstein and Phyllis Eisenstein

A devout man finds his way to greater heights of piety.

The Amethyst Phial” • (1984) • short story

After many years, a victim who believed that vengeance was impossible discovers that redress is possible… but not in the form they had imagined.

Dark Wings” • (1982) • short story

Through great effort, a spinster attracts the attention of the being with whom she is obsessed.

Sleeping Beauty: The True Story” • (1976) • short story by Alex Eisenstein and Phyllis Eisenstein

A retelling of Sleeping Beauty, somewhat closer to the original than was the Disney version.

1: Saying no to the King’s Hot and Until She met Alaric Virginal Daughter is not risk free. His girlfriend’s mom was hot and also a witch to whom saying no was also not risk free. Also relevant: it’s unwise to expect a long-term relationship with a travelling minstrel.