Raleigh Rambles

John Dancy-Jones at large!

The Adventurists, by Richard Butner

The Adventurists. Richard Butner.  Small Beer Press. 2022.

Richard Butner’s new collection of SF stories is a wonderful look at his long-established but back-burner career as a writer of speculative fiction. Richard is beloved by many in Raleighwood for his quirky and often endearing local theatre roles, his championing of local music and its venues, and (among the cognoscenti) his loyalty to Modernist architecture. This review is overtly from the perspective of a Raleigh native who enjoys the many local references in these stories and the bits and pieces of RB rendered in the protagonists.


The past, though gone forever, can seem so real. Recognition and familiarity run like reinforcing wire through these stories. The past seems hazy but here the cliched futurism of science fiction is reversed and the past makes the content so real through the tangible details of memory. The past is all the content any of us have, when you think about it. Most of the stories end in an unrealized present that is left in your, the reader’s hands, to make of it what you will- armed, perhaps, with the newly discovered possibilities that have just emerged from the story’s view of the past.


Nostalgia for old Raleigh was ignited for me with “At the Fair,” a send-up of the State Fair hoochie-cooch show, which enthralled me as a young teen and lasted amazingly far into the 20th century. But only Richard Butner could make this setting into an anarchic scheme for a socialist utopia. More social commentary is embedded in the most well-known story in the book, “Horses Blow Up Dog City.” Also full of Raleigh bits, from scents of RB’s band, “Angels of Epistemology” to the founder of Humble Pie, it chronicles a viral media star being eaten alive  by his life. Perhaps the strongest dose of Raleighwood is found in “Under Green,” featuring a temporarily homeless young woman who takes up residence in the Rose Garden and haunts Raleigh’s magnificent greenways. In a book full of slightly underemployed, sexually cautious male nerds, this is the strongest female character, whose efforts to be a good Samaritan fail but who nevertheless finds a not unhappy ending.


The SF aspects of these stories often involve virtual reality, sometimes close to the most recent developments in the real life versions of the technology. One of the most gripping stories for me, “Give Up,” mirrored my memory of student parents who broke up over the man’s attempt at climbing Everest. In Richard’s story, extreme abuse of the technology is complicated by a criss-cross of realities which sets in with a vengeance. In the final story, “Sunnyside,” the VR is so believable you could imagine donning the all-enclosing suit and joining the wake celebration that brings its subject back to life in the midst of impossibly detailed relics from the past. And if the past is all in our heads, but can become as real as it does in these stories, maybe we really can apprehend the past – or make it more to our liking. These stories make you wonder.


Publisher’s Weekly review

The Adventurists on Richard’s website

July 7, 2022 Posted by | literary, Raleigh history, reflection | | Leave a comment