Monday, January 4, 2016

Three-Star Books Read in 2015 Part One: Short Stories

Short Stories

Slippage: Previously Uncollected, Precariously Poised Stories by Harlan Ellison: Harlan Ellison is undoubtedly one of the most audacious, infuriating, brazen characters on the planet. Which may help explain why he is also one of the most brilliant, innovative, and eloquent writers on earth. Slippage simply presents recent, typical Ellison. In a word, masterful. The 21 stories in this 1997 collection, which is encased in black boxes, show Ellison at the height of his powers, with several of the stories (no surprise here) major award-winners. Highlights include a black mind reader who pays a visit to a white serial killer, a husband who falls prey to a vampiric personal computer, and a love affair between a young man and a woman who may be more undead than alive. Perhaps even more fascinating are the painfully candid snapshots of autobiography running throughout the volume. Even if Ellison's unsettling fictions are not enough to dazzle you, his often bizarre life experiences as an author will still keep you compulsively turning the page like a polite voyeur.

I remain consistently as unimpressed by Harlan Ellison as many luminaries in the sci fi community and indeed Ellison himself. The stories are completely fine, enjoyable, good even. I did not need the painfully candid snapshots of autobiography. An author talking about how wonderful they think their own work is right before the work is usually detrimental to the reading experience, in my opinion.

Halloween edited by Paula Guran: Shivers and spirits... the mystical and macabre... our darkest fears and sweetest fantasies... the fun and frivolity of tricks, treats, festivities, and masquerades. Halloween is a holiday filled with both delight and dread, beloved by youngsters and adults alike. Celebrate the most magical season of the year with this sensational treasury of seasonal tales - spooky, suspenseful, terrifying, or teasing - harvested from a multitude of master storytellers.

A very nice mix of scary, quirky and charming. Really liked the Thomas Ligotti story, Norman Partridge and Esther M. Friesner stories and LOVED Sarah Langan's and of course Ray Bradbury's. I've seen Riding Bitch by K.W. Jeter in other anthologies and I still find it deeply unpleasant, right down to the title. 

Synchronic: 13 Tales of Time Travel edited by David Gatewood: 13 Tales of Time Travel by 13 Authors. For those who live in the present... but wouldn't mind an escape now and then.

The primary feeling I have when I think about this collection is frustration. Not because it was bad - several of the stories were very nearly wonderful (The Santa Anna Gold, Corrections, The River and Rock or Shell in particular), but in each case the author didn't quite close the deal, or I failed as a reader. 

Last Plane to Heaven (The Final Collection) by Jay Lake: Last Plane to Heaven is the final and definitive short story collection of award-winning SF author Jay Lake, author of Green,Endurance, and Kalimpura and won the 2016 Endeavour Award. 
Long before he was a novelist, SF writer Jay Lake, was an acclaimed writer of short stories.  In Last Plane to Heaven, Lake has assembled thirty-two of the best of them. Aliens and angels fill these pages, from the title story, a hard-edged and breathtaking look at how a real alien visitor might be received, to the savage truth of “The Cancer Catechisms.” Here are more than thirty short stories written by a master of the form, science fiction and fantasy both.

I hoped I would love this. I'm sure the intent of letting Gene Wolfe (a noted science fiction writer) provide an original introduction was to honour a beloved writer in the community, and not to alienate prospective readers. Starting off by assuming that the reader doesn't read short stories is a curious tactic, and is an incorrect assumption in my case. Going on to assure the reader that if s/he doesn't revere the title story s/he 'has failed' is also a bold move. I'm sorry that Jay Lake died too young, but I don't think I should have to be sorry, or feel that I failed, because I admired some of these stories intellectually without loving them wholeheartedly.

The End Has Come (The Apocalypse Triptych #3) edited by John Joseph Adams: Famine. Death. War. Pestilence. These are the harbingers of the biblical apocalypse, of the End of the World. In science fiction, the end is triggered by less figurative means: nuclear holocaust, biological warfare/pandemic, ecological disaster, or cosmological cataclysm. 
But before any catastrophe, there are people who see it coming. During, there are heroes who fight against it. And after, there are the survivors who persevere and try to rebuild. 
THE APOCALYPSE TRIPTYCH tells their stories. 
Edited by acclaimed anthologist John Joseph Adams and bestselling author Hugh Howey, THE APOCALYPSE TRIPTYCH is a series of three anthologies of apocalyptic fiction. THE END IS NIGH focuses on life before the apocalypse. THE END IS NOW turns its attention to life during the apocalypse. And THE END HAS COME focuses on life after the apocalypse. 
THE END HAS COME features all-new, never-before-published works by Hugh Howey, Seanan McGuire, Ken Liu, Carrie Vaughn, Mira Grant, Jamie Ford, Tananarive Due, Jonathan Maberry, Robin Wasserman, Nancy Kress, Charlie Jane Anders, Elizabeth Bear, Ben H. Winters, Scott Sigler, and many others. 
THE END IS NIGH is about the match. 
THE END IS NOW is about the conflagration. 
THE END HAS COME is about what will rise from the ashes.

I was completely enchanted with the first two volumes in this triptych. Several authors have story cycles across the three volumes, which is a cool reading experience. I have The End is Nigh and The End Has Come on my Kindle and have flipped back and forth several times reading and rereading, following the threads of the stories that were continued. I was so looking forward to this volume, and I'm not sure why I didn't find it as consistently brilliant. Maybe I'm just more drawn to stories of impending apocalypse than stories of the aftermath. There were still a couple of gems - Mira Grant's ending to her story triptych and also Annie Bellet's, in particular. 

Conservation of Shadows by Yoon Ha Lee: There is no such thing as conservation of shadows. When light destroys shadows, darkness does not gain in density elsewhere. When shadows steal over earth and across the sky, darkness is not diluted. Featuring an Introduction by Aliette De Bodard, Conservation of Shadows features a selection of short stories from Yoon Ha Lee.

I bought this book because I read the story Flower, Mercy, Needle, Chain in an anthology and loved it. I've come across it several times more, and I always read it again, more than once. It's a beautiful story. I've also come to realize why it is apparently one of Lee's most anthologized story - it is the by far the most accessible of any of the ones in this collection. I admire the writing very much, and still enjoyed working my way through this collection (very, very slowly) but there's way too much math and military strategy for me to not feel way out of my depth here. I feel I should admit that I totally thought Yoon Ha Lee was a woman until today, but it appears that I was wrong, and I'm a bit ashamed that I did kind of think it was really cool and badass that a woman wrote this kind of mathy sci fi, and I'm a bit disappointed that he's not a she. 

Teeth: Vampire Tales edited by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling: Sink your teeth into these bite-sized tales exploring the intersections among the living, dead, and undead. Features stories by Neil Gaiman, Melissa Marr, Cassandra Clare, Holly Black, Garth Nix, and many more.

Generally quite good. Some dark, some sweet. I understand the inclination to include a couple of poetic entries in these anthologies, but I almost always skip over them, and from what I've read I'm not the only one. I think people who read short stories and people who read poems might be different kinds of people, or want those things in different books.

Enthralled: Paranormal Diversions edited by Melissa Marr: A journey may take hundreds of miles, or it may cover the distance between duty and desire.
Sixteen of today’s hottest writers of paranormal tales weave stories on a common theme of journeying. Authors such as Kelley Armstrong, Rachel Caine, and Melissa Marr return to the beloved worlds of their bestselling series, while others, like Claudia Gray, Kami Garcia, and Margaret Stohl, create new land-scapes and characters. But whether they’re writing about vampires, faeries, angels, or other magical beings, each author explores the strength and resilience of the human heart.
Suspenseful, funny, or romantic, the stories in Enthralled will leave you moved.

Four stars for the stories by Kami Garcia and Sarah Rees Brennan, and a couple of others. I found it tiresome that so many of the stories were set in worlds from books I hadn't read (and they didn't make me want to read the books) - I tend to think stories in anthologies should be able to stand on their own. But it was worth it for the good ones.

The Doll Collection edited by Ellen Datlow: The Doll Collection is exactly what it sounds like: a treasured toy box of all-original dark stories about dolls of all types, including everything from puppets and poppets to mannequins and baby dolls. 
Featuring everything from life-sized clockwork dolls to all-too-human Betsy Wetsy-type baby dolls, these stories play into the true creepiness of the doll trope, but avoid the clichés that often show up in stories of this type.
Master anthologist Ellen Datlow has assembled a list of beautiful and terrifying stories from bestselling and critically acclaimed authors such as Joyce Carol Oates, Seanan McGuire, Carrie Vaughn, Pat Cadigan, Tim Lebbon, Richard Kadrey, Genevieve Valentine, and Jeffrey Ford. The collection is illustrated with photographs of dolls taken by Datlow and other devoted doll collectors from the science fiction and fantasy field. The result is a star-studded collection exploring one of the most primal fears of readers of dark fiction everywhere, and one that every reader will want to add to their own collection.

This is the first Ellen Datlow anthology that I haven't unqualifiedly loved in... forever. I did like three or four of the stories. With the others, I'm not sure if I didn't like them or if I just found the subject matter too disturbing (which was a surprise to me - I didn't think I was the type to get creeped out by evil dolls). I just found that finishing the book was kind of a slog, whereas with a Datlow anthology I'm usually trying to slow myself down from gulping down all the stories in one go. 



2 comments:

Nicole said...

I love your recaps - I always use them for my annual reading list!

Alison said...

I'd like to respond to this statement: "...or I failed as a reader."

What does "failing as a reader?" mean to you?

I'm thinking it's not possible, unless you didn't actually read the book and made assumptions about the part you didn't read. As readers we try to make meaning of what the author writes. We can only do so much because we are dealing with what's on the page. I remember my writing professor not allowing us to explain when someone else read our stories to the class. He said, "You can't explain to the reader, so you can't explain to others. You have to put it on the page," he said. Now, he wasn't advocating writing so simple it was tedious. I think he meant that we have to give readers the building blocks to recreate in our own heads what the writer had in hers as she wrote the story. As long as the reader comes to the text honestly, I don't think the reader fails if the book doesn't deliver.

/soapbox