Stuff I Like, Part XVIIVJKX!!IL
NukuNuku is annoyed with me, because lately I’ve been on an anthology kick. And when I find something good to read, I tend to ignore her a bit — until she comes over and swats the book out of my hand, that is, and yowls in my face. So much for the polite Canadian stereotype. (This is a continuation of a feature that I periodically do on my own blog, by the way, thus the post title.)
First up is a new one, which isn’t so much an anthology as a… serial anthology? I’m not sure it qualifies as a magazine when it’s produced to this level of quality, is semiregular and not primarily a vehicle for ads, and is solid enough to brain a purse-snatcher. (Not that I would abuse a good book for that purpose.) Anyway, this anthology is Sybil’s Garage, and the particular one I’ve been reading is #7, latest in the series that’s out now from Senses Five Press. Now, I should disclose up front: Senses Five is run by a friend and writing-group colleague of mine, Matt Kressel. I’ve been an Associate Editor for a previous Sybil’s, which really just means that Matt used a bunch of his friends as unpaid slush readers. Trust me, that does not predispose me to say undeserved good things about this volume, because slush ain’t fun.
But enough about me. SG is hard to describe. The closest I can come is that it’s an interstitial New Weird slipstream collection of fiction, poetry, and indescribable things that linger in your mind. No, not like Cthulu — though there is a whiff of Lovecraftian stuff in here too. I was surprised to see more hard science fiction than anything else, or maybe the hard SF stories just jumped out at me. Like our own Kate Baker’s “By Some Illusion”, a short and beautiful meditation on how a blind woman realistically learns to see again after receiving high-tech eye implants. And I was tickled by Eric Schaller’s “How the Future Got Better”, in which a Typical American Family ™ gathers for the advent of a new technology that will allow them to see several minutes into the future via their TV. More powerful was Tom Crosshill’s “Thinking Woman’s Crop of Fools”, set in a bleak future that reminds me of the movie Sleep Dealer (also recommended if you haven’t seen it). A woman sells her own mind, and that of her family, as it’s the only way they can stay together. Short and incredibly affecting; I first heard Tom read this one at Readercon a few months ago, and it’s stayed with me ever since. I’m also very fond of E. C. Myers’ “My Father’s Eyes”, about a young man struggling to cope with a frightening family legacy as certain human beings inexplicably begin de-evolving into Neanderthals. An obvious metaphor for coping with any family illness, a la Alzheimers’, but Myers goes deeper, exploring how society changes to cope with the sudden appearance of another human species.
Hard SF with a heart, in other words. There’s fantasy and horror here too, along with mythpunk*, some mainstream stuff with debatably-speculative elements, poetry, strange epistolic page breaks that turn out to be a story of their own, and even several musical references. (The music references annoyed me, actually — aside from Bach, I didn’t recognize any of them, so I found them distracting.) The bottom line of all of it is that lingering sense after each story; the feeling that the story goes on after the author ends it, and I want to know what happens next. It’s been awhile since an anthology had this kind of emotional impact on me, so this one is highly recommended.
The other anthology I’ve been reading is an old one, relatively speaking: Twenty Epics, one of the All-Star Stories anthologies edited by David Moles and Susan Marie Groppi. It came out in 2006. I tried to read it back then, bounced off the first few stories, set it aside and forgot about it. But recently I picked it up and tried again, and loved it. It’s hard to pinpoint this anthology too — science fiction and fantasy epics of varying lengths and with no discernible theme — but it’s easier to explain how it began. A quote here from the introduction by David Moles:
Because we used to like epics. We used to invest untold hours in those big fat fantasy series, those brick-thick novels full of unpronounceable naming schemes, gender-segregated magic systems, color-coded conceptions of absolute good and absolute evil. But somewhere along the way, they lost their charm. When it takes ten or twenty years for a writer to finish a series, writing the same book over and over again, dragging on and on, piling up the foreshadowing, wearing out characters’ boots to no good purpose, writing stories that just don’t end — they rob the stories of any real passion or power or epic grandeur.
So, to that end, the editors did a submissions call for short epics. If I recall — the guidelines aren’t online anymore, alas, but I remember them vividly — the shorter the epic, the higher the pay rate, with an upper limit of 10,000 words. Unsurprisingly, there are a couple of very short epics herein. The majority seem to be longer works, however, and intense. My favorite is probably K. D. Wentworth’s creepy saga “The Rose War”, in which duelling monarchs use killer rosebushes — really — to indulge their endless appetites for war. But Paul Berger’s “The Muse of Empires Lost”, about a far-future humanity marooned on giant space squids** has lodged itself firmly in my mind. (Another disclosure: Paul’s also in my writing group, but I never read this story before. Sorry I took so long, Paul; it’s effing fantastic.) Aside from these, though, this anthology’s a little more hit-or-miss than Sybil’s; there are a number of stories in the volume that I don’t care for, particularly the ones that lose themselves amid stylistic shenanigans. I’m of the opinion that style matters, but not when it trumps story — especially not in an epic, since the story should be the focus. But on balance, I really liked this. Looks like it’s still available, so if you’re feeling a jones for some epic goodness, go check it out.
So what cool stuff have you been reading lately?
* A very memorable piece by Sam Ferree, called “The Ferryman’s Toll”, focusing on Charon after the apocalypse forces him to ferry all of humanity over the River Styx for the last time.
** Technically, it’s more like a chambered nautilus. I just like saying giant space squid.