Archive for the short story collections Category

The Compleat Werewolf, Anthony Boucher

Posted in books, sf, short story collections with tags on November 15, 2009 by Matt

Anthony Boucher is best-known in the SF world as one of the founding editors of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. As a writer he’s better-known for his mysteries and reviews, but this is a collection of science fiction and fantasy stories.

The balance is mostly toward contemporary fantasy, but with a bit of a science fictional flair. The fantastic elements are presented as mechanistic and analyzable, and the story often resolves with the characters coming to a “logical” new understanding of whatever magic they’ve encountered. And the science fiction stories have an element of the fantastic, as the technology is so advanced, at least relative to the time of writing, as to achieve Clarkian magic.

Many of the stories are pessimistic, usually involving protagonists’ wishes being fulfilled, but not delivering the hoped-for satisfaction. In “We print the truth” a newspaper editor wishes that his paper will only print the truth, but doesn’t reckon on the truth only extending to the limits of his circulation. In “Snulbug” a captive demon’s ability to travel to the future doesn’t grant the summoner the expected power to benefit from predictive knowledge.

Most of the stories are clearly dated, with the formal but terse diction of the 1940’s, and the purely anglo American male cast of characters, with women appearing mostly as scenery and objects to be won as prizes. Only Molly of “We print the truth” really breaks this mold, though even she can be pigeonholed as the tomboy type, ignored by the hero to his great embarrassment when he realizes her feelings for him.

One exceptional story, that would stand up well today, is “They Bite”, a dark fantasy in which dangerous desert dwellers turn out not to be the legends the protagonist believes them to be. And even the other stories, though they show their age, clearly rank with the best SF (broad sense) of their era.


Eclipse Three

Posted in books, sf, short story collections with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 12, 2009 by Matt

I was able to “sneak” in to the World Fantasy Convention here in San Jose last week in the guise of press. It was great fun to meet some local authors, and I got a post for Metblogs out of it. I also got to sit in on a couple of readings and about half of Gordon Van Gelder’s panel on 60 years of F&SF magazine. To come to the point, though, this collection from Night Shade Books and editor Jonathan Strahan was my take-home from the dealer room.

“The Pelican Bar”, Karen Joy Fowler A willful young woman (as they used to say) is sent away for to a tough-love camp in Mexico, which turns out to be particularly brutal, and from which she dreams of escape. The story’s well-written, and especially strong in exploring the Norah’s psychology and internal dialog, but I never quite caught on to the motivations of the reform camp operators — why they ran the camp as they did, what they were gaining from it, and why they eventually allow Norah her freedom.

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Driftglass, Samuel R. Delany (Part 2)

Posted in books, sf, short story collections with tags , on September 25, 2009 by Matt

To wrap up my review of this collection, begun here.

“Driftglass” Cal Svenson is a former depth gauger for International Aquatic Corp, adapted with gills and webbed digits to work underwater. His career ended years ago in a major accident in the Slash, an underwater trench. He’s living as something of a beachcomber in a tropical fishing village near the Slash, when he runs into a younger Aquatic who tells him about new plans to explore the Slash.

The story explores themes of generational torch-passing and of living in the world as it is and not how it might ideally be. Its as poetically and dramatically told as any other in the collection.

Read more after the break.

Driftglass, Samuel R. Delany (Part 1)

Posted in books, sf, short story collections with tags , on September 20, 2009 by Matt

Driftglass collects Samuel R. Delany’s first 10 published short stories. These stories were originally published in a four-year period from 1966 to 1970. Before any of these stories appeared, Delany had already written eight novels, but when he wrote the last of them he was still aged in his 20’s. I read a 1977 facsimile of the 1971 Signet edition. According to Wikipedia, all of these stories are also available in the 2003 collection Aye, and Gomorrah, and Other Stories.

The collection shows why Delany is often ranked with the likes of Gene Wolfe as one of the foremost literary stylists in science fiction. In a few cases, Delany’s style has suffered from age, for example when he uses contemporary slang, like “rumble” for fight. Otherwise, his prose is as evocative and compelling as any author in SF.

The Star Pit This story pretty much hits you right in the nose with its theme, which is our reaction to human limitations. The story starts with the narrator, Vyme’s, recollection of an ant farm he had as a child, and the central premise is that most people die if they attempt to leave our home galaxy. Only a limited few, known as golden, have the psychological make-up needed to survive travel to other galaxies. The flip side is that golden are all more-or-less psychotic, uninterested in the feelings of others.

Vyme lives at the Star Pit, a waystation on the edge of the galaxy, compelled to push the limits of his containment. There he encounters a variety of other societal misfits, some of whom turn out to be golden. Finally the golden discover aliens who can travel to places the golden cannot, and they too must face the limits of their containment.

Knowing Delany is one of very few African-American SF writers, its hard not to draw a parallel with the black experience in America. In the ’60’s even more than today, blacks faced constraints and limits that did not affect the whites around them. And whites by-and-large must have seemed as callous toward blacks as golden toward normal humans in the story. Realizing that whites face their own social limitations must be small consolation to those who were (or are) stuck in some narrow role dictated not by their own will but by uncontrollable forces.

And there’s much more to the story than just human limits. There’s Vyme’s lost family and others scarred by war; and there’s Vyme’s fatherly adoption of various young riff-raff of the Star Pit. There’s really as many intertwined themes here as you’d normally find filling out a novel. This is truly a fantastic piece of science fiction.

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The Wind’s Twelve Quarters, Ursula K. LeGuin

Posted in books, sf, short story collections with tags on August 2, 2009 by Matt

The Wind’s Twelve Quarters collects 17 of Le Guin‘s stories originally published in the ’60’s and early ’70’s. In a foreward, Le Guin describes the book as a “retrospective” collection. Even though we now know she had more than 30 years of writing still ahead of her, the description is apt as the stories show significant developments in her style between the earlier and later ones.

Le Guin’s first sale, “April in Paris”, is here, for example. It’s a somewhat run-of-the-mill time travel story that will certainly be remembered as a competent first sale, and not as a display of all of Le Guin’s eventual talents . Other early stories such as “Darkness box” and “The word of unbinding” are written in a stilted, archaic voice that detracts from the stories themselves. In “Semley’s necklace”, apparently one of the earliest Ekumen stories, the stilted language is distracting, but does have its use in distinguishing the local culture of a somewhat backward planet from that of the galaxy at large.

In later stories, though, the stilted language is somewhat smoothed out, and the themes become more abstract, leading to stories with nearly poetical qualities. “The stars below” and “The ones who walk away from Omelas” are probably the best examples of this development.

Overall its an enjoyable collection, showing the early stories in Le Guin’s two main sequences (Ekumen and Earthsea) as well as the development of Le Guin’s style in her first decade of publishing.

The New Space Opera

Posted in sf, short story collections on April 29, 2009 by Matt

Edited by Gardner Dozois and Jonathan Strahan, The New Space Opera is a collection meant to examine the most recent re-invention of the sub-genre. One thing that’s clear is these stories were mostly written to exemplify an existing style of SF, and they don’t necessarily break a lot of new ground. One way they do reach for new territory is in postulating some really outlandish means of interstellar travel, including to some really inventive concepts. This is a hefty collection, and it took a while to read, so some of this is from fading memories, but here we go:

The book launches with “Saving Tiamaat” by Gwyneth Jones, a diplomatic drama, in which a splinter of human culture, proposed for reintegration with galactic society, turns out to have developed some disturbing customs. It’s an interesting reflection on how we have to deal with less dramatic cultural differences on Earth today, and a strong start to the collection.

In Ian McDonald‘s “Verthandi’s Ring”, we meet the three-clone crew of an intergalactic battleship, returning from a monumental war. This story, covering events of epic scope, might easily have become dry and encyclopedic, but never does. Instead, a surreal tone brings together the galaxy-spanning war and the personal conflicts of the three protagonists, and also keeps the reader continuously feeling they’re just one revelation away from understanding the milieu and the story.

In “Glory”, by Greg Egan, a pair of mathematical archaeologists travel between stars to investigate the mathematical theories of a vanished race, but they discover that math may have influenced the dead culture profoundly. The highlight is a description of interplanetary travel mechanics more involved than anything I can remember, but that’s only stage-setting. The story of Anne and Joan and the successor civilization to the vanished mathematicians on planet Noudah is also compelling, and well worth the reading.

“Maelstrom” by Kage Baker is a “jus’ folks” story from Mars, where a rich eccentric and a band of misfits and outcasts are setting up the first theatre. They hire a couple of B-list (or C-list) actors from London, build a temple of drama, and away they go. Good fun if you’re in the mood, maybe a little too cute otherwise.

Peter F. Hamilton‘s “Touched by an Angel” revolves around a young woman on a visit to a new lover. It turns out the lover is actually an evolved human, or “Higher”, attempting to spread his genes through the standard human population. He, and his genetic trail, are pursued by authorities using memory extraction technology. The story is something of a throwback, relying on a Nivenesque oversight by its main characters to work. It’s still a good read, but might belong more to the “old” space opera than the New Space Opera.

“Who’s Afraid of Wolf 359?” by Ken McLeod is a parody of a Heinlein super-man story. McLeod is as outspokenly socialist as Heinlein was libertarian, so its not hard to see where the parody is coming from. The hero starts out literally naked and running from the law, and ends up … in much better circumstances. There are even what look like (though I can’t nail them down exactly) references to Heinlein’s future history of lunar rebellion. Or maybe even democratic socialists sometimes fantasize about poking a stick in the eye of government and going off to start their own totalitarian galactic empires.

“The Valley of the Gardens” by Tony Daniel begins with a farmer whose lush land borders a desert wilderness, then flashes back to the cosmic war that created the desert. The war was waged against invaders across the boundary from a neighboring universe, making a nice thematic connection on the idea of borders. Numerous New Space Opera tropes are packed in, including pervasive computation (throughout the soil of the planet itself) and uploaded or reproduced personalities; and a few new twists, such as a pair of soldiers psychically joined by “quantum entanglement”. The story corrals all these themes and ideas nicely, making a fine read.

In “Minla’s Flowers”, by Alastair Reynolds, a one-man starship is marooned on a backwards planet. The pilot lets himself get caught up in local affairs, with disastrous consequences. Like a few other stories here, this one seems to deliberately reach back to old space opera tropes, as the natives have just reached the leather jackets and goggles era of aerial warfare, bringing to some fantastic ’30’s styling to the setting. “Minla’s Flowers” also stands out as one of the darkest stories in the collection.

“The Emperor and the Maula”, by Robert Silverberg is the 1001 Nights re-set in the court of an interstellar emperor. Despite the well-known source material, it’s very entertaining. The ending is surprising mostly for how much is never explained.

Walter Jon Williams‘ “Send them Flowers” opens with a pair of ne’er-do-well starhoppers on the run from authority in the form a family-run megacorporation. At their next port of call, they get involved with a second powerful family, avoid a double-cross on a shady local cargo run, and eventually work out the real reason their pursuers are after them. Again there’s some clever tricks employed to justify interstellar travel. But the heart of the story turns out to be the personalities and relationships of the two roguish spacefarers. A really excellent story.

“Art of War” by Nancy Kress takes off on the work of Allied soldiers who had to catalog and repatriate the Nazi’s looted art treasures after World War II, putting her protagonist in charge of a similar operation in relation to a defeated alien menace, and adds a strong story of interpersonal conflict as the academic art curator protagonist must contend with his military hero mother commanding the operation. The story is somewhat weakened by the overly one-sided depiction of the mother, and overly handicapped son, but still carries real drama and kept me engaged.

The final story, Dan Simmons‘s “Muse of Fire”, is the highlight of the collection. It starts out with a traveling troupe of Shakespearean actors visiting the various outposts of humanity, enslaved by more powerful alien powers and working hopelessly as brute labor on bleak and uninviting planets. Although there’s an element of homage to the Bard’s plays, and some reworking of old ideas, as in Baker’s and Silverberg’s pieces, Simmons takes us well beyond the usual territory for stories of life in space reflecting the life we know. This is a well-chosen finale for an overall well-chose book of tales.

Joe Haldeman, Infinite Dreams

Posted in sf, short story collections on April 18, 2009 by Matt

Infinite Dreams is a collection of 13 of Joe Haldeman’s stories from 1972 to 1978. In these stories, Haldeman shows that a traditional style of sf survived, and continued to produce new ideas, alongside the New Wave. He also shows that the Heinleinesque authorial voice is not intimately tied to libertarian politics. Haldeman’s politics, where they show, are clearly coming from the relative left, and debating what was the mainstream of the genre without trying to overturn the genre’s literary conventions. I won’t give a detailed review of each story, but I will say that this collection is a fine showcase for one of science fiction’s top writers.