“Denise Jones, Super Booker,” by John Scalzi (2008) E

Date read: 8.14.09
Read from: Subterranean Press
Reviewer: Emera

John Scalzi’s “Denise Jones, Super Booker” is a superhero satire that makes me not tired of the superhero satire trend. It’s a wry sketch in the form of an interview with an agent who books superheroes for employment opportunities ranging from contracts with cities in need of protection from giant Gila monsters, to bar mitzvahs in need of entertainment. Pretty much every line is quotable, so I won’t even bother to pick pull quotes – just go and read it when you have the chance!

This was my first time reading anything by John Scalzi, but I can see now why both his blog and his writing have such a following.

Go to:
John Scalzi
Subterranean Press

“26 Monkeys, Also The Abyss,” by Kij Johnson (2008) E

Date read: 11.06.09
Read From: Asimov’s, July 2008
Reviewer: Emera

This post originally segued into an extremely long-winded discussion of what makes readers perceive fiction as “genre” versus “non-genre,” but two hours and >1100 words later, I got uncomfortable with some/all of what I had written. So, it’s been hacked back and all that’s left is a thematic discussion/analysis of Kij Johnson’s “26 Monkeys, Also The Abyss,” which, you might have noticed, Kakaner also just reviewed. (Later edit: But here’s the most expeditious compression of what I had been meaning to say about genre: if you like speculative fiction that makes a point of explicating mechanism – how the AI or the FTL drive or the summoning spell works – you’ll probably be disappointed by this story. It’s more of an absurdist fable.)

To make a mildly spoilery summary, the grief-embittered, formerly rootless heroine, Aimee, comes into possession of a strange miracle: a troupe of performing monkeys who, without any visible explanation, can disappear and reappear at will. She wonders endlessly at the miracle, and where it brings her to in life, but she never really does find out how it works.

The monkeys know, obviously, and one even agrees to show her the trick firsthand – but she still can’t see what the trick is. Despite the monkeys’ transparency (PUN) – here’s what we do, here’s us doing it, nothing hidden, just a bunch of monkeys in a bathtub – there’s a veil she can’t penetrate, something she can’t see beyond, can’t participate in. There’s just no way for her to “get it,” to seize the heart of the mystery, no matter how close she is to it and how clearly it’s laid out for her. It’s deliciously slippery and absurd, a mystery that’s all the more impenetrable for its almost banal apparent obviousness.

Continue reading “26 Monkeys, Also The Abyss,” by Kij Johnson (2008) E

“26 Monkeys, Also The Abyss,” by Kij Johnson (2008) K

Date Read: 11.03.09
Read From: Asimov’s July 2008
Reviewer: Kakaner

Well, after reading “Spar”, I was mighty curious to see what all the fuss with Kij Johnson was about so I searched up her most famous story. “26 Monkeys, Also The Abyss” won the 2009 World Fantasy Award for Best Short Fiction and is currently nominated for the 2009 Hugo and Nebula Short Story awards.

The story is about a girl with little-to-no prospects who buys a traveling monkey act from the current owner. The act makes her rich and famous, but she is never quite satisfied mainly because she isn’t able to figure out how the monkeys perform their disappearing act. I was drawn in by so many aspects of this tale– the circus, monkeys with personalities, magic, and the very bizarre human-human and human-monkey relationships.The implied imagery is actually eerily haunting, from 26 brilliant monkeys pursuing pastimes in their cages to the scene in which they disappear one by one into a suspended bathtub. However, I was very disappointed by the ending. I felt like Johnson did a fantastic job keeping me guessing throughout the entire story but failed to deliver an ending of the same caliber, and I didn’t come away with much food for thought. Once again, one of those “What was the point?” moments for me.

Go To:
Kij Johnson
Asimov’s Science Fiction

Everything’s Eventual, by Stephen King (2002) E

Date read: 4.27.08
Read from: Public library
Reviewer: Emera

A horror review for belated Halloween wishes, maybe? I have a weird love-hate relationship with King’s fiction, characterized of late by a growing tolerance and respect for his work. About half of the time I find his work screechy, self-important, and overburdened with stylistic tics, but I do think that his particular understanding of life deepens a lot of his writing. (A little more on that below.) Also, I think The Shining is pretty good as a novel, and amazing as a movie. (I just re-watched it with my roommate a few days ago. Excellent.)

Given all that, I decided to cherry-pick only the stories that seemed most interesting to me out of this collection, which ended in me reading about half of it. Blurblets below.

Continue reading Everything’s Eventual, by Stephen King (2002) E

“Spar,” by Kij Johnson (2009) K

Date Read: 10.28.09
Read From: Clarkesworld Magazine
Reviewer: Kakaner

“Spar” is a grim, vulgar, unrelenting torrent of images and words that will leave you mouth agape and reeling. It is the horrifying tale of neverending rape and an examination of the human psyche under a most extreme duress. The storytelling definitely fits the actions and story– short, hard sentences and fragments contrasting wistful remembrances of a life before. Johnson has created somewhat of a short fiction monster here, and I personally still don’t know quite what to make of it.

Go to:
Kij Johnson
Clarkesworld Magazine

“Advection,” by Genevieve Valentine (2009) E

Date read: 8.14.09
Read from: Clarkesworld Magazine
Reviewer: Emera

Genevieve Valentine’s “Advection” is a wistful, elegiac, soft science fiction story, set amid the elite children of an Earth that has lost its oceans and rain. Though light on character development, it’s full of runs of understated lyricism, and beautifully sustains a mood of distant yearning. I felt thoughtful and pleasantly melancholy after reading it, and one of its central images hasn’t left my mind since.

Go to:
Genevieve Valentine
Clarkesworld Magazine

The Faery Reel, ed. Ellen Datlow & Terri Windling (2004) E

Date read: 3.23.08
Read from: Public library
Reviewer: Emera

The Faery Reel is a collection of “tales from the twilight realm” by 25 notable authors of fantasy, including Neil Gaiman, Charles de Lint, Holly Black, Tanith Lee, Gregory Maguire, and Patricia McKillip.

I picked this out not actually expecting to be all that impressed, since Datlow/Windling collections aren’t always uniformly strong, despite their typically high-powered author selection. But here, at least, my expectations were far surpassed; this is a remarkably beautiful, moving, and varied collection. I found only two or three stories less than strongly written, and they still had concepts that were fun or clever or fresh – which is saying a lot when you’re going for a topic as well-worn as fairy stories. (As a note, authors in the collection keep to the spelling convention of faerie = race, Faery = place, so I’ll follow that convention below.)

Continue reading The Faery Reel, ed. Ellen Datlow & Terri Windling (2004) E

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, by F. Scott Fitzgerald (1921) K

Date Read: 12.27.08
Book From: Personal Collection
Reviewer: Kakaner

Summary

A look at the life of Benjamin Button who was born old and died young.

Review

I have never been a fan of F. Scott Fitzgerald, my only experience having been The Great Gatsby. I feel horrible saying that I didn’t enjoy it in the least bit, although it certainly stands to argue that if I revisited it now with a slightly more mature eye, I would probably quite like it. Being the incredibly anal purist I am, after learning about the upcoming release of The Curious Case of Benjamin Button in theaters, I headed over to my local BN to read the short story first. I wasn’t blown away by the story, but it was so quaint, indirectly emotional, and beautiful that I ended up spending $13 on the somewhat overpriced newest edition with full-color illustrations.

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The Mammoth Book of Best New Horror 16, ed. Stephen Jones (2005) E

Date read: 8.3.09
Read from: Personal collection
Reviewer: Emera

I picked this and #15 up at a used book sale, partly out of a fit of pique that I couldn’t find anything else to my taste – even though I didn’t know anything about the actual quality of the anthology series. Luckily, every story in this was well written and solidly above average, which is more than can be said for most of the anthologies I’ve read in my life.

To begin with the best, my absolute favorites, in no particular order:

  • Kelly Link’s feverish, extremely unnerving “Stone Animals” (come on, even the title is creepy). Young couple with poor communication and two small children, including a sleepwalking daughter, moves into a new house where all is not quite well – classic set-up for horror, and Link plays it gleefully. I imagined her whooping maniacally while writing the story, truth be told.
  • Lisa Tuttle’s “My Death,” the story of a recently widowed writer who travels in search of new inspiration, and becomes strangely entangled in the legacy of an early 20th-century painter and his muse. This builds slowly, but goes places that are increasingly strange and tap into very primitive, raw forces. The ending was completely unpredictable and bewildering in the best way possible. Masterfully executed, all in all.
  • Michael Marshall Smith’s supremely atmospheric and ever-so-delicately frightening “This Is Now.” Describing it would ruin it, so I won’t. This gave me the most chills-down-the-spine read, yet the fear is so deliciously subtle and evanescent.

Continue reading The Mammoth Book of Best New Horror 16, ed. Stephen Jones (2005) E

Alabaster, by Caitlín R. Kiernan (2006) E

Date read: 8.31.09
Read from: Personal collection, via Subterranean Press
Reviewer: Emera

Alabaster collects five works of Kiernan’s short fiction, all centered on her character Dancy Flammarion, first introduced in her novel Threshold. (Note that I’d never read any of Kiernan’s work before this, so this collection clearly stands well on its own, both as introduction to Dancy as a character and to Kiernan’s work in general.) Dancy is an orphaned, albino girl who seeks out and kills monsters on the command of a terrifying angel. Each of the stories records her encounter with one of the monsters that the angel sends her to find, and peels back a layer of Dancy’s past and psyche, to reveal how deeply damaged and used she is.

To say that Dancy is a tragic character doesn’t even come close. Each of the monsters she meets, though technically monstrous so far as it comes to killing people in horrible ways and so on, is far more self-aware than is Dancy – and thus, in a certain sense, more fully human. Likewise, they can see her situation far more clearly than she ever does. Ultimately, what the stories show the reader is that Dancy is a monster of another kind: a crippled soul who will never truly understand who she is, what she does, or why she does it, and will never be loved by another being, human or otherwise. I would like to think that she’s not irredeemable, but at least within these stories, she’s hopelessly lost and severed from humanity, and sustained only by her faith in an angel that the reader soon realizes has no interest in her as an individual and is, of course, yet another kind of monster in an endless and highly relative bestiary.

Continue reading Alabaster, by Caitlín R. Kiernan (2006) E