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

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

Anna, by Isaac Marion and Sarah Musi (2009) K

Date Read: 6.11.08
Book From: BurningBuilding, now Personal Collection
Reviewer: Kakaner

The summer I discovered Isaac Marion‘s fiction (or more correctly, Emera discovered and I piggybacked on that), I ran around my friends group trying to get everyone to read his stories. I basically spent all of a work day on BurningBuilding engrossed in his short stories, sometimes reading some more than once. Out of all these, the one I repeatedly recommended was Anna, a story I believe is impossible not to love.

Anna is the first person tale of a young ghost who wanders through earth and time, and one day, falls in love with a young boy and follows his life. The story is a mixture of emotions, atmosphere, and a small bit of dialogue that somehow come together to produce a sweeping epic effect. Its simple but beautiful prose is proof that one doesn’t need embellishments and flourishes to successfully tell a story.

The word that always comes to mind when I read Anna is “floating”. First of all, Anna… well, she floats, so I believe it is appropriate. But the word also captures the way Anna lives out her “life”, carried by a wind of time, sometimes skipping 10 years, sometimes 100. This ephemeral quality is also skillfully conveyed by Sarah Musi‘s illustrations, which feature a lot of flowing lines and a bit of whimsy.

In particular, Anna contains one of my favorite scenes ever:

“One day in high-school the boy met a beautiful girl, and they kissed under the football bleachers. Anna turned away, and wished for a strong wind to blow her far from there, but the air was still. She floated into a mountain instead, moving through the rock for miles until she reached the mountain’s heart, and closed her eyes there, feeling the warm, dark crush of the mountain’s life grinding around her.”

I love the idea of withdrawing into the heart of a mountain to mourn. It is such a powerful, majestic image (or maybe I just love mountains and am obsessed with Now We Have a Map of the Piano by Mum), and I like to believe the mountain also lends Anna strength for the rest of her journey.

As of this entry, Marion still has 25 remaining copies of Anna. These are gorgeous, self-published illustrated books on very fine, sturdy paper. If this sounds interesting, you should definitely purchase a copy before Marion becomes too famous =)

Go To:

Isaac Marion
Purchase Anna
Online Sample
Anna (2008) [E]

Robot Dreams, by Isaac Asimov (1986) K

Date Read: 11.22.07
Book From: MITSFS, now Personal Collection
Reviewer: Kakaner

Robot Dreams is simply an amazing work of art. I’ve always believed there really is no other science fiction author who has managed to capture the emotional and ethical plights of robotics, and indeed, Asimov was the first to invent the concepts themselves. Robot Dreams is a collection of soft sci-fi stories that examine all sorts of aspects of a futuristic society in which humanoid robots exist. Now on to… story by story! (get ready.. there’s a bunch!)

Continue reading Robot Dreams, by Isaac Asimov (1986) K