Friday, January 1, 2010

The Year in Review, pt. 6: Short Fiction

Lobster insists on lists, canary consents but only if the lists follow Borgesian principles. No priorities, not even by alphabetic order. Not much annotation, and none of it extended.

In accordance with what the manticores read in the bones on their lonely mountain-tops and what the centaurs glean from starlight. The third law of dessicated Tuesdays. Those who can be carried comfortably in a bronze box, and those who cannot.

Just some favorite stories, a personal florilegium.

They—the lobster and the canary (maybe the manticores and centaurs too)—agree that they’ll continue to stretch the “year” back a ways. Catching up, as it were, since they only started blogging in May of 2009. Next year’s “year” will in fact be a year, or so they promise.

A first matter:

Be impressed with the many strong anthologies recently published. The indefatigable Ellen Datlow has produced Salon Fantastique (2006), The Del Rey Book of Science Fiction & Fantasy (2008), and Lovecraft Unbound (2009)—just to name three from among her many offerings. The equally tireless David Hartwell & Kathryn Cramer every year curate both The Year’s Best Science Fiction and The Year’s Best Fantasy. Ann & Jeff VanderMeer edited Best American Fantasy (2007), with Matthew Cheney as series editor.

More: Mike Allen’s Mythic and Clockwork Phoenix collections, Delia Sherman’s Interfictions (the first co-edited with Theodora Goss, the second with Christopher Barzak), James Patrick Kelly & John Kessel’s Feeling Very Strange, the VanderMeers’ The New Weird, the ParaSpheres anthologies from Rusty Morrison & Ken Keegan, Sheree Thomas’s Dark Matter series (I am looking for the next one), and Senses Five’s award-winning first foray, Paper Cities edited by Ekaterina Sedia.

Special mention: the Polyphony anthologies from Wheatland Press (first six edited by Deborah Layne & Jay Lake)...see their site for pre-order instructions to the seventh, edited by Layne & Forrest Aguirre.

Another special mention: Peter Straub’s two-volume American Fantastic Tales for the Library of America, out this fall—we will take our time reading from Nathaniel Hawthorne up through Kelly Link and Michael Chabon.

A lament: after twenty-one annual editions, The Year’s Best Fantasy & Horror from St. Martin’s Press, most recently edited by Datlow with Link & Gavin Grant, is no more.

As I suggested in earlier installments of this review, we may be in the midst of a Silver Age. Here are some reasons why:

Delia Sherman, “La Fee Verte,” in Salon Fantastique. Sherman evokes the spirit of Stendhal’s The Charterhouse of Parma, of Alfred de Musset and George Sand, with hints of Tieck, Hoffmann and von Eichendorff, as she paints a world I will gladly visit often. I hope a novel about Victorine and La Fee Verte appears soon.

Christopher Rowe, “Gather,” in The Del Rey Book of Science Fiction & Fantasy. My first encounter with Rowe leaves me yearning for more. “The southerners were bad batch men, mostly, with useless legs, bundled up under them if they were merchants or captains, legs self-amputated if they were hard men who needed speed, like the sweeps handlers.” Oh yes, I very much want to know what happens next to Gather and Miss Charlie as they go looking for God on the other side of the river.

Sarah Monette, “Draco Campestris,” in Best American Fantasy. Her short fiction says much with precise and evocative language. “Once, as the taxonomist was making comparative measurements of two D. anthropophagi skulls, a tithe-child asked, ‘Are there any dragons still alive, mynheer?’” Check also her “White Charles” in Clarkesworld #36 (Sept., ’09).

Margo Lanagan, “The Goosle,” in The Del Rey Book of Science Fiction & Fantasy. Possibly the most gratifyingly grisly tale I have ever read—a version of Hansel & Gretel that will make your innards twist. (For the historically minded, take a look at Jacques Callot’s Miseries of War series, depicting life during the Thirty Years War.)

Nicole Kornher-Stace, “Pieces of Sheherazade,” in Best American Fantasy. I also like her poetry chapbook Demon Lovers & Other Difficulties, out this summer from Goblin Fruit.

Kuzhali Manickavel, “The Dynamics of Windows,” in Subtropics # 4 (Fall/Winter, 2007). Like Calvino, Manickavel deals with the vagaries of fate and the importance of individual choice while depicting characters who stumble into bizarre but very human scenarios. A great ear for how unintentionally comic much daily conversation is, with its miscues, lacunae and fixations on the mundane and selfish. Best of all: “the vanishing twin”—a masterstroke.

Theodora Goss, the entire collection In the Forest of Forgetting. Lapidary, melancholy. Nonpareil are her ear for the deep rhythm of language (perhaps a result of her multilingual upbringing) and her practiced attention to other texts.

Alvaro Zinos-Amaro, “The Man Made Only of Straight Lines: A Fable,” in Neon #19 (2009). Read the interview with him in the same issue.

Julianne Lynch, “Caged,” in Lit #15-16 (Winter/Spring, 2009). Another re-telling of Hansel & Gretel, this one taking place in and above a shop selling Bengali sweets. “She likes that Mrs. Banerjee thinks she’s German. She is German, but she likes that Mrs. Banerjee thinks it explains every last thing about her.” There’s a real kick in the end.

Gemma Files, “Marya Nox,” in Lovecraft Unbound. I await her first novel, A Book of Tongues, out spring 2010 from Chizine Publications.

Nalo Hopkinson, “Something to Hitch Meat To,” in her collection Skin Folk (which, yes, now stretches our time constraints unbearably, having been published way back in 2001, but the canary keeps singing the song in the story: “Tain’t no sin, Take off your skin, And dance around in your bones.”) I love Hopkinson’s ability to capture dialogue –I feel like I am eavesdropping. Her pointed humor, the glimpses of rue. Seriously creepy at key points—reminds me of Bradbury.

Veronica Schanoes, “Rats,” in Interfictions. No one writes like this about this. (Elizabeth Hand is perhaps a neighbor, but Schanoes has her own voice; reminds me a little of PJ Harvey, if Harvey wrote short stories.) See also her “The Regime of Austerity” in Strange Horizons (Oct. 19, 2009).

Vandana Singh, “The Woman Who Thought She Was a Planet,” originally in Trampoline (2003), included as the title story in a collection published in 2008. “A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings” for a new generation.

Alaya Dawn Johnson, “The Score,” in Interfictions 2. Best use of paranoid e-mail strings I have read. Fortunately, what Johnson writes is not real. (Is it?) Also recommended: “A Song to Greet the Sun,” in Fantasy Magazine (Oct. 26, 2009).

Erzebet YellowBoy, “Moonstone” in Mythic (2006). Also her “Waiting at the Window,” in Electric Velocipede # 14 (Spring, 2008).

Jesse Bullington, “The Bear and the Sea,” Chizine # 40. (I look forward to reading his first novel, The Sad Tale of the Brothers Grossbart, out this year.) Not for the faint-hearted or those wedded to a sunny view of life.

Tara Mantel, “Confessions,” in The Gettysburg Review (Autumn, 2008). “I watch the dead, but not in the way you might think: that is, as spirits, as cold-cloud entities hovering in the corners of rooms said to be haunted, or as they appear in horror films—gray-blue zombies hobbling rancidly down abandoned urban streets or in moonlit cornfields. Rather, I watch the ni of my old and sick ones break down and lose its vitality. I watch until the ni cannot keep wrong thoughts away, until they swirl down from the mind to the soul, already hollowed, as if awaiting them.”

Dicky Murphy, “The Magician’s Umbrella,” in Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet #24 (July, 2009). Made me burst out laughing—this guy is funny. His first published story. We want more.

Haddayr Copley-Woods, “Dust,” in Flytrap # 8 (Nov. 2007—and, alas, Flytrap is no more). Retelling Genesis, as perhaps it should be or have been.

Hal Duncan, “The Tower of Morning’s Bones,” in Paper Cities. A madcap wordsmith—stream of consciousness run through Jack Vance’s blender.

Bipin Aurora, “My Father is Investigated by the Authorities,” in Ep;phany (Fall/Winter, 2009-’10). “Kafkaesque” for sure, but not in a hackneyed way. An echo of the singer of tales runs through the prose: “’ How much money did they find under the bed?’ The people were gleeful (how gleeful they looked). ‘And how much money did they find?’ ‘Money?’ ‘How much money did they find (how much, how much)—how much money did they find under the bed?’”

Donna Quattrone, “Fairy Godmothers are Everywhere, This is the Story of One,” in Cabinet des Fees # 6 (Sept., 2008). Never certain who you will meet on a bus.

Sean E. Markey, “The Spider in You,” in Strange Horizons (March 23, 2009). Though it gave me a stomach ache.

Ted Chiang, “The Merchant and the Alchemist’s Gate,” Fantasy & Science Fiction (Oct. 2007).

Angela Slatter, “The Juniper Tree,” in Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet # 18 (June 2006).

Abby Frucht, “McGuffy’s Third Eclectic Reader,” in Memorious #13 (Oct., ’09). Another one of the stories that grabs you from the first sentence and never lets go: “The day Queen Elizabeth the First was eaten by the goat was the same day the earthquake laid waste to the public library”.

Vylar Kaftan, “Fulgurite,” Sybil’s Garage # 6 (May, 2009). Updating the unicorn-and-the-maiden story.

Svetlana Lavochkina, “Semolinian Equinox,” in Eclectica #13:1 (Jan/Feb., 2009). “Andrey feigns due awe of Nikolai Vassilievich of course, but, mumbling unintelligibly as he does, Andrey still knows for sure that his mark will not quite exactly mirror the fact that he has neither opened any book on the course programme nor seen the professor doing his main job at the pulpit, his silver tongue pouring out undiluted Middle English to the drowsing audience, too recently weaned from Mother Goose to be able to partake of swiche licour.” Down the rabbit hole.

Mary Robinette Kowal, “Evil Robot Monkey,” in The Solaris Book of New Science Fiction, Vol. 2 (2008). One of the most moving stories I’ve read recently. Watch for Kowal’s first novel, Shades of Milk and Honey, coming out Spring 2010.

Rachel Swirsky, “Exodus,” in Ideomancer 7:4 (Dec., 2008). An amusing take on the old werewolf-and-chickens story.

Monica Eiland, “Voices of God” in Shimmer (Autumn, 2006).

Ken Scholes, “The Boy Who Could Bend and Fall,” in Electric Velocipede # 19 (2009). I really enjoyed interviewing Ken on Lobster & Canary, loved his first two Isaak novels, look forward to the next three in the series.

Marcela Fuentes, “Cucuy,” in Blackbird 8:2 (Fall, 2009). “Mamande’s hair turned white the winter Alma went to live with her and Alma took that as a sign. If the sight of Cucuy could diminish even a stalwart brick-and-mortar woman like her grandmother, Alma had been right to rinse her own eyes with holy water every night. Her diligence on this point was the only reason Alma’s hair had not turned the night her mother locked her out and she won the competition, long-standing between her cousins, of who was man enough to face down the ancestral curse of Mamande’s house, that wrathful specter, Cucuy.”

Jacqueline West, “The Wedding Gift,” in Ideomancer 8:2 (June, 2009). Cozy folkloric themes from Mitteleuropa.

K. Tempest Bradford, “Enmity,” in Electric Velocipede #17-18.

Paolo Bacigalupi, “Pump Six,” in Fantasy & Science Fiction (Sept. 2008). I was enthralled by his comments on a panel at this year’s Readercon—I think he said something like “we’re artists, which means we’re anarchists by nature.” I look forward to reading his The Windup Girl.

Paul La Farge, “The History of the History of Death,” in Conjunctions 53 (the “hybrid histories” issue).

Neil Gaiman, “An Invocation of Incuriosity,” in Songs of the Dying Earth: Stories in Honor of Jack Vance, the Martin/Dozois-edited volume from Subterranean. I have not actually read the story yet, but I had the huge pleasure of hearing Gaiman read it to a packed house at Worldcon this summer. As someone who loves Vance’s work and Gaiman’s work, I was in heaven.

Virginia Aronson, “depersonalization,” in Literal Latte (June, 2009). How could I resist a story that starts like this? “The plan was, i would go into the hole, sit in the queen’s chair, and exit my body”. Aronson maintains the inventiveness right to the end.

Kelly Link, “The Faery Handbag,” and all the other stories in Pretty Monsters. If Link were in The New Yorker once a month, who would mind?

Elizabeth Bear, “The Horrid Glory of Its Wings,” in this month (with a striking illustration by John Jude Palencar). Not a gratuitous word here, and the overall effect moves the heart.

Marie Brennan, “Letter Found in a Chest Belonging to the Marquis de Montseraille, Following the Death of that Worthy Individual,” in Abyss & Apex # 29 (First Quarter, 2009). Charming, and keeps the tone just right.

Tai Dong Huai, “Heavenly,” in Reflection’s Edge (July, 2009). The power of storytelling made visible.

L. Timmel Duchamp, “Tears of Niobe,” in ParaSpheres (’06). She is also one of our best critics/commentators.

Stephanie Campisi, “The Title of this Story,” in Paper Cities. “The tram car was coated in soot from the crematorial belching of the Abattoir Towers that huddled alongside the Wynching Cemetery.” One sentence (and she has many, many more) places me instantly in this city of her imagination.

Alex Dally MacFarlane, “Snowdrops,” in Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet # 22 (summer, 2008). A sort of inverted Juniper Tree. “ “Mother,’ I whispered to the wind, knowing it would carry my message to her white ears. ‘I hope you are afraid. We have only just begun.’” See too her “The Devonshire Arms,” in Clarkesworld #32 (May, ’09).

Benjamin Rosenbaum, pretty much everything in The Ant King and Other Stories. All impish, kaleidoscopic. “A Siege of Cranes.” “Other Cities.” “The Book of Jashar.”

Claude Lalumiere, the same for Objects of Worship. James Morrow’s introduction “Gods of Desire: The Erotic Theology of Claude Lalumiere” more or less sums it up.

Alex Rose, The Musical Illusionist and Other Tales. A beautifully illustrated and constructed book that mimics, glosses, and plays on Renaissance and Baroque era scientific treatises and cabinets of curiosities.

David Nickle, Monstrous Affections. A master of economical story-telling successful at raising the hairs on the back of your neck. A skewed and disturbing worldview. Thanks for sharing.

Brian Evenson, Fugue State. Another master of the unusual and the disturbing, leading us to the Burkean sublime.

Cat Rambo, Eyes Like Sky and Coal and Moonlight. “They line up before Lauranna, forty baked-clay heads atop forty bodies built of metal cylinders” (“Sugar”). “ ‘Marry me,’ the rat said. It stood upright on its back legs, its tail curled neatly around its feet. She was pretending to eat breakfast. A pot steamed on the table. She poured herself a deliberate cup of chocolate before speaking. ‘Why should I marry you?’” (“The Dead Girl’s Wedding March”).

Caitlin Kiernan, Alabaster. Another purveyor of queasy-making, shadow-edged tales. Sometimes explicit horror, yes, but often something even more sinister: normalcy that isn’t normal after all.

Steven Millhauser, Dangerous Laughter. Let this one passage stand for many: “The maker of miniatures...returned with some impatience to his work; and as he sank below the crust of the visible world, into his dazzling kingdom, he understood that he had traveled a long way from the early days, that he still had far to go, and that, from now on, his life would be difficult and without forgiveness” (“In the Reign of Harad IV”).

--- Perhaps that is the fate of all of us who fantasize and who presume to share our fantasies on paper and with paint, via the computer screen and in wood or ceramics...


Don said...

Great list, Daniel! Makes me want to post my own.

I'm with you 100% on "Rats" by Veronica Schanoes as well as Rosenbaum's The Ant King.

I might have liked Millhauser's "Dangerous Laughter" a bit better if I hadn't read it after "The Room in the Attic." Things seemed to repeat, IMO.

I've decided--I'll definitely do my own post. But I just have to mention Peter S. Beagle's collection We Never Talk About My Brother, which sort of touches on the same themes as Millhauser's Dangerous Laughter but in a way that resonates a little better with me.

Benjamin Rosenbaum said...

You may inform the lobster and the canary that I am honored to be included in their list, particularly given its Borgesian nature, and the manticores and all.

Don said...

FWIW, the short fiction that stood out for me in 2009.