I was doing NaNoWriMo and decided to read only short stories, partly to catch up on the large pile of anthologies acquired at conventions, and partly because I thought it would suit my concentration reserves. I read and write short stories but am still working out exactly which sorts and structures I like (I’ve worked this out with novels and poems, but my short story reading has been more scattered and interstitial) and this went a way towards helping me solidify my ideas, although I am still structuring them.
Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine #37. Dirk Flinthart’s ‘This is Not my Story’ was probably my favourite, because it reminded me in good ways of Bridge to Terebithia and Peter Pan, and in spite of some darkness and loss of chances and potential had an innocence and hope to it. Eilis O’Neal’s The Unicorn in the Tower also stood out, not so much for the story as for the writing, because it still feels in my head like a tapestry. Jason Fischer’s Rick Gets a Job was exactly the sort of short story I like, structure wise, and the sort of story that really bothers me because I want to know people can fight back and have a chance of succeeding in some small way (this is why I prefer Fahrenheit 451 to 1984, for example) – the combination of deeply depressing story of enslavement and chatty Australian working-class feel also weirded me out (in a good way as far as writing and a bad way as far as my mental calm :).
The Grinding House – Kaaron Warren. Brilliantly written and deeply disturbing. The structure/feel of many of her short stories aren’t in line with what my personal preference is developing to be, but the images – the clay men, the bone flowers (oh, and the entirely fused skeletons of ‘The Grinding House’) – are extremely compelling and lingering. Her short stories do what good short stories can and should do, just not always what I want them to do. This isn’t a criticism – just me working out my personal preferences.
Magic for Beginners – Kelly Link. I should dislike Kelly Link’s story structures because she tends towards open-ended and ambiguous endings which would usually bother me, but she does it like Dianna Wynne Jones does them (i.e. I know there’s an answer there if I just keep rereading the ending) and she writes so beautifully and the stories spin off into so many other stories in my head that I love them all, even the ones that leave me frustrated and puzzled. My hands-down favourites are ‘The Faery Handbag’, which is just marvelous and makes me want to spend more time in op shops, ‘The Hortlak’ for its slow hilarious bizarre convenience-store-world, and ‘Magic for Beginners’ which is just weird and odd and loving and full of idiosyncratic and independent individuals, horror writers and avid fans and phone booths and a very remarkable television show which takes place in the World Library where a girl band called the Norns plays in the basement and the main character is never played by the same actor twice. The last story has been compared to Borges, but if it is Borges it is Borges with a larger heart and an understanding of fantasy fans and a keener sense of humour. You have no idea how glad I am that I have now read some Borges and can actually say this – I feel like having wanted to like Borges I have been rewarded by being able to read Link.
Canterbury 2100 – Flinthart (ed). I just love the structure of this. It is a brilliant structure and if the stories were all horribly weak (which they aren’t at all) I think I would still like the book. I am a sucker, in fact, for tales within tales, and characters interrupting each other, and nested stories and ideas which continue through other ideas (why I love Valente and fairy tale retellings and stories by Link and DWJ that spill off the edge of the page). Inspired by the Canterbury Tales, the stories in the anthology are united not by theme but by setting – the anthology takes place in 2100 in the carriage of a train on its way to Canterbury, whose passengers pass the time during a breakdown by telling stories – hard science fiction, social science fiction, medieval feuds and tournaments, love stories, ghost stories (I will never look at a balloon man without thinking of intestines), fighting against corporations, oppression, fate. I really liked the way the supernatural and superstitious threaded through tales of technology and bare-bones survival. It tended to the bleak – the present of the anthology is not a pleasant one – and some of the stories (the events, not the writing) were just nasty (there are a couple of people – you know who you are – I recommend do not read Ben Bastian’s ‘The Doctor’s Tale’), but there were flashes of beauty in the world as well as the stories and the telling. I think I liked Matthew Chrulew’s ‘The Gnomogist’s Tale’ best, because of the sustained joke about the sequins and the wonderful narrator’s voice which could have been precious but never faltered. Laura E Goodin’s ‘The Miner’s Tale’, which was not a fantasy and not a fairytale retelling and not entirely happy nevertheless managed to hit a lot of my other buttons (see comments above re fighting back and having at least the hint of a ghost of a chance).