A Six-Pack of Collections
Reviewed by Claude Lalumière
Are We Having Fun Yet?,
by William Sanders (expanded edition: Wildside Press, 2002)
William Sanders is wickedly funny, a great
storyteller, and a writer with peculiar ideas. All these qualities are showcased
in his collection, Are We Having
Fun Yet?, previously available only as an ebook and now expanded
(with the addition of "When this World Is All on Fire" from Asimov's and "Smoke", a Cherokee crime story) for its print debut from Wildside
Press. The stories here are rich with Cherokee lore, bustling with vivid
characters, and, most of all, great fun.
Possibly the most well-known tale here
is "The Undiscovered", winner of the Sidewise Award, finalist for several
other awards, and already anthologized a few times. In it, Shakespeare creates
his plays while living with the Cherokee. It's a delightfully funny romp
that never descends into easy slapstick.
My favourite story here, though, is one
of the two stories that premiered in this collection's ebook edition: "The
Scuttling". This is, by far, the best pest-control story I've ever read.
I laughed so hard I cried.
Sanders brings a very personal voice to
SF and fantasy. He is bursting with chutzpah, unabashedly political, thoroughly
entertaining, and not at all worried about offending those who could use
more than a little offending.
To answer the title's question: I know
I am; William Sanders certainly is; and you probably will too once you crack
this book open and start reading.
Toast: And Other Rusted Futures, by Charles Stross
(Cosmos Books/Wildside Press, 2002)
Several of the field's most prominent editors
and critics Gardner Dozois, Michael Swanwick, Nick Gevers, etc. have
been touting Charles Stross as the new big thing in SF, as one of the – if
not THE – writer on the cutting edge of SF short fiction.
I don't get it. To me, his stuff reads
like competent fan fiction: in love with the ideas of SF, but somewhat overlooking
the "fiction" in "science fiction".
The stories in Toast are certainly enthusiastic.
The author has lots of sciencefictional ideas about the future and uses
his fiction to work them out, mingling homages to past masters with youthful
brio. And that sounds better than the results.
Stross's stories are laden down with stale
exposition and unnecessary explanations. His characters often speak in awkward
info dumps. And I couldn't shake the feeling that Stross loved his ideas
a bit too much. The stories, in the end, were not much more than didactic
I was unwilling to suspend disbelief because
I felt that I was not being told a story but rather having an idea, or a
set of ideas, explained to me. The stories in
Toast read like complexified versions
of the examples used to illustrate math problems in school textbooks: they're
stale and artificial.
Several of the stories attempt to bring
humour to the mix, but, again, it felt very fannish and in-jokey, somewhat
stilted and forced. And yet, from the author's intriguing and intelligent
introduction, it's clear that Stross has put a lot of thought and care into
But the results don't speak to me. Not
a single story in this book captured my imagination.
I don't mean to rain on Stross's parade.
Good for him that his fiction has struck a chord in the mainstream of SF.
But that success makes me wonder about what many SF editors like, why they
like it, and, perhaps, how the kind of SF valorized within the field may
encourage a certain insularity that can only be rebarbative to readers not
already conditioned to respond favourably to narrative strategies particular
to the traditions of magazine SF.
The Suicide Kittm, by David L. Hayles (Secker & Warburg,
David Hayles's collection,
The Suicide Kittm, is not marketed as SF. In fact, only
about half of its contents are actually SF. However, even those stories
that aren't make brilliant use of a narrative stratagem usually identified
with SF (but, as far as I'm concerned, woefully underused in most popular
SF novels and stories): cognitive estrangement.
Hayles's book is delightfully bizarre
and darkly humorous. Everything is strangely askew in these 22 stories.
The author deftly juggles the mundane and the outré and his characters'
unpredictable reactions to both.
Hayles's stories move forward at a clipped
pace, never lingering too long on any detail. Hayles makes deft use of sparse
insinuations to create bizarre worlds, leaving space for readers to imagine
the full scope of the strangeness. His characters are profoundly unlikable,
yet oddly endearing. His scenarios are unusual and disquieting.
"The Typing Pool" is set in a political
dystopia in which failing at a job application can have disastrous consequences.
"The Dwarf-wrangler" describes a most distressing occupation. The hints
dropped as to the nature of the backdrop to the unsettlingly slapstick war
satire "Pigback Apocalypse" have disturbing implications. And so on.
The Suicide Kittm impressed me very much with its wry
confidence, its merciless wit, and its brash voice.
Altmann's Tongue, by Brian Evenson (expanded edition: Bison Books, 2002)
The release of the first edition of
Altmann's Tongue set in motion
a series of events that led to Brian Evenson being increasingly alienated
from his Mormon community. That journey, which led to a parting of ways
between Evenson and the religion of his birth, is described in candid detail
in this new edition's afterword. Also new to this edition are an introduction
by author and philosopher Alphonso Lingis and Evenson's "Two Brothers", a
story that won the O. Henry Award.
If I were to attempt to classify Evenson's
fiction into a genre, I would have to say that most apt tag would be "moral
Evenson's stories are peopled with characters
killers, mostly whose morality is utterly alien. Not amoral, and certainly
not immoral, but, perhaps, xenomoral. But there are no extraterrestrials
or other nonhuman protagonists here. Evenson's characters are present-day
people, aliens by virtue of being themselves.
Evenson does not try to justify his characters
and their actions. He presents them in unequivocally unjudgemental fashion,
with a cool and detached prose style, almost completely bereft of artifice.
The effect is arresting, unsettling, and mesmerizing.
At their worst because not all of these
tales are successful Evenson's stories approach impenetrability. At their
best, they are stark tableaux of xenomoral cognitive estrangement, unapologetically
transgressive, darkly beautiful, strange, odd, other.
The Collection, by Bentley Little (Signet, 2002)
Bentley Little's The Collection is a nice, fat
mass-market original: 32 stories in one compact package. Even better: it's
a great book.
Bentley Little is gifted with a twisted
imagination, a dark sense of humour, and a vigorous storytelling style.
His prose is almost invisible: these stories seduce because of their seriously
deranged ideas, their utterly convincing characters, and the unstoppable
momentum of their plots. Little makes the world outside of his book completely
vanish; each story sucked me in, often making me laugh while simultaneously
giving me the shivers.
A case in point is "Blood": a dead-serious story of bloodthirsty macaroni. Yes. Macaroni. I know it sounds silly. But it's not. It's frightening as all hell. It's only kind of funny in
hindsight. It takes real skill to make macaroni that scary.
"Life with Father" is probably the most brashly savage environmental satire that I've read. It's unapologetically brutal. And seriously funny.
"The Idol" pushes celebrity worship to a grossly appropriate extreme.
"Monteith" lifts the veil of traditional American suburbia to reveal almost surreal horrors.
All of these stories are memorable. All of them are entertaining, weird, scary, funny, unexpected.
Haw!, by Ivan Brunetti
Ivan Brunetti subtitled his gloriously
misanthropic Fantagraphics collection
Haw! "Horrible, Horrible Cartoons."
These faux-naïf cartoons, insidiously drawn in a genteel
New Yorker style, constitute the most
lurid and excessive parade of atrocities, degradations, depravities, humiliations,
and vulgarity I've ever seen. And Brunetti's genius is that he transformed
this freak show of vile and repulsive human behaviours into one of the funniest
books I've had the pleasure to read.
The humour comes mostly from the dissonance
between the innocence evoked by the drawing style and the daring in-your-face
cruelty depicted by Brunetti. Sometimes the caption says it all ("Why is
Grampa dead, and why is his asshole filled with semen?"), but even the most
twisted imaginations will probably fail to guess at the "horrible, horrible"
actions that accompany such captions as "It was consensual," "Uh-oh... Looks
like I'm running low on 'toilet paper'..." and "You're right... this is better
Haw!'s disgusting cartoons should
be funny; yet, Brunetti's razor-sharp tone and sardonic voice transubstantiate
the putrid and loathsome into visionary art. Brunetti looks unflinchingly
at the ugliest, most despicable aspects of humanity and brilliantly manages
to make us laugh at our own festering darkness.