Paula Guran Reviews Velocities: Stories by Kathe Koja

Velocities: Stories, Kathe Koja (Meerkat Press 978-1-946-15423-1, $15.95, 200pp, tp) May 2020.

Since Kathe Koja’s Velocities came out in the spring, I am playing catch-up a bit with this, but it deserves a spotlight. Although Koja has been a notable weird writer for over 30 years, this is only her second collection (the first, Extremities, was published in 1997). The 13 stories here – two original to the volume – range across 18 years and just as many sources of original publication. Koja crosses genres with ease or ignores categorization completely. Her tales almost invariably take you from the mundane into the unexpected, and that can be a very dark place indeed. Not every story features art, artists, those connected to art, or performers, but many do, and the characters are outsiders and misfits. The stories are exquisitely written. Descriptions of even the very ordinary (“Air conditioning, a dry refrigerator smell; for a moment you just breathe in, cool air like a circu­lating gas, like anesthetic.” – from “Roadtrip”) are often extraordinary. “At Eventide” depicts a woman who, helped by her art, has triumphed over tragedy. Then a monster from her past returns. “Once the worst has happened,” Koja writes, “you lose the place where the fear begins; what’s left is only scar tissue, like old surgery, like the dead pink socket of her eye.” “Urb Civ” is set in a near-future city that an undercover agent seeks to save “because in real live actual life, bad things happen that need to be punished, cities rot and die if they are not properly policed, professors are idiots and agents are recruited and rebels are removed so that one day cities, all the cities, this city, can be safe again, can be a place to live and not a place to fear, here be monsters….” In “Fireflies”, a man (“He had a kind of accent, not foreign but not native either: unplaceable long vowels, sentences that curled up at the ends, like genie’s slippers, like the way they talk down south”) and a women watch the titular beetles and discuss the everyday, even though one of them has no future. Original “The Marble Lily” is a standout. It focuses on a man who cleans the Paris Morgue but considers himself a “man of science.” He is fascinated with a beautiful young woman found drowned in the Seine – echo of the historical l’Inconnue de la Seine (the unknown woman of the Seine), in the late 19th century. (“Do you know what a miracle is, gentlemen and judges? It is a gift from God to the brain.”) “Pas de Deux”, the only story in final section “Inside”, reveals a woman strug­gling with her inner compulsion to dance, even as the demands of the reality of living and her own physicality weigh on her: “the difference between love and hunger: find your prince and find a partner, because no one can dance forever alone.” An excellent assemblage from a virtuoso writer.

Paula Guran has edited more than 40 science fiction, fantasy, and horror anthologies and more than 50 novels and collections featuring the same. She’s reviewed and written articles for dozens of publications. She lives in Akron, Ohio, near enough to her grandchildren to frequently be indulgent.

This review and more like it in the November 2020 issue of Locus.

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