Book post

Oct. 16th, 2016 09:10 am
shallowness: Beautiful blue alien in front of colourful background (Zhaan Farscape wonders I've seen)
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The book in question being 'The Mammoth Book of SF Stories by Women' edited by Alex Dally MacFarlane.

I struggle with original/professional short story collections as a reader, despite guzzling mostly equivalent-length fanfiction stories. I presume I can enjoy the latter because I’m already familiar with the setting or characters and enjoy the replaying, rephrasing and interplay with canon. But for ‘original’ stories, I prefer the longer form.

I’ve tried collections of stories by the same author, anthologies, which are usually themed, literary and genre collections – and it’s a struggle. Generally, I’ll dislike, tolerate, sometimes admire and occasionally like the stories in these collections. Granted, perhaps the ratios for fanfiction are skewed because I focus on fandoms, pairings/characters I already like, plus I’m more likely to read recommended stories or stories by authors I like and, of course, I don’t pay for these stories.

With this collection, my reaction was often, ‘Is this REALLY science fiction?’ In some cases, I’d say the stories were more magical realism or speculative fiction and with at least one, that was being incredibly generous. I also tend to be a less experimental reader when I’ve paid for these stories, because generally I preferred the ones with a beginning, middle and end. There’s obviously intent from the editor to present a diversity of writers, there are lots of writers who aren’t white or western, and that raises lots of interesting questions. There was also a diversity of experience and age based on the autobiographical notes at the end. At the same time, I felt that there were a lot of stories that felt written for and by postgraduates in women’s studies, and I don’t care how clever you’re being if you don’t emotionally engage me.

Most of the writers were unknown to me or only names, but I will be looking out for some of their work now. (Others I’ll avoid.) Here are the stories I did like:

‘Tomorrow is St Valentine’s Day’ by Tori Truslow is proof that I can enjoy formally audacious short stories if they hook me. Written as if it were a biography, it features merpeople who travel between the sea and the moon (as imagined in the nineteenth century) and footnotes. Think ‘Possession’ only weirder.

In ‘Spider the Artist’ by Nnendi Okorafor, the heroine’s life is rubbish (so far, so literary realism) but changes as she connects with an intelligent robot. It feels like an updated folk tale or one from five minutes into the future, with universal appeal arising from its specificity.

‘Boojum’ by Elizabeth Bear and Sarah Monette was probably my favourite story of the whole lot featuring living sentient spaceships (<3), lady space pirates (<3<3) having adventures in the planets of our solar system as imagined in the past (a recurring motif in the collection).

‘Astrophilia’ by Carrie Vaughn was my favourite of the ones set in a post-apocalyptic future-type setting, involving an outsider stumbling into a family conflict between a pragmatist and a stargazer (I know other writers created more different post-apocalyptic future societies, but I just found this story more accessible.)

‘Dancing in the Shadows of the Once’ by Rochita Loenen-Ruiz was a haunting story with a heroine facing up to the price of her ‘augmentation’ at the hands of the Compassionate (yes, it’s an ironic name). It deals with race relations and the question of identity and the interplay with technology.

‘Ej-Es’ by Nancy Kress packs quite a punch and raises interesting ethical quandaries as experienced space explorer Mia and her team-mates come to a colony and find all isn’t as it seems.

‘The Cartographer Wasps and the Anarchist Bees’ by E. Lily Yu is one of the ‘Is this really SF?’ stories – I’d say it was more fabulist allegory, with insect life, but not as we know it, reflecting humanity, although there are humans in the story. TBH, I didn’t wholly get it, but didn’t mind that.

‘Immersion’ by Aliette de Bodard tackles similar themes to other stories, but does it more successfully in a proper sci-fi setting. It’s about tech dependency, self-hatred (contrasted with healthier approaches) as an Asiatic culture is threatened by an Anglo-American identity, packaged by science, experienced by women. It’s not without hope.

'Sing' by Karen Tidbeck is a sharp one. Two very different characters, but both outsiders in a different way, strike up a relationship on a lunar colony with a parasitical culture. I liked the alienness of the fully formed society we get glimpses of. The non-sequential order serves the story without making it too opaque.

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