Friday, May 10, 2013

Short story read aloud, week 9

Beneath Ceaseless Skies

Richard Parks, "Mansion of Bone": A Japanese fantasy: the empress's man comes to a ruined house--destroyed by bandits looking for treasure--and fights off robbers disguised as monks thanks to the restless but loyal spirits that he then releases. A fun, thin problem story, where the hero has to figure out a series of problems: find the treasure, defeat the guardian, defeat the robbers.

Escape Artists (Escape PodPodcastlePseudopod

Nick Mamatas, "Willow Tests Well": A super-bright but unempathic girl gets recruited by a secret government agency to help them run their terrible conspiracy. Most of this story is about the girl's terrible life, which might or might not (but probably is) largely directed by the government agency to make her into a tool. But at the end, Willow is clearly tired of being used as a tool, even in a high-powered position. Beautifully written, with a few sentences that turn at the end into something horrific, which is an excellent technique when used judiciously.

Lightspeed and Nightmare 

Sandra McDonald, "Searching for Slave Leia": An excellent story, told in second person, but to a specific "you": a tv producer/writer whose near-death experience doesn't stop her from thinking of her life in arcs and tropes. This is an excellent example of using a self-aware character to revive (or excuse) an old trope, that of the near-death reliving of past experience: the main character remembers her disappointment with slave Leia from Return of the Jedi; her father's love and early death before her success as a tv writer; and her job with a diva tv creator who is stressing her to death.

Jeremiah Tolbert, "La Alma Perdida de Marguerite Espinoza": A Spanish-y fantasy world where God is stingy with souls so that people can go soulless (which is bad because when you die you just disappear), get animal souls (which can transform people, though otherwise I'm not sure what good this is), or have human souls--either bought, inherited, stolen, or, rarely, congenital. A fun setting, through the quasi-Spanishness of it seems odd--why Barcelenia rather than just Barcelona? The story is pretty simple, involving someone who was born with a soul, but who now works as a soul courier, who gets caught up in a family struggle over money and souls. The courier's memory of his teacher is a little too obvious in the way of sign-pointing, but it mostly works to point out the issues.

Karin Tidbeck, "A Fine Show on the Abyssal Plain": A curious story, more like Kelly Link than Isaac Asimov: A woman is recruited as the audience for documentary play; then we learn that the woman is actually an actor playing the naive audience-member; and her character is then recruited into the play. So that's all meta and odd--and then we meet a woman isolated in an undersea exploring vehicle who is dying slowly since her oxygen tube got destroyed. This is where we really learn where they are: the "abyssal plain" isn't an afterlife area, but a deep sea area. Honestly, the story doesn't do much for me; perhaps re-reading it (or reading it in visual form) would bring to light various echoes and subtle nuances; but right now it feels like a less successful variation on Theodore Sturgeon's "The Man Who Lost the Sea," with a dying person seeing something, with here the focus not on the dying person but on what's being seen. On the positive side, this story inspires me to experiment more.

Cast of Wonders (Protecting Project PulpTales to TerrifyStarship Sofa)

Michael Moorcock, "The Lost Sorceress of the Silent Citadel": a Burroughsian pastiche that namechecks C. L. Moore, whose Northwest Smith this story largely resembles, though the hero's Burroughsian-ness is thick enough to choke out almost any other reference the story might be making (and it might be making quite a few): not only is he the best (half-)Earthman on Mars, like John Carter, but he was raised by Venusian apes, a la Tarzan. But the story does involve a lot of "Shambleau"-ist material from C. L. Moore, like a dark god that wants to mate with the protagonist. But being Moorcock, this isn't just a pastiche, but goes on in sort of a weird way: hero John MacShard rescues the girl at great personal cost and is rebuilt into the he-man he was before--and from this experience he takes away the moral that the inequality between the haves and the have-nots is too dangerously extreme.

Michael Moorcock, "A Slow Saturday Night at the Surrealist Sporting Club": Another club dialogue story with the existential boxing dwarf Englebrecht, though this time they're talking with Death and God, who apparently is all capitalist and money-worshipping and stuff. It's light, the type of polemic story that may amuse but will only resonate with those who already agree.

Laurel Winter, "Infinity Syrup": A woman discovers a syrup that makes life amazing, giving her glimpses of other aspects of life. Then, surprise surprise, she can't find any more. I actually don't remember this very well, though I did enjoy it. Perhaps it needs more of a takeaway point.

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