Friday, June 14, 2013

Short Story Read-Aloud, Week 14

Escape Artists (Escape PodPodcastlePseudopod

Shane Halbach, "My Heart is a Quadratic Equation": A cute tale that's cutely narrated, but doesn't leave me with much to go on: it starts with just a science-minded woman who has trouble finding a man, until she finds a science-minded man, and they turn out to be mad scientists. Cute premise and short.

Cast of Wonders (Protecting Project PulpTales to TerrifyStarship Sofa)

Ian Whates, "Gift of Joy": An ex-assassin who can change his appearance ekes out a living as a prostitute, fulfilling women's fantasies; but can't escape when his ex-bosses come to get him to kill the president (and maybe impersonate him after?). A real melancholy story that moves maybe a little slowly from normal situation to dissatisfaction to disruption.

Chaz Brenchley, "Terminal": In a universe where people can upload their minds and get new bodies, a man falls in love with a woman, only to learn that she's actually a decoy and not the original upload; meaning that the administrators will take her out when they do an audit. A certain literary vibe and a nice use of metaphorical aliens in the floating leviathans who need some stone as ballast to hold them down. Not my favorite since very little happens and all the revelation is rushed at the end, but for the theme of up/down, well worth reading.

Ted Chiang, "The Merchant and the Alchemist's Gate": Story within story within story, circling around one of Ted Chiang's main themes: free will, fate, intention, and outcome. A fabric merchant tells a story to a caliph about how he met an alchemist with a time-travel gate; the alchemist tells the merchant three stories of people who traveled--a rope-maker that gets advice from his future self to make him rich; a weaver steals his own riches, which ruin him; and the rope-maker's future wife goes back in time and saves him and then teaches him to be a good lover (to her past self). The fabric merchant eventually circles around to his own story, of how he went back in time to try to save his dead wife from an accident, which he fails at, though he does get a message from her that she loves him, thus allowing himself to get past his grief. This story won the Hugo and Nebula for best novelette; and (without knowing the competition) I'll say it deserves them. Chiang doesn't overwrite and lets the (false) omniscient view of each character's feelings carry the story. Because there's a tale-telling quality to each story, he can get away with that false omniscience, which he doesn't undercut in a post-modernist move. He takes every moment sincerely.

Barbara Barnett-Stewart, "Sins Of The Living": A fun setting in some Puritan setting, though the story still doesn't make much sense or horror to me: a man kills his father and wife when he catches them together (though the idea of a Puritan going on a killing spree with an old-style gun is unintentionally funny), but then gets to take it back--and he still ges punished.

Peter Crowther, "Jewels In The Dust": An old woman keeps expecting to die and rejoin her lost husband, while her son, daughter-in-law, and grand-child prepare for a picnic. This story jumps around from mind to mind, and each mind's emotions are played so reasonably that it drew me in. The ending is also very sweet as grandmom gets a visit from her dead husband and learns to take pleasure from every day. It's not at all original as a message, but the feelings are all nicely balanced. Interesting that hopping from person to person doesn't increase irony here--oh, dad that X, but mom thinks Y--since each person focuses on some different thing.

Ken MacLeod, "Lighting Out": A fascinating bit of space opera world-building: humanity has colonized the stars and the planets, though they ruined earth. A woman gets business advice from her mom's partial (i.e., a mental copy) that is supposed to synch with her real mom, but isn't; the partial is using the business to spread the partials as virus. This won the BSFA award for 2007, and I can see why people liked the setting work and ideas here; but as a story, it's loosely constructed and not as on-point as Ted Chiang's story.

E. Hoffmann Price, "Live Bait": E. Hoffmann Price is one of those authors that pops up frequently in various anthologies for weird tales, but I've never before read one of his crime stories. Here, a roguish vigilante gets blackmailed by a criminal. There's a lot of fun writing here--the story opens with a note that the heroic hero was probably considered handsome by his mother but not really anyone else--but most of the story tips towards the cliches hinted at by my use of "heroic hero." It's very pulpy. in line with The Shadow and The Spider.

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