This group of authors is sort of a love it or hate it group for me. The stories I didn’t like, I really disliked, but the ones I liked, I loved. There’s not much here that I have lukewarm feelings about.
S Lynn’s “Ffydd (Faith)” is a strange story to be included in this collection because it doesn’t seem to have any actual speculative elements. Instead, as far as I could tell it’s a fairly straightforward piece of historical fiction, perhaps leaning a little towards magical realism. Which is fine, but I generally expect a little more of the magical than exists here before I consider a story to fall under the speculative fiction umbrella.
“into the waters I rode down” is an interestingly experimental stream of consciousness sci-fi story told from the point of view of a deaf, disabled woman who seems to be being used against her will for spying during a war. While the story at times becomes almost incoherent, I think this is by design, and it’s a story that I intend to come back to when I have more time to really spend mulling this one over.
From Arkady Martine, we get two lovely stories and a third one that is so arcane as to be incomprehensible. “City of Salt” is a gorgeous piece of what I usually think of as highbrow sword and sorcery, and it has a fantastic amount of mythology crammed into very few words that demonstrates Martine’s facility with language and an almost fairy tale sensibility that reminds me a little of Catherynne Valente. In “When the Fall is All That’s Left” Martine switches gears completely to tell a sci-fi story about a pair of friends who have just flown through a star. While there’s no particularly remarkable elements here, the story pieces that Martine has chosen are well-picked and artfully put together. For contrast, however, she’s included “Adjuva,” a story so arcane as to be incomprehensible and which I could barely make it through at all, much less enjoy.
“Blood Moon Carnival” is a punctuation atrocity visited on what might otherwise have been a halfway decent story idea. Unfortunately, the absurd number of exclamation points just destroy any sense of suspension of disbelief or immersion in the story I might have felt. Drama has to come from the events that are unfolding, not from a half dozen paragraphs in a row ending with an exclamation that doesn’t actually convey any shock or surprise or urgency.
I almost didn’t read “The Void Around the Sword’s Edge,” and I wish I had followed that instinct. It’s riddled with copy editing issues, misspellings, and poor word choice, but it’s also a very silly story with an ending that can be seen coming a mile away and that is far too easy to be at all interesting.
I’m of two minds about Alison McBain’s work. On the one hand, I kind of love that it’s a throwback to the sort of very old fairy tales that don’t always have any positive moral or message. My favorite old fairy tales have always been the ones about amoral tricksters or wicked witches who don’t actually get vanquished or where magical things just happen without necessarily meaning anything at all except maybe something about our collective id or whatever. All three of McBain’s stories here capture something of those qualities. At the same time, however, there’s a certain sense of smug, postmodern nihilism as well that is almost unpleasant to read and makes me feel a little bad about enjoying these stories so much.
Both “Charaid Dreams” and “Ghosts of Englehart” deal with children who have been changed by exposure to aliens. The first is a sort of frontier story about a family living on a remote planet that is largely inhospitable to human life, while the second is an alien invasion story, but they otherwise have a lot in common. Both are family dramas, both involve aliens who only seem to interact with children, and both have very little to actually say for themselves that isn’t something relatively platitudinous about how children are the future.
“Slow” is a marvelous little horror story about a sculpture that is sucking the life out of its artist. I don’t think Lia Swope Mitchell’s current, very small body of work is quite enough for a Campbell nomination, but she’s only in her first year of eligibility. I’ll definitely be keeping an eye out for her stuff over the rest of 2016.
I loved “Decay.” This story about body-snatching tooth fairies was delightfully unexpected. It’s good and creepy, with a surprise ending that is actually legitimately scary. Allison Mulder is another first year author who I hope publishes a few more things in time for me to consider her for next year’s awards.
Ian Muneshwar’s “Ossuary” is a wonderfully unique take on the AI-searching-for-a-body trope that seems to keep popping up in this collection. It’s also just beautifully written, the kind of story I want to read over and over again to search for all its shades of meaning. Also, to just admire Muneshwar’s consistently excellent word choice and structures. “Ossuary” isn’t a very long story at 2570 words, but Muneshwar makes every one of those words count.
“Strange Matter” is a more science-y, more cynical version of Groundhog Day, but I adored the ending of it, which surprised me by turning out to be something funny and sweet. I would love to have time to actually read all of Brian Niemeier’s novel, Nethereal, but I won’t be getting to it in the next week.
None of today’s authors have published enough notable work for me to really get excited for them as Campbell prospects for this year, but Arkady Martine, Lia Swope Mitchell, Allison Mulder, and Ian Muneshwar are all on my list of authors to follow for the rest of 2016 and see if that changes.