Reading Up and Coming, even though I feel like it’s been a frantic and sometimes frustrating pace, has been totally worth it. This final group of authors has produced some of my favorite stories in the collection, and made for an altogether pleasant last day of reading.
Nicolas Wilson starts things off with “Trials,” which I mostly liked very well. It’s a very Star Trek-ish novelette with some fascinating aliens and a mostly compelling plot in which a man travels to a dangerous ice planet and has to negotiate a treaty with the people there. Though it’s somewhat (if not entirely) corrected by the ending of the story, the only serious issue I had with “Trials” was the narrator’s motivation being “earning” a woman’s love so he could steal her away from someone else. It’s not romantic or interesting; it’s infantilizing and unattractively obsessive, and that he transfers his affections so easily to the alien woman he meets only serves to reinforce that the narrator sees women as interchangeable objects rather than as people with agency of their own.
Wilson follows this up with “Multiply,” a cute piece of odd couple romantic comedy about a pair of AIs traveling together. It’s not bad, but it’s a fairly pedestrian premise with an execution that doesn’t really rise above workmanlike. I chuckled a couple of times, but the banter between the characters became grating about halfway through the story.
I read and loved Alyssa Wong’s “Hungry Daughters of Starving Mothers” last year when it first came out, and if anything I loved it more the second time around. It’s definitely a story with several shades of meaning and multiple layers of genius to explore. “The Fisher Queen” is a similarly marvelous story about a young woman who finds out that her mother might be a mermaid of the sort that her people usually eat as fish, and in “Santos de Sampaquitas,” a young woman must deal with a god in order to protect her family. The beauty of Alyssa Wong’s language makes all three of these stories compulsively readable and highly enjoyable without distracting from the richness of her settings and the resonance of the themes she explores. Going into this project, Alyssa Wong was one of the writers I was almost certain I would nominate for the Campbell, on the strength of “Hungry Daughters of Starving Mothers” alone, and her other stories here only made me more sure of that choice.
“Fibonacci” has an interesting structure and a lovely cadence to its storytelling, but very little plot and not much in particular to say about its subject matter. Still, I liked it the best of the three stories Eleanor R. Wood offered here. “Pawprints in the Aeolian Dust” has a premise that I enjoyed at first, but it moved along so slowly and methodically that I found myself bored and losing focus about halfway through. “Daddy’s Girl,” about a woman whose father is an android in need of repairs, is fine, but nothing particularly special, and its sweetness turned cloying at the end.
I wanted to love Frank Wu’s “Season of the Ants in a Timeless Land,” but it’s another story that I, sadly, just found my mind wandering throughout. The romance, such as it was, was unconvincing, and none of the characters were compelling enough to keep my attention very long. I also found the religious allusions and the mysticism of the ending off-putting.
From Jeff Xilon come “H,” a very short stream of consciousness in which a drug is used to make soldiers into a sort of hive mind and “All of Our Days,” about a man who misses out on a chance at immortality when he takes too long enjoying having a body. Neither of these were awful, but neither one stands out as very accomplished either.
I loved “A House of Anxious Spiders” so, so much. J.Y. Yang’s imagery of people fighting with spiders that live in their mouths and then losing their voice until a new one hatches is clever and powerful, but never cutesy, and Yang doesn’t shy away from an insightful examination of the ways in which even people who love each other can hurt each other deeply. Sook Yee’s and Kathy’s cruelties to each other will feel almost too familiar to anyone who has argued about something real with a person who knows you well. In “Temporary Saints,” a woman prepares the bodies of children who were briefly able to perform miracles, and “Song of the Krakenmaid” finds a woman dealing with an interesting cryptid and a cheating girlfriend.
Honestly, I’m not sure how I’ve never come across any of J.Y. Yang’s stories before since they are relevant to basically all of my interests, but you can be sure I’ll be keeping an eye out for them in the future.
I didn’t love “Milagroso” in spite of its interesting ideas, and “Good Girls” was at times actually unappealing to me, but I love “The Oiran’s Song” passionately. It’s brutal and sad, but it’s also remarkably beautifully written, and Isabel Yap has a distinctive voice that I look forward to reading more of.
I read just enough of this excerpt from Inish Carraig to send me over to Goodreads to find out more about the book, which confirmed that it is not one for me. However, though it only has a few reviews, they all seem to be very positive so far. If you like post-alien invasion stories, this one might be one to pick up.
On the one hand, I love an original fairy tale, and “Galen and the Golden-Coat Hare” is a well-conceived and nicely written one. On the other hand, I dislike the deeply conservative message of this one, which frames poverty as a virtue that should be preserved and justice as the upholding of a fundamentally unjust status quo. Zeigler plays with some interesting fairy tale conventions, and there’s a clever conclusion to the story, but I just can’t bring myself to consider the ending a happy one.
I know it’s only a quirk of alphabetical chance, but I was a little disappointed that the last two stories in Up and Coming weren’t more impactful. “The Pixie Game” and “The Cur of County Road Six” are both extremely short stories about kids being kind of awful to each other, and “The Cur” is a particularly ugly.
Alyssa Wong, of course, is definitely on my Campbell ballot, but Isabel Yap and J.Y. Yang are strong contenders for the couple of slots that I still haven’t sorted out yet.