Friday, January 10, 2003

Cemetery Dance #40

Andy Duncan has a great story, "The Big Rock Candy Mountain," in the most recent edition of the Bard's College literary anthology, Conjunctions #39 (which, if you're a fan of literary genre stuff, you should buy and read right now--Kelly Link, John Crowley, and Karen Joy Fowler are just a few of the many great writers represented besides Duncan). Duncan's story "Provenance" in this issue of Cemetery Dance is not that story. This is a story about a man who recovers a Renoir painting stolen from his family by the Nazis. There's a lot of exposition here, and then a revelation, and then the end. It's not a bad story, but it doesn't have much emotional impact it wants to have, because it's so short. Perhaps the horrors of the Holocaust which are invoked here should be enough to give weight to what happens, but on the more myopic level of the protagonist, I feel nothing. If I knew why it didn't work I'd have more publications, but my gut feeling is that it needed to be a bit longer.

"Solitaire" by Kathryn Ptacek is something of the same. A ghost story where the living are the ones doing the haunting, it has a genuinely creepy ending but takes too long getting there.

"Losing It" by Mark Morris is the best of the stories I read in this volume. This post-mortem of a relationship, and the bizarre transformation which follows, the best things about it are its non-sequitur beginning, its puzzling end and the two terrifying ambulance drivers in the middle. The self-absorption of the protagonist is a bit overwritten and the references at times too cute, but overall this is one is a good ride. Recommended.

Talebones Issue #25, Fall 2002

I'm quite merciless when it comes to short fiction. This is not to say that I'm a terribly harsh critic (I'm not a critic, for one thing, but more on that in a second). What I mean is that unless the story is by an author I know and trust (or if they're Nemonymous, but that's a separate entry), or the story grabs me in the first couple of paragraphs, I won't read it. I have too much stuff to read to plow through every single story. This means that I will not comment on every story. This doesn't mean that the stories I don't comment on are bad--remember, I didn't read them, so I can't speak to their quality. I just skipped 'em, possibly because I was cranky or hungry (often the one feeds into the other). Sometimes, because I am a writer myself with a meager amount of publications to my credit, I skip stories simply because I'm bitter. Hey, I'm not without pettiness. Sorry 'bout that.

So, I am not a critic. You didn't pay to come here, right? Nope. I'm putting this up here because my reading journal was starting to bore me, so I thought I'd type the entries into the black hole of the web.

By the way, if anyone is actually reading this and I don't comment on your story, and you care what I think, email me and I'll go back and read it and say something. It might not be nice, but I'll say something.

So, with the disclaimer out of the way, on to the latest issue of Talebones. This'll be short; I only read two of these stories. The first, "The Ulti Mate" by Jerry Oltion, has a vaguely interesting premise--that there is magic in the world, but the amount any individual may wield is inversely proportional to the number of people in the world--but does very little with it. I've liked some of Mr. Oltion's stories, but this is not one of them.

The second story is Jay Lake's "Tall Spirits, Blocking the Night." Full disclosure: I am aware that Mr. Lake is co-editor of the wonderful Polyphony, so it's possible that I may be kissing up to him in hopes that he will buy one of my stories, but I was impressed with this short and chilling tale of psychological horror, with a truly spooky and yet oddly uplifting ending.