Saturday, May 7, 2011

Catching up on short story commentary

I've fallen way off the pace on my "a short story per day" goal, but here's the latest batch, a bit of a mixed bag of sources and genres.

62. Going For A Beer by Robert Coover, from the March 14, 2011 issue of The New Yorker.  It reads like flash fiction -- if it's over 1,000 words it can't be by much since the story is one magazine page long -- and I'm afraid to say I just didn't get it. A whole life squeezed into one page, it seems to be a treatise on how fast life goes and how we don't really notice or remember most of what we do, but I couldn't figure out if all of this was really happening, or if it was the main character's fever dream after too much beer and a bad one night stand. And I found that, ultimately, I really didn't care what happened to the main character.

63. Silver Blaze
by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, from The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes. I've got a goal of reading all the Holmes stuff in the next year or so (minus the stories I read last year), so I'm picking up the next short story collection. Silver Blaze is a horse-racing related mystery. The titular horse goes missing two nights before a big race, and the trainer is killed. Holmes and Watson come to investigate. I was actually invested in this and was gratified that I figured out the "who" before Holmes revealed it, although I got there a little differently than he did.

64. Fang and Sting by Win Scott Eckert, from The Green Hornet Chronicles  Win Eckert crafts another bit of extended Wold-Newton universe fun, putting the Hornet in a difficult situation: an Asian mastermind is framing the Hornet for crimes he is committing, and claiming to be partnership with the Hornet. Britt Reid and Kato have to figure out who the mastermind is, where to find him, and how to stop the crimes and somewhat clear the Hornet's name. There's also a nice bit at the end that fills in what I suspect is a question that has long bothered Hornet fans. I'm not as well-versed on the Hornet's history as some are, but I appreciated the little nod.

65. Zorro's Rival  by Win Scott Eckert from More Tales of Zorro Likewise, I'm not as well-versed on the history of Zorro as some. (One of these days, I intend to read that collection of original Zorro stories by Johnston McCulley that's been sitting on my bookshelf for ages.)  Once again, Eckert puts together a really fun story about Zorro meeting El Halcon, who also seems to be working for the benefit of the downtrodden people Zorro usually helps. There are the usual Eckert Wold-Newton winks and nods; I'm sure I didn't pick up on all of them. Eckert captures all of the chivalrous derring-do we associate with Zorro thanks to the tv series.

66. If Only To Taste Her Again by E. Catherine Tobler, from Historical Lovecraft.  I was intrigued by the concept of the anthology: extending the themes and background of Lovecraft's Chthulu Mythos beyond early 20th century New England. I found out about the anthology through Tobler's LJ ([info]greygirl ) so I read her story first. Set in Ancient Egypt, it hits all the right Lovecraftian notes: a hapless human who slowly becomes aware of the creeping oddness and insanity surrounding him, lots of sensory detail and that feeling that reality has shifted under the narrator's, and the reader's, feet. Returning from a diplomatic mission to a far-away land, the narrator knows that something is not right with the gifts he has brought back for Pharoah Hatshepsut but can't quite vocalize what is wrong. This might be one of my favorite "new Lovecraft" stories ever.

67. The Yellow Face by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, from The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes.  Watson starts out this tight little story by noting that it describes one of the few times when Holmes' deduction about a case was wrong. A married man comes to Holmes for advice on the gap that has grown between him and his wife. The hints are all laid out in the man's story, to the point where I (who have never read this story before) called the conclusion ... and yet Holmes gets it wrong. Perhaps Doyle was trying to prove something about his character, but it seems odd to me that this relatively simple case is one of the few where Holmes is wrong ... he not only makes deductions based on what's he's told without investigating in person but  he also ignores his own oft-stated maxim about not jumping to conclusions before all the evidence is in. I have to say, while I liked the story's flow, I took no joy in outsmarting The Great Detective.

68. Jefferson's West by [info]jaylake , from Boondocks Fantasy. For this anthology of "urban fantasy gone rural," Jay Lake goes not just rural but remote and historical. What if there was more to the Lewis and Clark expedition than just finding the west coast? What if at least one of the team leaders had a secret agenda? And what if President Jefferson had a premonitory dream about it?  Lots of what-ifs that could fill an entire novel. Lake gives us an intriguing story and strong character work in both Lewis and Clark. I won't spoil the twist, but I can say I didn't see it coming (despite well-laid hints) and was pleasantly surprised. I'd actually love to see Jay turn this into a novel (if he hasn't turned into a longer story already).

69. Things To Know About Being Dead by Genevieve Valentine from Teeth: Vampire Tales. Valentine gives us the tale of a young girl who dies in a car crash and comes back as a vampire, as per the traditional Asian myths about where vamps come from and how they behave. This is a side of vampire lore we don't see often -- the focus is usually on the European version.  The main character's voice is authentic, and her confusion and anguish really comes through ... as does the personality of her grandmother (despite having very little dialogue) and the other major character who appears. A quiet but really satisfying story for the lead-off spot in an [info]ellen_datlow & Terri Windling anthology.

70. Herman Wouk Is Still Alive by Stephen King, from the May 2011 issue of The Atlantic.  Right after I read this story, I tweeted: "Devastating. Beautiful and Horrific."  And days later, I stand by that. You know from the get-go that this is a story about a car accident, and you're pretty positive you know how it's going to end. But the short journey to that place is emotional and beautifully rendered.  The story also has a bit of that old "road disaster tv movie of the week" feel -- we meet several characters whose lives will intersect at the fateful moment, but King puts his own emotional stamp on the trope. And, for those who say "I can't read King  because I'm not into supernatural stuff," this is one of his stories that has not even a hint of the ghosty-vampy stuff. It's just a good, solid, punch-to-the-gut story that I can't stop thinking about.