Thursday, June 16, 2011

More Short Story Thoughts

I'm back!  I've been juggling too many balls the past few months -- reading short stories has suffered, and thus so has my attention to this community.  I'm going to use this as a catch-up post, so my thoughts may not be as in-depth as usual, but hopefully this will get me back on the horse!

All of the following stories are from TEETH: Vampire Tales, edited by [info]ellen_datlow and Terri Windling. I reviewed the first story in the collection,[info]glvalentine's Things to Know About Being Dead, in a previous post.  So I'm picking up with story #2....

71. All Smiles by Steve Berman   I was recently lamenting the fact that there don't seem to be any Harry Dresden-style urban fantasy series with a gay private investigator at the center. This doesn't quite fit the bill either, but it's the closest I've come in a while. Berman's young Saul is a character I'd like to see more of, and I can easily see him, in adulthood, growing into a Dresden-like character. First, of course, he has to survive his teens. He's flawed, he's in a difficult situation ... but he's also an honest character who knows he's not perfect and tries to find solutions to his situation that won't make it worse. I absolutely hope Steve will write more stories of Saul and his encounters with the supernatural world.

72. Gap Year by Chrisopher Barzak   Vampires are the impetus for this story but not the focus. The two female main characters have been best friends forever, but when vampires come to speak out at their school, will their relationship stand the strain of differing opinions? I could definitely relate to growing apart from a friend over a guy.

73. Bloody Sunrise by Neil Gaiman   Another short, beautiful poem by Gaiman. I always feel awkward commenting on poetry.

74. Flying by Delia Sherman   Sherman asks the eternal question: if you were terminally ill, what would you do to stay alive? A young girl's circus aerialist career (and thus, the career of her parents) is cut short by illness. She convinces her parents to take a break from the monotony of home life by going to see an old-fashioned traveling show.  As a cancer survivor, I really felt for the lead character and understood (even if I didn't agree with) the choices she makes.

75. Vampire Weather by Garth Nix    A number of the stories in this anthology take place in timelines where vampires are an acknowledged (and accepted, in some cases) subset of society. Garth goes in a different direction: society knows vampires are real -- but normal humans can get vaccinated against them. Unless, of course, you're a part of an Amish-like culture like the hero of this story. Like Flying and Gap Year, what makes this story work is that the author concentrates on real-world emotional issues (in this case, not fitting in with your family) and allows the vampire angle to add dimension to the story.

76. Late Bloomer by Suzy McKee Charnas   Everyone wants to fit in somewhere. The protagonist of Charnas' story just wants to be as creatively talented as the rest of his family, but he just can't seem to get it right. Then he becomes the temporary thrall of a vampire / antique collector passing through town. Will the experience open up his creativity or stifle it further? And will he survive the experience to find out? There's a decent amount of suspense that kept me moving even when I felt the main character was getting a bit whiny about his lot in life.

77. The List of Definite Endings by Kaaron Warren   It's natural that the concepts of vampirism and the terminally-ill go together well. What I'm thankful for is that each of the authors who touch on the combination in this anthology do it differently.  Warren's story looks at the terminally-ill from a vampire's perspective, and also touches on her relationship with a man who has continued to age while she's stayed young. It's a very bittersweet tale, in my opinion, and very well done.

78. Best Friends Forever by Cecil Castellucci   Another tale of vampires and the terminally-ill, this time looking at the possibilities for friendship between the two, and what might draw two such individuals together before they even know each others' secrets. For some reason, I had a harder time relating to the characters in this story, but even so the very end made me tear up.

79. Sit the Dead by Jeffrey Ford   Like Steve Berman's tale, Ford's introduces us to a possible male Buffy The Vampire Slayer, but with a couple of neat twists that I don't want to spoil. Ford's action sequences are possibly the most actually action-filled in this anthology. It's a nice break from the stories that are more introspective and relationship-based, and as such it is perfectly placed at the mid-point of the book. I went back and reread the action sections, that's how much fun I had with them.

80. Sunbleached by Nathan Ballingrud   I hope Mr. Ballingrud takes this comment as the compliment it's intended to be: halfway through reading this story, I stopped to make sure I hadn't put down TEETH and picked up my copy of 'SALEM'S LOT instead.  This is a throwback to what vampires were meant to be: not eternally-suffering lovers or sympathetic foils, but downright EVIL predators.  I could see the ending coming, kept hoping I was wrong, and couldn't stop reading until I got to the end. Again, perfectly placed near the mid-point of the book. The Ford, Ballingrud and Koja stories are so different from what precedes them that they can't help but shine.

81. Baby by Kathe Koja    Another very different look at how vampires relate to the mortal world. The actual vampire in this story never says a word, but the narrator's words are more than enough to convey a very skin-crawling icky feeling about the symbiotic relationship between vampire and narrator. I wanted to look away but couldn't.

82. In The Future When All's Well by Catherynne M. Valente    In a world where turning into a vampire is almost as easy as sneezing or having a black cat cross your path, how would it feel to watch your friends turn and not turn yourself?  It's no secret I love most of Cat Valente's work, and she doesn't let me down here.  I could feel the main character's denial turned ambivalence turned ache. Wonderfully done.

83. Transition by Melissa Marr  Not a bad story, but not one of my favorites. Marr questions the rules for vampires siring other vampires, and asks a good question: what if you couldn't directly harm the vampire who turned you, but you could no longer stand to be in that person's presence? To what lengths would you go?  A good concept, but the story suffers a little bit from what feels like an inconsistent tone. Still, I was intrigued enough to keep reading.

84. History by Ellen Kushner  Kushner asks another question that authors of vampire fiction (and tales of other immortals, like the Highlander) should have long-since asked: if you could live virtually forever, would you really want to remember all of the history you experience?  Telling the story at a remove (through the eyes of a human girlfriend rather than the eyes of the ages-old vampire) gives the story a quiet quality. The characters' May-December relationship also feels very real.

85. The Perfect Dinner Party by Cassandra Clare & Holly Black    Sibling rivalry doesn't go away just because you're both undead. Clare and Black craft an interesting story that leaves much unsaid but chugs along with a strong sense of detail while attempting to reconcile the Victorian image of vampires with the modern day romantic image. It's an experiment that mostly works despite the narrator's initial snobbish delivery.

86. Slice of Life by Lucius Shepard    When you've got a reputation, even the undead want to take advantage of you. As with most of the successful stories in this anthology, Shepard concentrates on character first -- a poor girl with something of an out-of-control mother who is just trying to find her way in the world -- and then takes things into the supernatural realm by making the girl's would-be rescuer a vampire. Again, nicely done.

87. My Generation by Emma Bull  Another nice poem with some beautiful language.

88. Why Light? by Tanith Lee  Another author who never fails to impress.  If Nathan Ballingrud's story reminded me of 'Salem's Lot, then Lee's story reminds me of Octavia E. Butler's Fledgling. What if hidden vampire societies were working towards breeding young who could survive, and perhaps even thrive, in sunlight?  Lee's story takes a slightly different direction than Butler's, and while shorter still manages to touch on ideas Butler's didn't. Still, I'd say they are excellent companion pieces, and that this story is a great choice to end the anthology with. I'd love to see Lee expand this into a longer piece, or return to this world in other stories.

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