Sunday, July 31, 2011

2011 Stories 94 - 107

All of the following appear in WILDE STORIES 2011, edited by Steve Berman from  Lethe Press: (Slightly more in-depth thoughts than in the review of the book itself)

94. Love Will Tear Us Apart by Alaya Dawn Johnson A zombie-like boy, the new student in town, falls in love with a troubled jock whose father is an ex-government agent. Will love conquer all? Not one of my favorite stories in the collection, but still not a bad one. Johnson's storytelling style is fine, but something about the story just didn't totally click for me (and I wish I could put a more precise finger on why).

95. Map of Seventeen by Christopher Barzak I first read this story last year in Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling's YA fantasy anthology The Beastly Bride, and really enjoyed it. The female teen narrator is not sure what to make of her older brother's new boyfriend when they come home for a visit -- what secrets is the boyfriend keeping?

96. How To Make Friends in Seventh Grade by Nick Poniatowski  The story is a coming-of-age drama set against an "alien invaders are watching us" backdrop. It works very well because of the authenticity of the narrator, who reminded me quite a bit of Kevin from The Wonder Years if he'd had a crush on Paul instead of Winnie and been unable to express it. A quietly moving story.

97. Mortis Persona by Barbara A. Barnett  is also moving, a tale of love cut short by death and how both the departed and the left behind deal with it. There's a tinge of horror that is highly effective, but again it's the human emotions that make the story. I loved the conceit of the death-masks used to retain the spirits of the departed and the actors used to let those spirits speak during the funerals of family members.

98. Mysterium Tremendum by Laird Barron Possibly my favorite story in the collection. I described it in a tweet as "Lovecraft meets Danielewski." I'd like to expand on that a bit: Barron, in his own style, evokes the best of Lovecraft's stories -- the focus on human characters chancing upon physical manifestations of the great unknown -- but the tone and pace of the story put me almost immediately in mind of Mark Z. Danielewski's The House of Leaves. That novel is not perfect, but what lingers with me years after reading it is the sense of what I can only call "claustroagoraphobia." Barron's story (and Danielewski's) makes me feel tense because spaces that shouldn't be vast and endless (say, a cave hidden in a hillside) suddenly are, and spaces that should feel wide open (hiking trails in the Pacific Northwest) feel tight and threatening. For this story alone, pick up this collection.

99. Oneirica by Hal Duncan  I'll admit I struggled with this.  We all know I have problems with poetry, and this story absolutely is poetic not just in tone but in word choice and the way it circles around itself. There were portions of it I liked, but I think I might have missed the point in it somewhere along the line. But even this story I can't say was "bad," just that it didn't work for me as well as most of the others.

100. Lifeblood by Jeffrey A. Richter At first bluch, this story shares some commonality with Johnson's lead-off story, despite the fact that they don't share a plot or even similar characters outside of the fact that in both cases the narrator is a supernatural predator and the story is about unexpected love throwing that predator off his game. I think I liked this story a little better, but that might just be my preference for vampires over zombies giving a slight prejudice to my reading.

101. Waiting For The Phone To Ring by Richard Bowes feels like it wants to be a novel. Despite a first-person narrator with a limited focus, there's a lot going on here, with nods to the Beat Generation, 70s rock-band hedonism, random folks with the ability to see into others' souls, and a not-quite-demonic human manipulator pulling the strings in the past that lead to heartache and distant relationships in the present. I suspect I'd have enjoyed it more if it were longer. Again, good, but not quite great for me because of that feeling that too much was going on and yet too much was being left out.

102. Blazon by Peter Dube I thought I'd dislike this story because it starts with a bit of a pretentious (to me) first line: "I am a metaphor." I'm glad I kept reading, because the story moves out of that tone very quickly and becomes a series of vignettes about a young man attempting to control his passions for all the wrong reasons. Worth a read if you can get past that first paragraph.

103. All The Shadows by Joel Lane  was another moving story and didn't end the way I expected it to. That's a compliment. I really thought I knew where it was going, so I was pleasantly surprised when I found I'd got it wrong. The end of the story actually made me tear up a bit. The narrator's voice, again, is authentic.

104. The Noise by Richard Larson  I'm always going on about how I'm not really a zombie-story fan (my love for Mira Grant's Newsflesh books notwithstanding), so it's probably not a surprise that this is one of my least favorite stories in the collection. It's not a bad story, and there's a nice revelation at one point that pulls it neatly out of the realm of your typical zombie tale, but as much as I wanted to relate to the narrator (especially after the reveal, poor guy), I just couldn't come to like him enough to be concerned for him or his friends.

105. How To Make A Clown by Jeremy C. Shipp Shipp's work is always a bit "out there," and this story is no exception. Folks who have been with the community awhile know I liked the story -- and may remember that I even suggested that Steve Berman take a look at it for inclusion in an anthology. I'm glad he did! This story, which I originally read in the ARC of Shipp's Fungus of the Heart, makes my brain hurt, but in a good way.

106. Beach Blanket Spaceship by Sandra McDonald This story is maybe the closest to hard-sf we get in the book. I liked it because it melds a trope situation (captain of spaceship finds himself trapped in a dream-like world while his ship is in danger) and melds it with 1950s-60s teen surfer movies. I mean, what's not to love about a combination like that which also works in unrequited love and artificially intelligent computer-generated lifeforms?

107. Hothouse Flowers by Chaz Brenchley  I'm a fan of pulp and Victorian sleuths, so I also really enjoyed this homage to Stoker and Doyle in style (but is also entirely Brenchley's own tale). The narrator has traveled the world and doesn't really expect to either fall in love or find the evils of the greater world present when he returns home to England. I'd enjoy further adventures of Messrs. Furnival and Alshott investigating the outre. They'd be a fine addition to the greater Wold-Newton Universe, as well.

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