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Witpunk

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Preface by Claude Lalumière and Marty Halpern
‘The Teb Hunter’ by Allen M. Steele
‘Coyote Goes Hollywood’ by Ernest Hogan
‘Spicy Detective #3′ by Jeffrey Ford
‘Auspicious Eggs’ by James Morrow
‘Timmy and Tommy’s Thanksgiving Secret’ by Bradley Denton
‘Savage Breasts’ by Nina Kiriki Hoffman
‘I Love Paree’ by Cory Doctorow and Michael Skeet
‘Arabesques of Eldritch Weirdness #8′ by Jeffrey Ford
‘The Seven-Day Itch’ by Elise Moser
‘The Scuttling or, Down by the Sea with Marvin and Pamela’ by William Sanders
‘A Halloween Like Any Other’ by Michael Arsenault
‘The Lights of Armageddon’ by William Browning Spencer
‘Doc Aggressive, Man of Tin #2′ by Jeffrey Ford
‘Bagged ‘n’ Tagged’ by Eugene Byrne
‘Amanda and the Alien’ by Robert Silverberg
‘Diary from an Empty Studio’ by Don Webb
‘Is That Hard Science, or Are You Just Happy to See Me?’ by Leslie What
‘Six Gun Loner of the High Butte #6′ by Jeffrey Ford
‘Encounter of Another Kind’by David Langford
‘Tales from the Breast’ by Hiromi Goto
‘Science Fiction’ by Paul Di Filippo
‘Mother’s Milt’ by Pat Cadigan
‘Deep Space Adventure #32′ by Jeffrey Ford
‘The Wild Girls’ by Pat Murphy
‘Jumping’ by Ray Vukcevich
‘Kapuzine and the Wolf: A Hortatory Tale’ by Laurent McAllister

As you will realise by now, I have not enjoyed Witpunk. I would go so far as to say that it is one of the worst themed anthologies I have ever read; of the twenty one stories, only three are any good – excluding Jeffery Ford’s brilliant interstitials – and one of those doesn’t belong in the collection in any shape or form. Whole swathes of the book can be dismissed pretty much immediately and as an attempt to prove that SF is still fun it fails abysmally.

I don’t have the strength to go over the stories again in too much detail but I will give a quick overview in terms of the three categories the contributors are grouped into on the back cover.

Award-Winners

In hindsight it was a mistake to gobble up all Ford’s pieces in one sitting as they would have broken up the mediocrity of the rest of the book. Only two of the award-winners – James Morrow and Pat Murphy – actually served up anything decent. Morrow hits the target the editors have set but, as I mentioned, Murphy’s straight-faced coming of age tale doesn’t belong any where near this anthology. As for the rest, well, there aren’t many lows (although I could have done with out Steele and Sanders) but there aren’t any highs either. Despite the fact I know they have good eyes for material, for some reason Lalumière and Halpern just haven’t been able to find any. I can only speculate (lack of cash, lack of time, lack of interest) as to why this may be.

Debutantes

Nor have the two editors been able to uncover any new gems. Elise Moser’s contribution was at least decent, although again not really related to the book’s supposed mission statement. She doesn’t seem to have done much since 2003 but she did have a story picked up for Rich Horton’s Fantasy: The Best of the Year (2007) and she did publish her debut novel this year. Michael Arsenault, on the other hand, hasn’t published anything since his dreadful, disposable debut here.

Satirists

The sort of sardonic stories Lalumière and Halpern are after should be bread and butter for satirists. Unfortunately – with the honourable exception of Laurent McAllister – they struggle too. Denton, Webb, Hogan and What all provide outright stinkers; Byrne and Langford aren’t on the top of the their game; I’ve not read anything else by William Browning Spencer but on the basis of this I’m sure he can do better. This is a very limp bunch of stories, too many contributors have just knocked off a one-note “joke” story that is unable to withstand even brief contact with an actual reader.

Right, I need a break after that. Bah humbug.

Written by Martin

16 December 2009 at 15:23

Posted in books, sf

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‘Kapuzine And The Wolf: A Hortatory Tale’ by Laurent McAllister

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McAllister is the pen name for Jean-Louis Trudel and Yves Meynard, two writers who mostly work in French. This is a shame because I don’t speak French and this is one of the best stories in Witpunk. After everything I have already said about the anthology this is damning with faint praise but ‘Kapuzine And The Wolf’ is a good story fullstop.

It recasts Little Red Riding Hood (and some other more generic fairytale elements) into a post-collapse culture where resource consumption has finally hit the wall. Interestingly it inverts our modern expectations and makes the heroine part of a consumerist enclave, holding out against an environmentalist hegemony – the Gardeners – who want everyone to return to nature. The distrust and disgust Kapuzine feels towards greenery is wonderfully evoked and nicely contrasted against the way she is persuaded to carry out a terrorist mission against the Gardeners on behalf of the Woodcutters; her elder sister promises to let her have her first cigarette even though she isn’t yet 13. This cigarette takes on particular significance when, in the course of executing her mission, she is captured by the Wolves, the genetically-modified secret police of the Gardeners. The torture and imprisonment which follows is when the story is at its most exhortative and moving.

The story in reminescent of Michael Swanwick’s The Iron Dragon’s Daughter in its blending of science fiction and fantasy and, in particular, its juggling of the modes of fairytale, bildungsroman and contemporary literary fiction whilst maintaining a remarkably effective and consistent tone. McAllister adds an extra layer to this by making the story political propaganda within the world of the story itself. Witpunk definitely went out with a bang.

Quality: ****
Wit: ***

Written by Martin

16 December 2009 at 11:53

Posted in sf, short stories

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‘Jumping’ by Ray Vukcevich

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Sweet short short about first love and the fact that yes, you would jump under a bus if she did it.

Quality: ***
Wit: ***

Written by Martin

15 December 2009 at 20:26

Posted in short stories

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‘The Wild Girls’ by Pat Murphy

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Joan moves to a hew housing development on the outskirts of town with her unhappy nuclear family. Playing in the woods outside she meets Sarah, a girl her age who enjoys a more unconventional lifestyle that Joan finds liberating. Their relationship is somewhat strained when the holidays end and they have to go to school where Sarah is the Weird Kid. Joan finds herself straddling two worlds; tame on the outside, wild on the inside. It is actually rather conventional in its endorsement of unconventionality – particularly in its climax where the pair enter a short story competition – but it is charmingly done.

There is absolutely no reason to include a story like this in Witpunk though. Usually with a story like this a genre writer will sneak in one ambiguous scene and try and pass it off as slipstream. Murphy gestures in this direction but doesn’t follow through. She makes no similar figleaf gesture towards humour here so the editors must have just bought it on the grounds they needed anything they could lay their hands on.

Murphy appears to have recently transformed the story into a novel for children which is a much better fit.

Quality: ****
Wit:

Written by Martin

15 December 2009 at 11:12

Posted in short stories

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‘Mother’s Milt’ by Pat Cadigan

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As you might imagine, by this point in Witpunk another punning title was the last thing I wanted to see. I just don’t have the patience for this.

Quality: **
Wit: **

Written by Martin

14 December 2009 at 23:00

Posted in sf, short stories

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‘Amanda And The Alien’ by Robert Silverberg

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This is by far the oldest (and oldest seeming) story in the collection; ‘Amanda And The Alien’ is set datelessly in the future, was originally published in 1983 and is redolent of at least a generation before that. Amanda is your average American teenage girl whose plans for the evening are to “get blasted on her stash of choice powder and watch five or six of her parents’ X-rated cassettes.” The leap from analogue to digital has been so profound that it does make it hard for relatively recent SF written in the previous era to weather the credibility gap. Instead of realising her plans, Amanda instead spots an alien down the mall and takes it home to protect it from the Government. The alien has escaped from a facility where it was being held due to its deadly bodyshifting habit. Amanda recognises that it is an alien and not in fact a young woman because the alien can’t grasp fashion as instinctively as a teen girl:

“Your face paint is San Jose but you’ve got your cheek chevrons put on in the Berkeley pattern.”

Silverberg is a long way from being a teenage girl as well though and I was reminded of the fact that Philip K Dick thought that in the future all women would be topless secretaries with spraypainted breasts. His future is a mix of these unlikely fashions and cultural signifies from the previous decades: the cassettes they listen to are “Abbey Road and a Hendrix one and a Joplin and such” and the alien trips off oregano – “It can really make you fly”. There is a hippy whiff to ‘Amanda And the Alien’ that even in 1983 must have been stale.

The story – such as it is – consists of Amanda teaching the alien the ways of the world, getting it to swap into the body of her duplicitous boyfriend, having sex with it and then getting bored and shopping it to the police. Silverberg’s point is presumably about jaded youth but that is a pretty lame point for a middle-aged man.

Quality: **
Wit: **

Written by Martin

14 December 2009 at 11:46

Posted in sf, short stories

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‘The Lights Of Armageddon’ by William Browning Spencer

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Something of a rarity in that it actually attempts to be funny. Basically it plays Lovecraft for laughs with eldritch ancient ones hidden inside lightbulbs and deadpan stage magicians who can perform real magic:

The Amazing Max shrugged his shoulders. “I believe your precise marital status is incidental to the larger issue – which is the approaching end of civilisation.”

‘The Lights Of Armageddon’ doesn’t actually go anywhere but the fact it even turns the engine on is remarkable in this setting.

Quality: ***
Wit: ***

Written by Martin

14 December 2009 at 10:00

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