Archive for October 2014
So, it is that time of year again. Or rather it was a month ago; I missed the actual anniversary of this blog which is probably symptomatic of its gentle decline. DOn’t get me wrong, I still enjoy blogging – to some extent I need blogging – but a lack of time and energy and the immediacy of Twitter mean I do it a lot less. As this year’s top ten shows, Everything Is Nice does still provide two valuable services: helping (or otherwise) students and feeding the awards beast.
1) Woman On The Edge Of Time – Marge Piercy is assigned in college. (Up six places from last year)
2) ‘Nine Lives’ by Ursula K LeGuin – Ursula K LeGuin is assigned in college. (Non-mover)
3) Why I Think Author Eligibility Posts Are Selfish, Destructive And Counter-Productive – Talking awards. Negative. (New entry)
4) The Heroes by Joe Abercrombie – Joe Abercrombie is a very popular writer. (Down one place)
5) Hugo Nominations: Best Fan Writer – Talking awards. Positive. (New entry)
6) Elementary – Mark C Newton is a very nice writer. (New entry)
7) A Game Of Two Halves – Talking awards. Half positive, half negative. (New entry)
8) Epic Fantasy Vs Sword & Sorcery – Perhaps a suggestion that there is insufficient critical writing about epic fantasy out there? (Down three places)
9) ‘The Star’ by Arthur C Clarke – Arthur C Clarke is assigned in college. (Non-mover)
10) ‘Selkie Stories Are For Losers’ by Sofia Samatar – Sofia Samatar is a very good writer. (New entry)
Last year, in order to make nominations for awards, I relied on other people reading extensively and making recommendations. This yea, I thought maybe I should do some of the hard work. So I’ve just read the first six months of Beneath Ceaseless Skies which I picked because it gets less coverage than some of the other online magazines, I appreciate its specific remit and I’ve clicked with their stories before. Turns out that the three best stories published were from the usual suspects:
- ‘The Bonedrake’s Penance’ by Yoon Ha Lee
- ‘Golden Daughter, Stone Wife’ by Benjanun Sriduangkaew
- ‘Women In Sandstone’ by Alex Dally MacFarlane
If you are looking for award fodder, these are the ones to read and I think the Lee is the best. But whilst it is obviously no bad thing that this generation of young, talent writers are regularly turning out high quality work, all three stories share a mythic, poetic tone that is quite a way from the magazines strapline of “Literary Adventure Fantasy” and could easily have appeared in other magazines such as Strange Horizons. As well as this type of story, what I also want from BCS is the best sort of epic fantasy novel condensed into short form. The beginning of the year saw a trio of strong core genre stories that nearly fit the bill and I’d particularly recommend the Austin:
- ‘Atonement’ by Alec Austin
- ‘The Year Of The Silent Birds’ by Siobhan Carrol
- ‘The Face In The Window’ by Brian McClellan
I’d also love to see a really well-executed pulp appear in BCS. Sadly the two pulp pastiches present, ‘Sweetwater Notion And The Hallelujah Kid’ by KC Ball and ‘The Goddess Deception’ by Dean Wells, are almost fun but ultimately fall flat on their faces (Wells has another much worse story in another issue).
Reading the stories in one go also makes it easy to identify two editorial weaknesses. Firstly, a fondness for Americana. Partially this is just a matter of taste as I really don’t care for it but I do think the bar is set a bit lower for these stories just because they scratch an editorial itch. ‘Engine Song’ by Nathaniel Lee and ‘The Use And The Need’ by M. Bennardo are truly terrible (although Lee has a much better story in another issue). Secondly and more fundamentally, far too many of these stories are just too short. This isn’t necessarily a question of word count but rather that they are simply slices of larger stories. Time after time, stories either stop abruptly or reach the next, non-existent, chapter. Short fiction is hard and making a satisfactorily self-contained story is hardest of all.