Everything Is Nice

Beating the nice nice nice thing to death (with fluffy pillows)

Posts Tagged ‘short stories

‘Exhibit H: Torn Pages Discovered In The Vest Pocket Of An Unidentified Tourist’ by Jeff Vandermeer

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Further evidence that Kessel and Kelly equate meta-fiction (and long titles) with slipstream. This is an enjoyable slice from Ambergris that feels pretty slight once divorced from the mosaic motherlode.

Quality: ***
Slipperiness: *

Part of Feeling Very Strange

Written by Martin

15 October 2008 at 15:34

‘Sea Oak’ by George Saunders

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Rubbish satire in which the narrator’s aunt comes back to life for no reason.

Quality: *
Slipperiness: *

Part of Feeling Very Strange

Written by Martin

15 October 2008 at 11:14

‘Al’ by Carol Emshwiller

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Little did I realise then, or I might not have felt so energetic, the hardships I was to encounter here in this strange, elusive never-never land.

Success! I should have started with the first bloody story! This is what I pointed at when I point at slipstream.

Al crashlands in a valley which is a true liminal space, the first we have seen in this collection. His short, pithy paragraphs (as quoted above) are counterpointed by a much more open, winding narrative from one of the natives. But these are not the sort of lost valley natives you would expected from, say, one of Chabon’s pulps. There is a nice low key interplay between the two which becomes deeper and richer and odder as the story progresses.

Quality: ****
Slipperiness: ****

The inclusion of ‘Al’ does raise some questions about Kessel and Kelly’s selection criteria though.They exclude quintessential slipstream writers such as Donald Barthelme on the dubious grounds that they are no longer active (ie dead.) Yet Emshwiller’s story is from 1972, considerably pre-dating Sterling’s coining of the word slipstream, and she was born before Barthelme. Since both writers are clearly working in the same tradition – as are SF contemporaries of Emshwiller such as Damon Knight and Barry Malzberg, according to their introduction – it seems perverse to include one and exclude the others.

Part of Feeling Very Strange

Written by Martin

8 October 2008 at 11:04

‘The God Of Dark Laughter’ by Michael Chabon

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And, once again, precisely zero slipstream on display. This story would be more at home in Chabon’s own anthology, McSweeney’s Mammoth Treasury of Thrilling Tales. In fact this is what the whole anthology (so far) resembles, down to the overlapping list of contributors.

‘The God Of Dark Laughter’ is a fun story enlivened as always by Chabon’s wit but it is very much RUMIR *. Ho hum.

Quality: ***
Slipperiness:

* Yes, this is my new favourite word, what of it?

Part of Feeling Very Strange

Written by Martin

7 October 2008 at 22:48

‘Lieserl’ by Karen Joy Fowler

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This is what I guess you would call speculative biography. (Not that it isn’t all.) Seven pages of nothing. Niall Harrison would have it that:

Despite being set in 1902, the story re-creates its chosen historical moment as seen from the vantage point of its writing. The narrator is clearly a modern woman who knows that Einstein is standing on the brink of the twentieth century, and imagines what it might be like for him to (metaphorically) look down, and what kind of vertigo he might experience.

If I am unimpressed with the idea that slipstream is about stories that make the reader feel very strange I am even less impressed with the idea that it is about stories that don’t make the reader feel very strange but are about Einstein having a bit of a turn.

Quality: *
Slipperiness: *

As an aside Fowler is mentioned in Rosenbaum’s story under the bizarro world pseudonym of Karen Despair Robinson. I am unsure who Howi Qomr Faukota is though.

Part of Feeling Very Strange

Written by Martin

7 October 2008 at 16:29

‘Hell Is The Absence Of God’ by Ted Chiang

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This is one of the two stories in this collection that I’d read previously. It is also pretty much what I would consider to be the anti-thesis of slipstream.

Chiang’s premise is that God exists and Heaven and Hell are empirical facts. From here everything unfolds rationally and rigourously; it is an essentially science fictional mode of storytelling which is in opposition to slipstream with its emphasis on the inexplicable. At the same time though this is very much a story about the inexplicable because what else could God be? Chiang’s story is rational but the acts of the creator are not:

Perhaps, he thought, it’d be better to live in a story where the righteous were rewarded and the sinners were punished, even if the criteria for righteousness and sinfulness eluded him, than to live in a reality where there was no justice at all.

The power and the beauty of the story is in the confrontation of the inexplicable. I can’t see any reason for it to be included in this collection though (and as far as I can tell Kessel and Kelly offer no justification either.)

Quality: ****
Slipperiness: *

Part of Feeling Very Strange

Written by Martin

27 September 2008 at 19:03

‘Biographical Notes to “A Discourse on the Nature of Causality, with Air-Planes,” by Benjamin Rosenbaum’ by Benjamin Rosenbaum

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As the title makes clear, if you want playfully postmodern, Rosenbaum is your guy. In fact it goes beyond playful, it is a massive in-joke. Our narrator is “Benjamin Rosenbaum”, a plausible fabulist, who has just returned from wisconsin, “the World’s Only Gynarchist Plausible-Fable Assembly”. Yeah. It is a clever story but clever in a way that constantly jabs you in the ribs. As a simple adventure story it is fun enough but Rosenbaum’s constant embellishment is rather tiring.

Quality: ***
Slipperiness: **

The whole of Rosenbaum’s debut collection, The Ant King And Other Stories, which includes this story, is available to download under a Creative Commons license. I might say more about it and its clobberingly meta-fictional nature later.

Part of Feeling Very Strange

Written by Martin

19 September 2008 at 11:07