As it turned out, only Kress' story made it on to the list of stand outs. UKL and Kiernan were not on their A games with "Seasons of the Ansarac" and "I Am the Abyss, I Am the Light," respectively, but even their B games are better than most other's best efforts. Eekhout wrote one of my favorite short stories, "Wolves Till the World Goes Down," which I made my English students read in the Mythology unit when I was teaching, but I haven't been impressed by anything I've read of his since. And "Native Aliens" was no exception, being a pedestrian effort about colonialism and the children of colonizer & native.
The gems in this collection were (IMO):
"The Tetrahedron," Vandana Singh. It seems every SF author has to write their enigmatic-object-that-appears-suddenly-one-day story. Norman Spinrad did it in 1964 with "Rules of the Road." Singh's version is one of the better efforts in this subgenre.
"Knapsack Poems," Eleanor Arnason. This is one of the few stories with no human characters, and follows the wanderings of a group-entity alien similar to those in Vernor Vinge's A Fire Upon the Deep.
Gitte Christensen's "Nullipara" is a parable about a daughter and her father & their relationship after the world they've colonized radically changes one of them. As I write this, it occurs to me that a similar parent-child dynamic is played out in "muo-ka's Child" by Indrapramit Das, though her take is more optimistic (sort of).
"My Mother Dancing," by Nancy Kress, is about recognizing life and the obstacle of human prejudices.
I hadn't planned on including Genevieve Valentine's "Carthago Delenda Est" but the more I consider it, the more I'm coming around to thinking this might be the best of the lot. A rather bleak meditation on the intractably self-destructive nature of humans.
Not a full-throated recommendation but you could do worse....more
What if...Anne Shakespeare had followed her husband to London and, posing as his sister, collaborated with him? In fact, being the sole author of manyWhat if...Anne Shakespeare had followed her husband to London and, posing as his sister, collaborated with him? In fact, being the sole author of many of the Bard's greatest works - Othello, Lear, Hamlet, and that Scottish play, among others. That's the premise of Ryan's novel, and she carries it off most of the time. The Secret Confessions is a not wholly implausible, first-person account of Anne and William's marriage, their writing career, and Anne's life as the real genius behind the plays.
I can't recommend it, however. And it's primarily because of the writing, which occasionally rises above the merely competent but not often enough to fully engage me. [In fact, up until about page 75, I was considering dropping this read but then Anne reaches London and the pace quickened for a while.] Ryan does manage to capture several powerful moment's in Anne's life, at which points the writing comes alive. For example, there's a eureka! moment when Anne hands off Romeo & Juliet to WS, who realizes that she's a brilliant author, probably better even than him. Or there's the fraught relationship between Anne and Ben Johnson. But it's broached and concluded within a couple of chapters; the writing then sinks back to "adequate."
For a narrator who's supposedly responsible for this:
To be or not to be - that is the question: Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune Or to take up arms against a sea of troubles And by opposing end them. To die, to sleep No more, and by a sleep to say we end The heartache, and the thousand natural shocks That flesh is heir to. 'Tis a consummation Devoutly to be wished.
the writing should be - well - Shakespearean. Or at least strive for it, but it isn't and I never quite believed the narrator's story. There's a point when Anne is searching the bookstalls of London searching for inspiration and she makes the observation, "Even for recreation's sake, I simply could not abide incompetent writing" (p. 366). Which is close to what I felt while reading much of this novel. Though I wouldn't be so harsh as to say "incompetent." As I mentioned above, the writing is decent. It's fault lies in its flatness.
Ryan is too safe. She takes no chances with her characters or her story. Take the love triangle from the Sonnets. Ryan had a perfect opportunity to make Anne - WS's lover and rival - the Dark Lady but she doesn't. The entire WS-Southampton episode that so exercises many of the Bard's fans today is related as hearsay, and doesn't affect Anne at all nor does it seem to get Shakespeare riled up except for a few vague misgivings about the earl and what his coterie of favorites gets up to.
It's not a bad read and there are moments when it rises to a good one but not enough to make this a favorite among my Shakespeare-related fictions. If you're looking for something better written and more adventurous, I'd recommend Robert Nye's The Late Mr. Shakespeare....more