What an uneven collection. It's not even just the wide variation of quality (although there IS a wide variation in quality), but it seems like the sto...moreWhat an uneven collection. It's not even just the wide variation of quality (although there IS a wide variation in quality), but it seems like the stories chosen have only a glancing association with the ostensible theme. This is particularly notable given the hubris expressed in the introduction that this will be the ur-collection of modern faery tales (Klima goes as far as to imply that it is the ONLY collection of this sort, which is laughable, given that not only are almost all of these stories pulled from other, similar, anthologies, but the vast majority of them have been published in one of the Ellen Datlow/Terri Windling anthologies.) Its also poorly organized, with adjacent stories doing nothing to build or communicate with each other and some stories on the same faery tale are close to each other, while others aren't. The theme is also poorly defined, with some stories being modern interpretations of faery tales, some being retellings without a change in setting, and yet others seem to come from a universe where the words "faery tale" have no meaning.
All of that notwithstanding, there are some excellent stories: -Wil McCarthy's He Died That Day, in Thirty Years is one of those rare pieces: a sci-fi short story that actually is satisfying. It stood on it's own and yet was clearly related to Alice in Wonderland. It was rich and provocative and wholly original. Perhaps particularly remarkable is how every little detail of the story was rich with information.
-Michelle West's The Rose Garden was something that I wanted to hate. I hate Beauty and the Best as the exemplar of the Bad Boy genre -- that horribly insidious, misogynist trope by which women should cleave to cruel, angry men and by their love covert them into some sort of paragon. But The Rose Garden, while not being a full inversion, was raw and honest about its intentions. And, I'm a sucker for platonic romance, so...
-Robert J. Howe's Pinocchio's Diary is terrifying, brutal, and an absolutely fascinating retelling. I loved his exploration of "realness" and bullying and othering. This is faery tale telling at it's best -- using a tale familiar to all of us, to tell a moral familiar to all of us, but to also tell a story that feels real and visceral and to twist it into something new that has a new moral.
There are also some completely AWFUL stories -Howard Waldrop's The Sawing Boys is completely impenetrable. You see it's a modern twist on the faery tale in which a bunch of Yiddish gangsters are finally thwarted by a Klezmer band playing construction equipment. No? No hint of recognition? Maybe it will help if they only speak in roaring twenties slang, which is converted into Pig Latin such that you both have to decrypt every utterance and then further deduce it's meaning based on the glossary at the end of the story? No? Yeah, me neither. Also, apparently Yiddish is the new black in faery tales, as it also seems to infiltrate Leslie What's The Emperor's New (and Improved) Clothes for no clear reason, too.
-Gregory Maguire's The Seven Stage a Comeback, which unfortunately starts this collection, may work as a play, but as written media is completely god-awful. It's impossible to keep the dwarfs straight, as they have no names; only numbers, therefore there is no character development evident.
The rest is mostly pretty cliched and unmemorable. (I do love Neil Gaiman's The Troll Bridge, but I've already read it in a different collection, so it doesn't count)(less)
a fun graphic depiction of the Escapist. It adheres closely to Kavalier & Clay canon. Nothing breathtaking that wasn't done in Kavalier and Clay p...morea fun graphic depiction of the Escapist. It adheres closely to Kavalier & Clay canon. Nothing breathtaking that wasn't done in Kavalier and Clay proper, but a joy to see the story laid out as a real comic.(less)
I haven't read an anthology in several years, so I wasn't sure what to expect in terms on consistency of theme and quality.
Overall, for an anthology...moreI haven't read an anthology in several years, so I wasn't sure what to expect in terms on consistency of theme and quality.
Overall, for an anthology that is looking to branch out beyond genre categories, the stories mesh relatively nicely with each other; although many fail to achieve the intended theme of "and then what happened?" The editing was well done, with the collection laid out in a way the flows, with stories with similar themes placed near each other, but not such that they blur with one another. There's a nice mix of long and short stories that makes the collection readable for long stretches of time. I found most of my favorite stories bunched at the back end, so keep reading if you don't like the beginning too well.
In terms of quality, I felt that most of the stories were well-written, although several were not to my liking.
The introduction by Neil Gaiman is probably the best part of the book. I loved the description of why people read and write fantasy and where fantasy as a genre can let us down. The desire to defy genres is ambitious and motivating.
Blood is a great opening story. It's evocative and plays directly to the "and then what happened" theme. Fossil Figures was not to my liking. It's a kind of generic twin story with some nice turns of phrase, but not much substance. Wildfire in Manhattan on the one hand, Gods are real and they live in cities has been done before and better (by two authors included in this collection, no less.) That being said, if not particularly original, this was still fun. I enjoyed the writing style and the characterizations. There was plenty of really nice imagery. The Truth is a Cave in the Black Mountains Gaiman's contribution to the collection was probably the closest to the intended theme. A very well-written play on the traditional fairy tale of Aladdin's cave of gold. Written in a very traditional folk tale style, but with new takes on the typical folk tale themes. Unbelief A story of an assassin sent to kill a mysterious figure. Went straight in one ear and out the other. This has been done before and done better. I would have lost nothing had this story been excluded completely. The Stars are Falling I hated this one, too. This is the typical story of a WWI veteran who comes home and tries to reconcile with his old life. It was so cliche in plot, tone and writing style and every piece of the plot was telegraphed from the beginning. Instead of "and then what happened?" I felt like "oh, that happened, really? I'm so totally unsurprised." Juvenal Nyx Sometimes, when you read fantasy, the setting is so complex that once author takes so long to set it up, you still don't understand it and you don't care. This story is how to do a complex setting correctly. Very little set up was ever done, but by the end you got the feeling that his world was so complicated and so rich. I wish I could have read whole series in this setting. The Knife This story reminded me a lot of "Blood." More a story-let, it felt like a nice palate cleanser after two relatively long stories; however, it's not something I would reread on its own. Weights and Measures as a sad story about a couple that had lost their daughter, this worked. Picoult excels at writing emotion and this was a very sad, very moving story. As a magical realism piece, this didn't work. The conceit of the magic didn't make sense to me, and it distracted me from the emotions and themes of the piece rather than adding to it. Goblin Lake A beautifully written piece of meta-fiction that nicely explores the relationship between fiction and reality. I found this very insightful on the topics of why we read and why we write. Mallon the Guru The writing in this was so evocative and full of gorgeous imagery. The feeling of mysticism and growing feeling of dread worked their way into every sentence. The story left me more with feelings than with a concrete understanding of the plot (such that I immediately reread the story to make sure I hadn't missed anything.) Catch and Release Another nice twist on a genre -- a story told from the point of view of a reformed serial killer. I found the narrative chilling and fascinating. The analogy of fishing really carried the story. Polka Dots and Moonbeams one part 1920's gangsters, one part...something else. The writing is outstanding; the setting is established impeccably from the first sentence. Although as the reader you never quite figure out what's happening, the feelings of needing to escape, of love and of desperation all come through so clearly that it doesn't really matter. Loser Chuck Palahniuk always writes in the same Chuck Palahniuk genre and this is no exception. Take something banal, such as the Price is Right, and add grit. This was a fun, but superficial, read. Samantha's Diary I was so disappointed by this that I almost don't want to review it. I love Jones. I've read every book she's ever written. I bought this collection because it advertised a new Diana Wynne Jones story. But there's no two ways about it: this story sucked. There was no intrigue, none of the plot twists Jones fans live for and no depth of characterization. It was the saddest thing ever. Land of the Lost Maybe I could have handled this story better had I not been still grieving from Samantha's Diary. As was, this was a trite story about a woman who will find the grave of a serial killer's victim, even though the police have given up. Sound like something you've read about a million times before? Well, that's exactly what it was like. Lief in the Wind On the other hand, this was so fantastic. A completely original science fiction story about a team exploring a new planet and contacting the alien life there. Sound like something you've read a million times before? Well, this was absolutely nothing like all of those others. This started with the beautiful imagery of the "birds that get smaller as they get closer" and built open that with so much metaphor and so much detail of language. The story was also about how to recollect yourself when loved ones die and hope is lost and was gorgeous on that front as well. Unwell This story gets you totally lost in the mind of a toxic woman and you realize too late that although she's toxic there might be something else to the story. I adore stories with untrustworthy narrators and this was done perfectly. A Life in Fictions One of the few stories that felt completely new. Not a twist on a genre, or an old tale with a new spin, but just something new. It's a story about a woman who disappears into her boyfriend's novels when he writes characters based on her and how this affects her life. At a larger level it's about the many facets of self and what we do to integrate them. I really loved this piece. Let the Past Begin A lot of fluff surrounding a middle segment of a beautifully told folk legend. The meat of the story was haunting and so well-described that I could close my eyes and see the fortune teller. But the rest of it was chaff. The Therapist I loved this work. Very soft science fiction about what causes people to lose their tempers mixed with court fiction. I loved the idea of a neme (a contagious feeling of rage). I felt the first part could stand on its own and then loved the twist brought by the second part. Parallel Lines Now this was the twin story that I've been waiting for. At first glance, this is a boring Ouiji board twin-twin communication story. But it's actually so much more. The relationship between the twins and the characterization of each is done beautifully and the exploration of what we do and don't owe other people is unique. The Cult of the Nose This read along the same lines as the Therapist. What of the narrative should the reader choose to believe? The narrative itself was spooky with the sinister members of the Cult of the Nose inevitably showing up amid chaos and destruction. Human Intelligence about an alien spy on earth and the women who finds him out, but also about loneliness and goals and what one should do to achieve them. Stories A fictionalized autobiography of Moorcock. The first half reads like propaganda for the breaking down of genre barriers, which Gaiman had already given us (and better) in the introduction. The remainder, once he gets down to it, is a character-driven piece about love, loss and betrayal that is well done. The Maiden Flight of BellerophonI really enjoyed this while I was reading it for the well-drawn characters and the attention to detail (probably one highlight was a character who was obsessed with the flying machine Bellerophon having written the overly laudatory wikipedia article thereon.) However the plot never really came together for me. The Devil Staircase First of all, the layout (like stairs) is so distracting and not set up correctly with the page breaks. But once I got past that, I found that the central part of the story -- about a man who finds the devil's son, who offers him tempting gifts and who ends up taking a bird who sings when he lies -- interesting and creative. However, the beginning of the story really drags.
Overall, I would say that if, like me, you're picking up this book because you're a Diana Wynne Jones fan, do not do it! Otherwise, this book is totally worth reading for the contributions from Gaiman, Mosley, Swanwick, Ford, Wolfe, Howard, Deaver and Powers, particularly and several other solid entries.(less)
Overall, this was an extremely provocative collection of short-stories. The underlying theme is the goals and dreams that we set for ourselves and how...moreOverall, this was an extremely provocative collection of short-stories. The underlying theme is the goals and dreams that we set for ourselves and how we can be both confined and freed by them. The way that Morris plays with dreams -- both too lofty and not lofty enough -- being captors of the dreamer was a unique take to me, and one I found very compelling.
Many of the stories share features in common aside from the theme: a male, disaffected main character with a distant relationship with his wife and/or kids, a fugue of some sort and occasionally surreal elements. In my opinion, where Morris really soars is his most mundane stories. My favorite in the collection, Camel Light, is merely about a man finding a cigarette in his kitchen. But Morris' honest take on the thought process and the minute ways we fail ourselves was so poignant and truthful. The most surreal stories are also excellent -- some, such as Tired Heart and Cyclist, which start out mundane, but slide increasingly into surrealism are captivating and the theme shines in them. Rockier are some of the stories in the middle, both physically in the middle of the book and in the middle such that they are neither truly realistic, in the most mundane sense, nor fantastical.
By far, the majority of the stories are readable, an interesting and novel take on the theme of dreams and goals and beautifully written.(less)
This memoir of one of the most famous medical examiners is a decent showing. It is immediately clear that Dr. Baden's strength is science, rather than...moreThis memoir of one of the most famous medical examiners is a decent showing. It is immediately clear that Dr. Baden's strength is science, rather than writing -- many of his cases lack a proper setup, climax and/or conclusion and he could stand to add some excitement to his descriptions of his findings.
The two major flaws of this book are length and audience. At approximately 250 pages for a narrative that covers Kennedy, Belushi, Marilyn Monroe, three serial killers, a prison riot, Baden's sundry employment history and several other chapters, each section can only be granted 2-3 pages, which really undermines the richness of the narrative. In terms of Dr. Baden's intended audience, it is simply unclear. He states in his conclusions that one of his intentions is to encourage more medical students to enter the field; however, as a senior medical student, I was untouched by his accounts. The clinical discussion did not occur at a high enough scientific level to intrigue me. At the other extreme, I am doubtful of how interesting this book would be to a purely lay audience -- there are several pages dedicated to the politics of the office of medical examiner, untold descriptions of hyoid bone fractures and petechiae and vitreous fluid, much of which with little explanation. A third drawback is that Unnatural Death is beginning to show its age -- Baden's discussion of the pathophysiology of cirrhosis is outdated and his account of how to prevent SIDS makes no mention of sleeping position, which is now the standard of care.
Nevertheless, Unnatural Death is a quick read and a rare first hand account of the myriad of roles taken on by a medical examiner, from autopsy to crime scene investigation to courtroom. If you can overcome the awkward pacing and uncanny valley between medical text and popular science book, it is certainly worth a read.(less)
Gladwell's writing is captivating and insightful as always; however, What the Dog Saw lacks a unifying theme, in contrast to Gladwell's early books. S...moreGladwell's writing is captivating and insightful as always; however, What the Dog Saw lacks a unifying theme, in contrast to Gladwell's early books. Since one of Gladwell's strengths is the connection of different entities on the basis of shared phenomena, this lack prevents What The Dog Saw from being a true masterpiece. Nevertheless, an enjoyable read.(less)
I simply lacked sympathy for most of these medical students. Medical school is hard; it is demanding and it requires compassion and a love of science....moreI simply lacked sympathy for most of these medical students. Medical school is hard; it is demanding and it requires compassion and a love of science. One of the writers complained how her classmates were shallow for enjoying their science classes and how they didn't care that she didn't have time for poetry, which she claimed was the underlying discipline that drove her to medicine. Whatever made her think that being a doctor and being a poet were the same job is beyond me.
Some of the stories were touching -- a lesbian mother and an older student with sickle cell syndrome both had stories that called to me. But others simply were naive, self-centered and at the end of the day, whiners. The stories were prosaic, although it was clear the authors thought they were insightful and the writing was amateur. (less)