The two-star rating is an average of the four long short stories (short novellae?) gathered in this collection.
"Goddess at the Crossroads," written byThe two-star rating is an average of the four long short stories (short novellae?) gathered in this collection.
"Goddess at the Crossroads," written by Kevin Hearne and part of his Iron Druid series, is a bland, forgettable, not-well-written tale about the narrator's encounter with Shakespeare and the real-life witches who inspired the Scottish play. I've seen Hearne's name before but if this story is a reflection of his writing style, I'm not going to be seeking out any more of his work.
The same is true about the second entry, Laura Bickle's "Ashes." The writing is bland, the characters uninteresting, and there's nothing to recommend it to the reader.
The last two entries save the collection. The quality of writing and the interest I took in the characters in both stories are like night and day compared to the first two tales. Aliette de Bodard's "The Death of Aiguillon" is set in the world of her novel The House of Shattered Wings but it's a standalone and the reader doesn't need to know about the Fallen or the circumstances of war-ravaged Paris to enjoy this story about a woman who realizes that the price for comfort and security is sometimes too much to pay. A similar theme pervades Jacqueline Carey's "One Hundred Ablutions." I'd be hard pressed to say which one I liked more; both are pretty good.
I can't recommend purchasing this book but if you see it at the library or in a used-book store, you might consider it for the last two stories' sake....more
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
A rather lackluster collection of stories. None stood out, though none were unreadable. If you have a favorite author among the collected, you'll probA rather lackluster collection of stories. None stood out, though none were unreadable. If you have a favorite author among the collected, you'll probably like their entry; otherwise, I didn't find anyone I'd seek out to read more of their work....more
None of the stories in this collection make much of an impression. And many of them haven't aged well.
The most cringe-worthy being "The Indian SpiritNone of the stories in this collection make much of an impression. And many of them haven't aged well.
The most cringe-worthy being "The Indian Spirit Guide," where one can read dialog like:
"Me Little Hatchet." "I come to warn. Evil here. Heap plenty. Enemy." "He no believe. He no want truth. He want to make trouble, boast and lie. Spirits know. Spirits hate. Spirits send me to warn."...more
I learned about this book from a review in either the New York Review of Books or the London Review, I can’t remember, but the article made the authorI learned about this book from a review in either the New York Review of Books or the London Review, I can’t remember, but the article made the author sound intriguing and I purchased a copy.
Usually, when I review a short-story collection, I run down the stories in it, giving the plots and the good and bad points about them. That’s really not possible in this case. As another reviewer astutely pointed out, there’s precious little plot to any of them and they’re better described as intensely realized moments in the narrators’ lives. But those moments are vivid and stick in your mind, even if you’re not sure what Ullmann is trying to say.
It may be best to give several examples of Ullmann’s style (in translation). The first is the opening paragraph of “The Country Road”:
Summer, but a younger summer than this one; the summer back then was no more than my equal in years. True, I still wasn’t happy, not happy to my core, but I had to be in the way that everyone is. The sun set me ablaze. It grazed on the green knoll where I sat, a knoll with an almost sacred form, where I had taken refuge from the dust of the country road. Because I was weary. I was weary because I was alone. This long country road before and behind me … The bends that it made around this knoll, the poplars – even heaven itself could not relieve it of its bleakness. I was ill at ease, because just a short way into my walk, this road had already dragged me into its misery and squalor. It was an uncanny country road. An all-knowing road. A road reserved for those who had been, in some way, left alone. (p. 3)
Or the beginning of “The Old Man”:
The value of our existence is by no means always a function of its weight. On the contrary, because our fate alone is frequently too light, there are stones, as it were, that we take on as counterweights. And the way that people use them … Some heap these stones upon what is dearest to them on this earth. And others have claimed that they had to swallow them. Ah yes, I know people who look as if they had swallowed stones. (p. 63)
Or the ending of “The Christmas Visit”:
How well joy has equipped us, endowing us with hearing, sight, and taste, indeed, with basic things, simple, pure life, traveling a path that it must travel anyhow. And yet joy is like a flowering tree, or like winter twigs covered in snow, or like the bare contours of late autumn. It does with us what it will, indeed, many things… (p. 97)
And in even the happiest stories (like “The Hot Air Balloon”) there’s a profound sense of melancholia.
The Country Road is not to everyone’s taste but if you like Chekhov, you may like Ullmann....more