I’m delighted to see the single author collection returning as a literary form, for it’s immensely easier, not to mention more satisfying, to find if not all then surely the best of an author’s short fiction output all in one place. Here are four luminous examples:
Starlings, by Jo Walton
Jo Walton is not only an amazing novelist, but she is an accomplished poet. I’m always in awe of writers who can do both well. I settle into writing a novel with ease, but whenever I need a poem or song lyrics, it’s like pulling hen’s teeth for me to create anything serviceable. Yet poetry seems to flow from Walton with ease, if the poems she has posted on her LiveJournal are an example. Starlings offers both, plus the script of a hilarious play, Three Shouts on a Hill.
One of the many things I loved about this collection was Walton’s comments on the process of writing short fiction (as opposed to longer-form novels). It’s been said that novels teach us what to put in a story and short stories teach us what to take out. Short stories are not truncated novels, at least not good ones, ones that work. They’re like tiny gems, focused and spare. In and out, nailing the ending. Not surprisingly, Walton’s short stories are as personal as her other work. Deceptively subtle, they evoke depths of connection and emotional impact.
This book would make a wonderful gift for someone you care for, someone who would love words like this:
Hades and Persephone
You bring the light clasped around you,
I knew you’d bring it, knew it as I waited,
Knew as you’d come that you’d come cloaked in light
I had forgotten what light meant, and so
This longed for moment, so anticipated,
I stand still, dazzled by my own delight.
The Overneath, by Peter S. Beagle (Tachyon)
My children introduced me to the works of Peter S. Beagle through, of course, The Last Unicorn. I proceeded to delve into his other work (A Fine and Private Place, and so forth), and had the opportunity to “talk shop” with him on the lawn outside the reception at one World Fantasy Convention. Over the years, I’ve come across his wonderful short fiction, most notably a story in which the late, much missed Avram Davidson takes the author for a wild and woolly chase through alternate dimensions (the “overneath” of the title).
Over the decades, unicorns have populated Beagle’s stories. I reviewed his novella, In Calabria, here. The Overneath features a number of different traditional versions, including a dangerously nasty Persian beastie. The tales range from sweetly romantic to surreal to horrific (a spine-chilling aquarium), all expertly crafted with wonderful characters and powerful authorial voice.
The Emerald Circus, by Jane Yolen (Tachyon)
I’m not sure what I can say by way of introduction to Jane Yolen, recipient of SFWA’s Damon Knight Memorial Grand Master Award, as well as uncounted other awards, that has not already been said. My children grew up on Sleeping Ugly, Owl Moon, and Commander Toad in Space, and I came of age as a writer with Sister Light, Sister Dark, Briar Rose, and The Devil’s Arithmetic.
This current collection, the latest of many, showcases Yolen’s brilliant capacity for taking characters and situations, even worlds, and turning them literarily on their heads. Whether it’s Emily Dickinson sailing away on a starship made of light or Wendy organizing a labor strike in Neverland, or the real story of Disraeli and Queen Victoria, Yolen twists the old tales in innovative, delightful ways. I look forward to many more of her stories, short and long.
Telling the Map, by Christopher Row (Small Beer Press)
This collection of loosely related short pieces follows the deterioration and transformation of society over time and environmental collapse. The farther from the present, the weirder and more wildly imaginative the technology and society. Most have been previously published, but the final one is original.
Although my favorite story was the first, “The Contrary Gardener,” as much about free will as agriculture, I loved this passage from “The Voluntary State,” which captures much of the sensibility of the collection:
But today, after his struggle up the trail from the each, he saw that his car had been attacked. The driver’s side window had been kicked in.
Soma dropped his pack and rushed to his car’s side. The car shied away from him, backed to the limit of its tether before it recognized him and turned, let out a low, pitiful moan.
“Oh, car,” said Soma, stroking the roof and opening the passenger door, “oh, car, you’re hurt.” Then Soma was rummaging through the emergency kit, tossing aside flares and bandages, finally, finally finding the glass salve.
Rowe’s beautifully crafted, emotionally literate stories are worthy of re-reading and savoring.