Winter In Shorts
(A quarterly-update on my short fiction enjoyment, to replace the monthly updates I completely failed to keep up with last year)
Headline slot this quarter goes to Maureen F McHugh’s After The Apocalypse, a Christmas present from Rach. Stylishly designed with a time-ticking doomy silhouette clock-sunset cover, in each of McHugh’s stories seismic events have stretched the world to breaking point. She unwinds the tales of people living on beyond their own personal apocalypses, letting glimmers of hope emerge in fragile situations. The first story does involve zombies, but from there on in the scenarios become more wide-ranging and imaginative than your usual apocalypse fiction.
Rivka Galchen’s American Innovations was indeed American and perhaps innovative, though on occasions I felt some of it seemed a bit overthought. My favourite story in her collection was the first one, The Lost Order, a brilliant display of a narrator hiding the truth from the reader in plain sight. It probably makes sense to put your best story first, so that readers read on, but then I always feel a bit let down if the rest of the book isn’t as good. What can you do, eh?
Can I recommend Recommended Reading, making it Recommended Recommended Reading, or Recommended² Reading? A (usually long-ish) short story once a week, usually modern North-American writing for which George Saunders / McSweeneys might be a convenient-but-limited reference point. For now, let me pick out – and point you towards – Lebenslügen by Malerie Willens, which I enjoyed muchly as a funny and evocative domestic drama. Also online this quarter, I took interest in Hilary Mantel’s The Assassination Of Margaret Thatcher – August 6th 1983, partly for the story itself, and partly because it’s not very often that short stories make the news.
I downloaded a copy of the 2014 anthology from my favourite international short story prize – Bristol of course – and was delighted to discover that it’s good every year, I didn’t just think it was great in 2013 because I was in it. I had some favourites, like winner Mahsuda Snaith’s The Art Of Flood Survival, Martin Bryant’s Album Review: Thoughts Of Home By We Thought We Were Soldiers and Colter Jackson’s Mountain Goat, but really I enjoyed pretty much all of it.
I’m currently studying a module titled, ‘Technologies In Practice’, and included in the course material was a copy of robot-literature innovator Isaac Asimov’s robot-classic I, Robot. It’s about robots. In some respects, it reads as a little dated – the (human) characters are a bit one-dimensional and some of the dialogue is very stiff – but these stories are really all about the little logical mysteries Asimov sets up, not whodunnits but, whydunnits and what input is needed to rescue the situation.
On the bedside table now is Stanislav Lem’s The Cyberiad, another Christmas present. From the first few stories I would describe him as like a Polish Italo Calvino, but I’ll return a more thorough verdict in the Spring.
Until then, keep wearing shorts.