Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Shimmer #18

VanderMeer, Ann, Shimmer Number Eighteen, Salt Lake City: Shimmerzine Press, February 2014


Shimmer website
Shimmer 18 at Goodreads

Overall rating: 7/10


Guest-edited by illustrious editor Ann VanderMeer, the eighteenth Shimmer is to this date my favourite, featuring an eclectic octave of superior modern genre fiction. As though taking my comments on Shimmer 17 into consideration, its follow-up features the diversity in story content and writing I felt was absent in recent issues, as well as the lengthier stories I was suggesting. Eighteen also includes more graphic violence, though in appropriate context. This includes back-to-back stories featuring splitting heads, which works nicely alongside two stories that employ the word "fragments." There is less fantasy in a good sense, and instead a healthy combination of fantasy, science fiction and psychological horror.

Add to this a great cover (and related back cover) by Kurt Huggins.


In the Broken City by Ben Peck     7/10
In the Broken City our narrator is waiting to be released from the hospital after voluntary amputation of a healthy leg. Here he meets and quickly falls for nurse Lily. In the Broken City inhabitants are incomplete without actually being debilitated. The mystery is neatly wrapped up, and the Broken City looms large, as though it were harbouring other tales itching to be told.


The Birth of the Atomic Age by Rachel Marston     6/10
A fourth person telling of atomic tests in the (Nevada) desert and its mutative effects. A neat semi-apocalyptic fiction set in the recent historic past.


Psychopomp by Ramsey Shehadeh     5/10
While recovering some souls, a semi-wayward, comparatively sensitive demon has his age-old morals challenged by a challenging young soul. While I like fuzzy morals, the characters, demonic and mortal, are not interesting enough, and unlike "In the Broken City," the narrative invests too much in its world rather than allowing its characters to bring their world to the foreground. (In all fairness, though, "Psychopomp" is dealing with two worlds.)


Introduction: The Story of Anna Walden by Christine Schirr     6/10
Dealing with stark loneliness and offering some disturbing images, this pseudo-psychological study with footnotes manages nonetheless at times to charm and amuse. This is the almost genreless psychological satirical horror story of the bunch. The pseudo-academic story with footnotes is not uncommon (comes to mind is Ashley Stokes's great "A Short Story about a Short Film" from Unthology 1).


Anuta Fragment's Private Eyes by Ben Godby     7/10
Anuta is an office head cleaner, particular about the cleanliness she affects at work, while her employers are particular about how she "cleans" other situations, since Anuta is also a "cleaner" in the sense of an assassin. Unaware of what she does, she is being secretly engineered to be the perfect killing machine. A strong story not just in terms of its plotting, though definitely suspenseful, but also in its depiction of Anuta, allowing the reader to sympathize with this oversized killer. While the play on "cleaner" is neat but obvious, the title is a nice bit of fun too.


Unclaimed by Annalee Newitz     6/10
Private Investigator Leslie Tom left the police force following a monstrous and violent encounter, and finds herself investigating the disappearance of author J.J. Coal, whose penned series The Scorpian Diaries has since become a major franchise backed by Pixar-Disney. A PI mystery set half a century in the future, it is highly entertaining though the resolution is obvious from the start. The story toys with franchises along the lines of The Scorpion King and the hoped-for franchise of Disney's John Carter (neither of which I've actually seen) whose creator Edgar Rice Burroughs might still be working in an underground lab somewhere. Like "Anuta Fragment," this story features violently splitting heads.


Fragments from a Note by a Dead Mycologist by Jeff VanderMeer     5/10
Hit-or-miss tale of love and death. Not a bad piece of writing but a story I could not get into. I do appreciate its inclusion in the name of diversity.

(VanderMeer is partner to issue editor Ann VanderMeer, a fact amusingly owned up to in the introduction. Mr. V is the author of much fiction, including the very fine "At the Crossroads, Burying the Dog," from the excellent anthology Dark Terrors: The Gollancz Book of Horror (edited by Stephen Jones and David A. Sutton, London: Vista, October 1996) which I should have reviewed a while back.)


The Street of the Green Elephant by Dustin Monk     8/10
Young Auw works in her father's illegal (peyote-like) tea shop at a time when the Sotiriraj are ruling over of the Pbenyo. Auw is a half-breed, and through this tale of revolution, fire and flood, we learn a great deal about the world she lives in, just as she learns a great deal about human nature and grows to cultivate culture and tradition. An excellent story, Monk manages to create a distinct and believable society, with its people and its customs and its politics and its geography in a mere twenty pages. This is a world worthy of more stories.

Monk is the author of the also good "What Fireworks" from Shimmer 15.


Friday, March 14, 2014

Briefly: John Edward Williams, Stoner (1965)

Williams, John Edward, Stoner, New York: Viking, 1965

Stoner at Goodreads
Stoner at IBList

Recent popular article at The New Yorker

For more Friday's Forgotten Books, please visit Patti Abbott's blog.

Rating: 7/10

Ignored upon publication, initially receiving mixed reviews yet lauded over the coming decades, John Edward Williams's novel Stoner only recently achieved a merge between praise and sales. A great deal has recently been written about the novel, much of it seemingly as part of publisher Viking's attempt at generating sales: while I liked Julian Barnes's article (and Barnes himself as an author), I would prefer seeing a non-Viking-published writer pen an article titled: "The Must-Read Novel of 2013," particularly when the superlative title nonetheless allows its author to state it is not a great novel but one that is "substantially good" (using Williams's own description of the work). Praise and sales aside, the work has received justified criticism, often for its depiction of its antagonists and its protagonist.

Though I genuinely enjoyed the work, I had one major difficulty: William Stoner relinquishing his wonderful ties with toddler daughter, allowing his mean wife to so easily destroy their relationship, the only bond he's formed at that stage in his life. The scenes of Stoner studying with his daughter at her little desk are heartwarming, and with an attachment so tight I find it difficult to believe that he would so easily let go. Worse, however, is that if he can let go, leaving his daughter in the claws of her Cruella de Ville mother, I find it difficult to respect him. A recent father with a strong attachment to my little guy, I'd kill anyone in a blind fury who would dare intervene in our bond. My feelings at this point in the novel were so strong I almost disliked the work and was prepared to approach the rest of it with critical faculties on high alert. I was, however, utterly sucked in to the academic Lomax incident that immediately followed. A great authorly move to insert that sequence here, detracting us from Stoner giving up on his daughter.

Though I bought his courtship and marriage to the villainous Edith Elaine Bostwick, I was uncomfortable with his marrying someone who so clearly, to the reader at least, didn't care for him. Clearly well-to-do, she did not need the marriage, and I read her giving in to the union because she and her family did not believe another opportunity for marriage would come around. Stoner himself married out of lust, though the narrator claims he loved her, which I am suspicious about. His love for his daughter was undeniable, as was his passion for Katherine Driscoll, but his love for Edith is questionable.

And really it is the academic setting and not the familial aspect of the novel that makes it such a good read. I believe in the petty squabbles at the faculty, and I can respect Stoner for standing up to academic integrity (despite not standing up for father-daughter relationships). The novel is written in a cold, precise and even academic tone, with sparse and straightforward prose. Minimalist and evocative, some awkward adverbs do manage to peek through the otherwise colourless sentences.

There does exist a certain character manipulation in the novel, if we examine the two extreme reactions above. Stoner's stance against Lomax and for academia is a rigid, self-assured move, whereas his relinquishing of his daughter is a passive, conflict-fearing bit of cowardice. Recalling the two momentous events in the book, when Edith removes their daughter from Stoner's study and when Stoner launches into Lomax's protege at the oral examination leave me the impression of two distinct and wholly separate men. The powerful lecturer and prideful academic who turns out to be the great lover is not the man who gives up his daughter, but rather than passive boy we first meet at the farm. Though I liked the book very much I cannot reconcile the two, and feel that Williams created a plot that he was able to manipulate a character through, while disregarding consistency.


Testing a new map (as of 24 December 2015)