Sunday, March 13, 2005

McSweeney's Mammoth Treasury of Thrilling Tales - edited by Michael Chabon

I don't know that anthologies need spoiler warnings, but just in case, this is it.

I started reading this while stranded at Sydney Airport, listening to my flights be delayed and cancelled, one by one, until eventually Virgin killed that hope and told us to go find a place to stay for the night. I was tired, having pulled that three hours of sleep a night thing several nights running, out of clean clothes, starving mildly, and also in the throes of the post-Clarion can't-read-anything-without-crying-or-ripping-it-apart state of mind. (Still am.)

None of this is particularly conductive to a happy reader, but that guy Chabon knows his shit. The stories in this collection beat their way through all that and stood tall. Even if I did critique them. Just a bit.

Although it's something of a relief to know that established are just as guilty of writing short stories that stink high and mighty of being the beginning or part of a larger work, that doesn't make it any less annoying to discover. Stephen King, you should know better. The Tale of Grey Dick did very little for me. There was never any doubt, soon as the woman came out with her hand beneath her apron, that she had some super weapon under there, and then there was never any doubt that she would use it. Thus, there was no tension, and no point to the story. It went exactly where I expected it to, and didn't even bat an eyelid at trying something unexpected.

Sherman Alexie, I loved Ghost Dance. I really got into it. And just when it was getting really good and really interesting and you had sunk that many hooks I'd have read a stopped. Like you lost interest. That's not cool.

That said, they were the only two I had any major problems with. For the vast majority I coasted through and thoroughly enjoyed myself. There's a certain amount of cheese leeway these stories have, a certain amount of absurdism that may make some cringe, but just made me giggle. Just looking at the cover will give you a pretty good idea of what you're getting into. (Sadly, no pantherman monsters feature in the book.)

Otherwise Pandemonium by Nick Hornby is easily one of my favourites of the collection. Written from the perspective of a fifteen year old boy (very nice voice work) who accidently stumbles upon the end of the world, and has sex for the very first time as a result. Excellent fun.

The Albertine Notes by Rick Moody just blew me away. It's probably too soon for me to be writing impressions of it, having only read and finished it today. Post-apocalyptic New York City, with the populace ravaged by Albertine, a drug of memories. A story that starts straight forward, and branches, and twists, and sprials, and mirrors, and as the protagonists gets seriously fucked up, so do you, so does the story. A brilliant, complicated mindfuck, full of ideas that got me all tizzy. Memory is a powerful subject, and what's done with it here is just amazing.

Up the Mountain Coming Down Slowly by Dave Eggers was an odd one. As a story it left no great impact on me, but the character hit home in all sorts of unexpected ways. She wasn't someone I've ever known, but drawn so deeply and realistically that she's still with me, days after reading about her. It's a story that packs a solid emotional whack, which you won't notice until well after the fact.

The Case of the Nazi Canary by Michael Moorcock proved to be a lot of fun. An old fashioned detective story, with a loose Sherlock/Watson pair going of to Germany to solve the case of who killed Hitler's niece/mistress. I'm a sucker for these sort of mysteries; it's a race between me and the detective to see who figures it out first. Alas, usually the detective is privy to information that the writer refrains from giving the reader (bastard!) so I only win this race half the time. While I should have picked the culprit in this case (all the clues were there, and there's no room in this sort of story to mention something that won't be of use later) I didn't, and have myself I right cackle at the end.

How Carlos Changed His Name to Carl and Became a Famous Oklahoma Lawman by Elmore Leonard, was a story I approached with curiosity. Ellen Datlow had recommended him severial times during Clarion South as apparently he is exceptionally good at writing pages of dialogue with no dialogue tags, and never leaving the reader wondering who is saying what. Within this short story, there was very little room for reams of dialogue, and to be honest I was enjoying the story too much to be analyzing it.

Yes, I only critique that which does not blow the top of my head off. I want to know why it is failing to do so.

A treat to be found within the covers of this book are the dodgy little 50s styled advertisements for pulp series and the dodgiest looking false teeth I've ever seen. They're quality reading all on their own. I was hoping to be able to order an actual death ray, but no, that particular ad was only offering essays on the proof of ones existence.

A seriously good collection of short stories. If I can read them and enjoy them this soon after Clarion, you guys have absolutely no excuses whatsoever. Get cracking.

Now if only they would bring out Astounding Stories in hardcover as well...

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