March 19th, 2010

Summary: Stories from collections, 2009

Summary: New Stories from Collections, 2009

This year I saw:

from James P. Blaylock's Metamorphosis, Blaylock and Alex Haniford's "Houses" and Blaylock and Brittany Cox's "P-38".

from Ian McDonald's Cyberabad Days, "Vishnu at the Cat Circus"

from Paul Di Filippo's Harsh Oases, "Aurorae" and "A Game of Go"

from Paul Witcover's Everland, "After Ivy", "Everland", "Twilight of the Gods", "The Silver Ghost", and "Where Balloons Go"

from Peter S. Beagle's We Never Talk About My Brother, "The Stickball Witch" and "By Moonlight"

from Mary Robinette Kowal's Scenting the Dark, "Locked In"

from Ellen Klages and Geoff Ryman's What Remains, Ryman's "Care" and "No Bad Thing", and Klages' "Echoes of Aurora"

from Patrick O'Leary's The Black Heart, "Catching a Dream" and "Yo-Yo, Stradivarius, and Me"

from Charles Stross's Wireless, "Palimpsest"

from Claude Lalumiere's Objects of Worship, "The Darkness at the Heart of the World" and "Roman Predator's Chimeric Odyssey"

from Cat Rambo's Her Eyes Like Sky and Coal and Moonlight, "Her Eyes Like Sky, and Coal, and Moonlight", "The Silent Familiar", "In Order to Preserve", "Rare Pears and Greengages", and "A Twine of Flame"

from Damien Broderick's Uncle Bones, "The Game of Stars and Souls"

from Deborah Biancotti's A Book of Endings, "Diamond Shell", "Hush", "Coming Up for Air", "Six Suicides", "Problems of Light and Dark", and "This Time, Longing"

from Robin McKinley and Peter Dickinson's Fire, McKinley's "Hellhound" and "First Flight", and Dickinson's "Phoenix", "Fireworm", and "Salamander Man"

from Camille Alexa's Push of the Sky, "Cliffs of Cal'Allat", "Kingdom at the Edge of Nowhere", "Paperheart", "Neither Wave Nor Wind", "The Beetle Eater's Dream", "Baseball Trophies, Baby Teeth", "Three Days Dead", "They Shall Be as They Know", "Observations of a Dime Store Figurine", and "The Taste of Snow"

from Vandana Singh's The Woman Who Thought She Was a Planet, "Infinities" and "Conservation Laws".

from Greg Egan's Crystal Nights, "Hot Rock"

from John J. Dunphy's Dark Nebulae, a total of 50 very short stories


These 18 books include a total of 101 new stories. 50 of these are rather a special case -- the very short pieces in John J. Dunphy's collection Dark Nebulae. The other 17 books, then, include 51 new stories, including 6 novellas, 9 novelettes, and 36 short stories, 2 of the latter category short-shorts. About 425,000 words of fiction. (Note for the record that on occasion they include stories that nominally appeared first in other venues that I didn't see -- but still appeared first in 2009.)

By and large these are an excellent set of books, well worth looking at individually. My favorite story among them was Charles Stross's "Palimpsest",

John J. Dunphy's Dark Nebulae is an oddity among these. John runs a used book store in Alton, IL, not far from St. Louis. I visited the store one day, and saw the book, and talked to John about it a bit. It's published by Tyree Campbell's Sam's Dot Publishing (also the source of Aoife's Kiss and other magazines). The stories included are "haibun" -- very short stories with the punchline given in haiku form. They are a mixture of fantasy and SF. 50 stories total. I assumed an average length of 100 words a story for counting purposes, so 5000 words. They are what you might expect -- essentially one joke pieces, sometimes cute, sometimes horrific, sometimes a bit trite.

Not counting Dunphy's book, 28.5 of the stories are by women (56%), and 19 are SF (37%). I called 18 of Dunphy's stories SF (36%).

As I said with the chapbooks, this is from top to bottom an impressive array of stories (and books) and I won't really do it justice. Some of the stories are potential award nominees -- surely Charles Stross's excellent long novella "Palimpsest" (sort of an End of Eternity response, an intelligent look at the concept of maintaining "Stasis" over deep time using time travel) is one of my favorite novellas of the year. Also, Ian McDonald's "Vishnu at the Cat Circus", something of a capper to his series of stories and one novel about a future India, is getting lots of attention. And I wouldn't be surprised to see Greg Egan's "Hot Rock" on the Hugo ballot -- it's another of his "Amalgam" stories, this one about the surprising discovery of intelligent life on a nearly completely isolated planet (a planet without even a sun). (It was supposed to appear first in Jonathan Strahan's Godlike Machines, from the SFBC, but that book has been delayed at least until 2010.)

I also think attention should be paid to a whole series of collections from very promising new writers -- collections that serve as showcases for a group of people who will, I dare say, be making really big splashes really soon. Most of them include a mix of first rate stories with a few that are more interesting than quite finished.  These books include Deborah Biancotti's A Book of Endings (here I particularly enjoyed the dark SF story "Hush"); Camille Alexa's Push of the Sky (from which the title story is very good -- I listed it with the original anthology (Origins) in which it also appeared, and also "Paperheart", a nice and quite different dragon story); Cat Rambo's Her Eyes Like Sky and Coal and Moonlight (from which my favorite is "The Silent Familiar"); and Mary Robinette Kowal's Scenting the Dark. All those writers are women (as is Vandana Singh, whose book might arguably also fit this category), which does underline something I've begun to notice -- a great many of the interesting newer writers -- more than usual, I think -- are women these days. I cheated a bit though, to make that point, because Claude Lalumiere also deserves mention as a promising newer writer. One other point I could add is that many of these "newer" writers have careers -- almost entirely as short story writers, mind you, and predominantly in smaller publications -- that extend to something like a decade.

I'll mention Vandana Singh separately, in part because her book is an anomaly here: it actually appeared in 2008, in India, and to my knowledge has not yet had any other publication. But I figure if Gardner Dozois can stretch the "rules" enough to include the excellent novelette "Infinities" in this "Best of 2009" book, I can put stories I didn't know of until 2009 in my list. And the stories should reach a wider audience -- they are first rate, the reprints as well as the two originals.

Of course "veterans" appear as well: Peter Beagle just keeps it up, with excellent story after excellent story, and We Never Talk About My Brother is strong collection of mostly very recent stories. Paul Witcover is a fine writer who as in some sense slipped under our radar, partly because he's not very prolific. Everland is also strong, in particular the title piece, a very dark view of Oz. Patrick O'Leary -- a writer we haven't seen enough from lately -- also shows well with a rather gnomic set of stories. Paul Di Filippo's Harsh Oases is a nice set of mostly newer stories, with the two originals quite old (but previously unpublished) pieces set in his Vermilion Sands-like resort, the Hesperides. And I found Damien Broderick's Uncle Bones very interesting -- it includes a story from Asimov's in 2009, a couple of somewhat older stories, and one "new" one that is also old: "The Game of Stars and Souls", an expansion of his first published story, "The Sea's Furthest End", from way back in 1964. "The Sea's Furthest End" was expanded to a YA novel under the same title, published in Australia in about 1990. The current story takes the main thread of the novel (which I assume to also be the story told in the original novelette), and presents it separately (the other, more YA-ish thread of the novel has dated somewhat), with some buffing to the prose.

A few of these books were collaborations. James Blaylock's Metamorphosis includes three stories (one of which had appeared in 2008) written by his high school students and revised by him -- all quite solid work, and it won't be a surprise if some of his students show up on their own in future years. Wiscon regularly publishes brief books collecting stories, sometimes new, by their Guests of Honor, and so Ellen Klages and Geoff Ryman contribute three decent new pieces this year. And husband and wife Peter Dickinson and Robin McKinley published the second of a series of collections of stories on the subject of elemental spirits, generally YA in focus, written by the pair of them individually. All the stories are enjoyable in Fire, though on balance I think McKinley's two very engaging pieces were more fun, and I'd be glad to see a novel continuing the story she tells in "First Flight".