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2010 Stories 95-96 and Essay 47

Stories

95. Chain of Stars by Jay Lake, from the Fall 2009 online issue of Subterranean magazine  I've been meaning to read Jay Lake's work for a while now, since a friend linking me to jaylake so I could read about his experiences with cancer.  Paging through Subterranean Press's online magazine archives after placing a book order recently, I discovered this novella and printed it out as possible "short flight" reading.  Had I realized that this novella was part of Lake's "Clockwork Earth" series, I might have put off reading it until I'd tracked down the novels that introduced that world.  Which would, in some respect, have been a loss for me.

Yes, I felt a little disoriented at first as the author threw around terms readers of the novels would have already understood ("the Chain," "the Wall," "the flatwater queendoms," for three examples. And I'm still not sure what an enkidu is and how it differs from a human).  But the characters in this story interested me and in fact made me want to read more about the Clockwork Earth.  I was drawn into Zarai's quest to go beyond the top of the Wall, to reach out to the stars.  I felt her anguish over the departure (and the reasons for that departure) of her love Mannix, all seen in flashbacks that meld seamlessly with the on-going action.  I felt Zarai's confusion / uncertainty as a community builds around her and her individual passion becomes a group's reason for existing.  There is an excellent ratcheting-up of tension in the second half of the story, but the story itself never loses touch with Zarai's inner world. One spot in the story was, I think, particularly challenging because the author had to find a plausible way to get Zarai into position to witness something all common sense says she would be far away from -- and Lake's set-up of the scene made perfect sense for the character, not at all "deux ex machina" or "out of left field and out of character."

I cannot really say more without giving away the story's twists, so I'll end by saying I'm really glad I decided to read this today.

96. Island Lake by E. Catherine Tobler from The Beastly Bride: Tales of the Animal People.  I suppose this story technically falls into the "modern urban fantasy" genre. It takes place during World War Two, in what feels like somewhat rural New England (although I don't believe that's ever actually stated in the story). The narrator is a ten year old girl with a damaged leg, whose father is returning from the War with an injury and a dead brother.  This does not at all sound like the set-up for a story in an anthology about "animal people," which is what makes it so brilliant. Tobler gives us a totally authentic child narrator (not always an easy thing to pull off) who at first does not understand what she's seeing / hearing ... which means we, the readers, don't really understand it either, although we can put better guesses forward than our narrator can (that being said, my initial guess was wrong, and I was glad about that -- it meant the story was not predictable).  As with the Steve Berman story I reviewed a few entries back, there is a sort of wistfulness about this story that made my heart ache just a little bit. A good choice by Datlow & Windling to lead off the anthology.


Essay

47. Introduction: Shape-Shifters, Were-Creatures and Beastly Suitors
by Terri Windling, from The Beastly Bride: Tales of the Animal People.  Speaking of Windling, she provides a wonderful introductory essay to the anthology that traces the history and development of "animal people" tales from the earliest folktales to more recently written fairy tales, as well as giving examples of the various types of "animal people" from around the world: gods masquerading as animals, animals masquerading as people, people who turn into animals, etc.  She makes some connections between various myths that I hadn't thought of but which made perfect sense.  Well worth reading as a piece on its own, regardless of whether you read the rest of the anthology or not.

Comments

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talekyn
Apr. 26th, 2010 09:09 pm (UTC)
You are most welcome! I also based a short story (although not in this vein) on an island in the middle of the lake where I grew up. It's currently submitted to Glimmer Train Stories. I enjoy authors who take a part of their lives and spin a "what if" off of that.
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