on March 5, 2012
Plot/Storyline: 2.5 stars
It's always difficult to evaluate an anthology combining different types of material (short stories, essays, and poetry) and this is no exception. Further complicating evaluation are the stellar reputations of some of the contributors (particularly SF legends Ursula LeGuin and Vonda McIntyre) and the worthy goal of raising money to help the damaged coastline recover. But the pieces in this collection too often rely on a heavyhanded message that humans are destroying the earth. "A Modest Proposal for the Perfection of Nature" by Vonda N. McIntyre sounds like a serious argument against nature (which I am absolutely sure is not what she meant). "Indigo Bunting" by Lyda Morehouse followed three unpleasant teenagers on a woowoo post-nuclear-winter spirit quest. Several stories offered solid plots that suddenly ended with no resolution: "Site 14" by Laura Anne Gilman, "Black Gold" by Tiffany Trent, "Autumn Leaves" by James Sallis, and "Terra Incognita" by Camille Alexa. Some stories were okay although unexciting, such as "My Mother's People" by Elaine Isaak, the dystopian "Javier Dying in the Land of Flowers" by Deborah J. Ross, "The Girl Who Dreamed of the Sea" by Judith Tarr, "Backtiming" by Randy Tatano, paranormal "Rescue Work" by Pati Nagle. The poetry generally tried for cleverness but fell short. "The House That We Built" by Dave Gessner and Bill Roorbach relied on convenient stereotypes such as the evil "fat cat" and simply dragged on too long. "Origami Action Heroes of Singing River" by Sandra McDonald pitted Hindu gods against the oil spill (but at least it did have a good last line). "Eternal Return to the City of New Orleans" and "Preparing for the Hurricane" by James Sallis were unexciting attempts at free verse. The essays were simply what the reader would expect, making the same point over and over. An excerpt from Rachel Carson's The Sea Around Us is the centerpiece of the book, but doesn't add anything if the reader is already familiar with Carson's work.
There are exceptions that make the book worthwhile if you don't mind ploughing through a lot of mud to get to the gems: thought-provoking "Christmas Count" by David B. Coe, clever "Emergency" by Nancy Jane Moore, gloomy but ultimately uplifting "After the Dragon" by Sarah Monette. I rooted for the enslaved sorceress forced to guide a brutal king in "The Power to Change the Shape of the Land." "Serpent Singer" could be described as Viking fantasy and includes a likable sea serpent. Kristine Kathryn Rusch offered a perceptive look at the cost of helping in "Disaster Relief." Although I don't generally like ghost stories, "A Little Song, A Little Dance" combined New Orleans' paranormal history and Hurricane Katrina relief into a solid, enjoyable story with a satisfying resolution.
Characters: 3.5 stars
As with the rest of the anthology, the characters varied wildly but were often better developed than the plots. "A Little Song, A Little Dance" offered believable and unusual characters. Several of the no-resolution stories included characters I wanted to see more of, including "Autumn Leaves" and "Site 14." Tiffany Trent created some great fantasy characters in "Black Gold." Both the main characters in "The Power to Change the Shape of the Land" and "After the Dragon" were believable although flawed. Unfortunately, many stories used one-dimensional or unbelievable characters, such as "My Mother's People," "Terra Incognita," and "Javier Dying in the Land of Flowers."
Writing style: 4.5 stars
The writing quality is generally better than the subjects deserve: tightly organized, dialogue I could hear in my head, vivid descriptions.
on January 13, 2012
I had recently read a collection of short stories, my first time in years. That re-kindled my interest in the form, so I got Breaking Waves out on my Kindle and read away. The idea for this collection started in the aftermath of the BP oil spill in the Gulf. Phyllis Irene Radford wanted to do something, so she came up with an idea of collecting stories which would benefit the aid effort, "fighting oil with ink," as she puts it.
What resulted was a rather large collection of short stories and poems written by many accomplished authors. The first submission was by Ursula K. Le Guin, and that was followed by other Hugo and Nebula award-winning authors, environmental writes, and authors who were at the scene of the spill or during Hurricane Katrina's devastation.
Noble intent aside, a collection of stories needs to stand on the strength of the writing. With so many submissions, the quality of each simply could not remain the same. And some of these stories are weak. A few read, quite frankly, like high school English class submissions: write something about the Gulf of Mexico and hand it in by Friday. And a few were in the lines of what I consider the unfinished story, stories which seem as if the author got up to answer the doorbell and never came back to finish the story.
But where the collection succeeded, boy did it succeed! The stories which stood out are ones in which the authors did not write about the disasters, did not preach on keeping a green world, but wrote about people dealing with the disaster.
One of my favorites was "Disaster Relief," by Kristine Kathryn Rusch. This is a story about Katrina, but which takes place on the Oregon coast. The protagonist, Winston, is a feebly gifted mage, who with his familiar, is concerned about his own welfare should a tsunami hit the beach after watching the coverage of the Boxer Day Tsunami in Thailand and Indonesia. When Katrina hits, this private, reclusive mage, a man who prefers to help others through small donations, is goaded into helping a professional colleague by his familiar, a cat named Ruby. The colleague lost his shop in New Orleans, and Winston, going against his nature, invites him to join him out in Oregon. The colleague agrees, but when he comes, he brings along several other mages as well. The story is superb in describing Winston's feelings, wanting his guests out of his house so he can get back to normal, then his guilt in feeling that way. Ruby's nervousness and discomfort are well described as well.
I read that there is a novel coming out about Winston and Ruby. I eagerly await its publication.
"Javier Dying in the Land of Flowers," by Deborah J. Ross, writing as Deborah Wheeler, was not centered around any specific natural disaster. Oh, it takes place in a period of global warming, but the story is about Javier, a young Hispanic man who has wangled a job as a domestic at a secluded resort for the rich. With a real job, he has escaped the squalor and crime of his life, able to help his family. But when his health gets in the way, the despair of his situation cries out from the pages.
Another global warming tale is "Terra Incognita," by Camille Alexa. Once again, there is no preaching here, just the story of a US Park Ranger stationed in Antarctica, alone as financial shortfalls cut off major research by other nations, and as the continent's water resources are looked upon with longing eyes by a thirsty world. Alexa's ability to evoke strong emotions without coming on too strong are really noteworthy.
And while not the type of story to which I usually gravitate, "A Little Song, a Little Dance," by David D Levine and Andrine de la Rocha, was an evocative tribute to those who died during Katrina. I felt my emotions being pulled by the story, where an aging juggler with a troupe of performers is able to assist those who passed to continue on in their journey.
Despite the few weak stories, the gems in this collection make it a must read.