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Unpredictable Worlds: Stories Paperback – May 11, 2015
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"A collection of stories that stray delightfully off the beaten track of cookie cutter characters and plot lines... a trip through the author's imagination... a rich tapestry of creativity and character." --Carine Engelbrecht, Readers' Favorite
"If you love animals, you need to read this book for the Rhino section alone. ... This collection is by turns funny, touching, thought provoking, anger inducing, and faith affirming. It's great." --Chris N. Ethier, The Fish Place
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It was guilt that made me read this book. Let’s be straight up about that. The publisher is one that I’m auto approved for on Netgalley, and I hadn’t read anything from them in a long time. So I picked this out of guilt.
As anyone can tell from the title, this is a collection of short stories, most of which are fantasy based. The stories range from the really short (flash fiction) to several pages. The book itself is loosely divided into sections - Magic Realism, Mircofiction, Rhinos, Hemingway, and Women. There is an afterword that goes into detail for some of the stories.
The best section is the collection of Rhinoceros Stories, with Micro fiction being a close second. This doesn’t mean that the other sections are bad, but these two sections stand out the most. It does have to do with the power of the writing in the Rhinoceros section because, as many of you are no doubt aware, rhinoceros are hunted for the stupidest of reasons. Knauss’ section includes stories based around different species and ideas. There is a story of a woman who thinks she is becoming a rhino (and who falls in love with a man who loves books), the artist who is determined to do portraits of the Sumatran Rhinos, as well as a story about talking animals. There is also a series of flash fiction here. Knauss’s short stories in this section make her into the literary PR person for the species. If you love animals, you need to read this book for the Rhino section alone.
The Micro fiction is good and sometimes startling, but in some ways it can be more touching than some of the longer works. This is especially true for “The World’s Largest Rocking Chair”. Not that everything is sweetness and light. “Stairs to the Beach” is particularly Twilight Zonish.
While the other sections aren’t quite as good, they are not bad. There is a wonderfully powerful story called “The Consequences of Neglect and How to Make Amends” – which challenges the rhino stories as the best one of the volume. The Hemingway stories are mostly interlinked, though “El Novillero” is the best of the three. Furthermore, there is a disturbing story about teaching.
This collection is by turns funny, touching, thought provoking, anger inducing, and faith affirming. It’s great.
Unpredictable Worlds doesn't belong in a genre, unless you're going to migrate most of the best short stories ever written into SF and F, which would just be silly. What I'm trying to tell you is that this is damned good writing that'll have you wondering how you missed that you were being sandbagged by a plot twist or two that you didn't see coming. Cf O. Henry, Saki (HH Munroe), Kipling and their followers in the noble art of compressing a story down to its essence.
Jessica Knauss finds the deeply disturbing and scary in ordinary situations and everyday life. When she starts, all is as normal as reaching for your morning coffee, but before you're half way through, it's a whole other story -- one that should make the hair on the back of your neck stand up.
Jessica had me from the innocent beginnings of her story about the teacher who goes to wildly unethical extremes to improve her students. I was sucked right in to the narrator's mind as if I had been reading a letter from a friend. It was not until things were going dreadfully wrong that I realized they'd been heading in that direction for some time. That's good short-story writing. And it's just one of the many in the collection. The art is to conceal the art -- which has become a cliché only because it's true. Jessica's seeming artlessness is really very clever, as she is.