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Give us any chance we'll take it give us any rule we'll break it - Not if You Were the Last Short Story on Earth
Give us any chance we'll take it give us any rule we'll break it
Another pretty good week of reading... I've been ploughing through the stories trying to get the number-to-read down. Not sure I've had much success, but I've found a number of cool stories along the way.

Ted Chiang's The Merchant and the Alchemist's Gate is the first Ted Chiang story I've read, and I went in with high expectations, from all the praise I'd heard of his work. This story, from F&SF September, didn't disappoint. It's a time-travel story of sorts, although it's as much fantasy as science fiction, and takes a form similar to a parable. Time travel is not so much the focus, although there is some clever plotting. But the story is more about the ways in which people might deal with such a phenomena, their success or otherwise at utilising it, and the things they learn about themselves. A very well written work, it's one of those stories that is literally a pleasure to read. Highly recommended.

Regular readers of this blog will have witnessed my growing love for the work of Nancy Kress, without a doubt one of my finds of the year. This week I read two excellent stories from her, both in Asimovs.

By Fools Like Me, from the September issue, is a dystopian future tale of a world devastated by global warming, and the influence this has had on religion and on knowledge. A grandmother and her granddaughter discover some old forgotten books, now a symbol of a past age's decadence and environmental irresponsibility, and their reading of them has terrible consequences. An intelligent and believable vision of the future.

The Rules, from the December issue, is equally concerned with environmental issues. In this story, a mysterious set of television commercials interrupt regular programming with visions of starving children in Africa. A wealthy old man confronts a younger man over ideology. And a group of people at a dinner party debate morality. Kress carries these different thread expertly as she slowly reveals the reason for the strange commercials and the scientific discovery which will change the world. There is a lot going on in this story, but the characters' stories are all given weight and believability, and the story's culmination, and the confrontation of personal beliefs in the light of human mortality, is moving and powerful. Almost the flipside of the coin to Fools Like Me, this story is a hopeful one. Highly recommended.

Another story I really enjoyed was Nathan Ballingrud's story The Monsters of Heaven, from the upcoming anthology Inferno. Ballingrud's story is achingly simple. It deals with a couple whose child has disappeared, during a moment's inattentiveness by the father, and the guilt and blame that threatens to tear them apart. Into this mix is thrown the discovery of an "Angel", a mysterious creature from the skies which appears, injured, without explanation and impacts upon their lives. Ballingrud's portrayal of the loss of a child is painfully real, and the angel functions as a strong metaphor. Highly recommended.

The other standout from Inferno, for me, was Pat Cadigan's Stilled Life. A woman befriends a younge work colleague who works as a human statue in a city square. As the story progresses she becomes concerned at the younger woman's increasing obsession with her work. The story deals with the obsession with immortality achieved through fame, and the lengths people will go to to get it. There is also a clear critique operating of standards of beauty and body images, and the unrealistic portrayals of (in particular, women's) bodies in the media, where ideals of beauty are photoshopped over an increasingly unhealthy reality. In the end, the story makes the point that all of these obsessions are dangerous and potentially fatal, and that the "immortality" offered by fame is far from the ideal it seems.

Also worthy of mention this week is Becca de la Rosa's All the Growing Time, from the Fantasy anthology. The story of Isolde Martial and My Lord Yesterday, and their unusual relationships with time, this is one of those stories that works through its imagination. I'm not sure I really got the point of the story, but I sure enjoyed reading it, and that has to count for something, right?

Until next week, keep fighting the good fight!

Current Music: The Gentle Waves - Falling from Grace

7 comments or Leave a comment
random_alex From: random_alex Date: 16th October 2007 22:54 (UTC) (Link)
I like the Alchemist's Gate... clever.
ellen_datlow From: ellen_datlow Date: 17th October 2007 01:07 (UTC) (Link)
Glad you liked those two stories, Ben. Fyi, Pat Cadigan's title is "Stilled Life." ;-)
From: ex_benpayne119 Date: 17th October 2007 08:38 (UTC) (Link)
Thanks for that, Ellen. Fixed now :-)
nballingrud From: nballingrud Date: 17th October 2007 17:26 (UTC) (Link)
I'm very glad you liked the story. Thanks for writing about it.
From: ex_benpayne119 Date: 29th October 2007 13:25 (UTC) (Link)
No worries, Nathan. I've read a few stories this year dealing with similar subjects, so yours must have been powerfully written to stand out.
fastfwd From: fastfwd Date: 18th October 2007 07:33 (UTC) (Link)
Thanks for your good words about "Stilled Life." You made my month.:)
From: ex_benpayne119 Date: 29th October 2007 13:26 (UTC) (Link)
no worries!
7 comments or Leave a comment