Saturday, January 8, 2011

"Stories" - some impressions

The new short fiction anthology edited by Neil Gaiman and Al Sarrantonio is labeled (somewhat redundantly), rather than titled, Stories. The collection brings together works from a variety of genres, many of which are themselves hybrid forms, combining elements of speculative fiction, literary fiction and the Gothic.

Gaiman himself provides a remarkable and energising introduction, writing that:
"I love the word fantasy for example, but I love it for the almost infinite room it gives an author to play: an infinite playroom, of a sort, in which the only boundaries are those of the imagination…. There was so much fine fiction, fiction allowing free reign to the imagination of the author, beyond the shelves of genre."

Presenting fine fiction beyond the restrictions of genre is a goal the anthology mostly meets. There are strong pieces, such as Gaiman's own "The Truth is a Cave in the Black Mountains" and Joe Hill's formally experimental "The Devil on the Staircase", and other stories of murder, guilt and retribution, like Joe Landsdale's harrowing "The Stars are Falling". There are several tight, mordantly imaginative thrillers, and a smattering of lighter pieces. Diana Wynne Jones and Kurt Andersen bring a welcome lighter touch in tone and theme.

Some don't quite work. "Juvenal Nyx" seems like the introduction of a character for a longer piece or series. "The Therapist" becomes predictable when it moves from a suggestive premise to a more literal explication of the central idea. And Michael Moorcock, a creator of innovative, energetic fantasies, produces a more mundane relationship drama when he steps away from fantasy in "Stories" (that is, a story, in Stories, called "Stories").

Yet, interestingly, Moorcock makes reference to "a 'two way street' to reunite junk, middle-brow, and highbrow fiction." I don't know if Stories is quite the classic of this "new literature of the imagination" the back cover trumpets (isn't all literature a product of the imagination?), but it is certainly an intriguing, innovative and highly readable journey along Moorcock's two-way street.

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