April 03, 2007

BOOKS: The Fate of Mice, Susan Palwick (2007)

Marvelous collection of short stories on the boundary between SF/fantasy and mainstream fiction.

Some of Palwick's stories put novel twists on standard tropes. "Beautiful Stuff" is the sweetest zombie story you'll ever read; "Ever After" puts a marvelous new spin on Cinderella and her fairy godmother, turning them into characters from a horror story. A lab mouse with artifically enhanced intelligence is at the heart of "The Fate of Mice," which explicitly references Flowers for Algernon.

The dominant theme of the collection is compassion. "Going After Bobo" starts with a teenaged boy's love for his cat and grows into a story about learning to live with the flaws of others; "The Old World" looks at the struggle of people for whom an apparent utopia is not the best of all possible worlds.

There are two stories that I particularly loved. "GI Jesus" is more comic than the rest of the book, a wildly heretical story about faith, death, and an apparition of Jesus in a most unlikely place (if you thought Jesus on a tortilla was weird...).

Best of all is "Gestella," in which Palwick applies a mundane truism about canine physiology to a werewolf story in a way that seems so inevitable that it's a wonder no one had thought of it before; it's a heartbreaker, a small gem of perfectly controlled tone and narrative detail.

Strongly recommended.

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