January 27, 2010

BOOKS: Eclipse Three, Jonathan Strahan, ed. (2009)

I read very little "literary" short fiction, but quite a bit of "genre" short fiction. Why the quotes, you ask? Because "literary" fiction is a genre, just as much as SF or mystery are; it's not called one because we must reserve the word "genre" as a convenient piece of shorthand for "literature not worthy of our respect."

Anyway, short fiction...

If you're reading anthologies, as opposed to single-author collections, the challenge is to find an editor whose tastes line up with yours, and that can be a big challenge. In a typical collection of, say, 15 stories, I consider myself lucky if there are only 4 or 5 stories that I can't wade through at all; if there are more than 1 or 2 that I really like, then I consider myself so blessed that I'm almost ready to turn to Jesus in gratitude. (And y'all know how I feel about the whole religion thing...)

How good is Jonathan Strahan? After reading Eclipse Three, you can look for me at the church, the synagogue, and the mosque this weekend. Of its 15 stories, there was only one that I found unreadable, and there are half-a-dozen or so that I think are remarkably good.

Among the highlights:

Pat Cadigan's "Don't Mention Madagascar" is a bittersweet comedy about second chances and what we'll give up to get one. Peter S. Beagle's "Sleight of Hand" tells of a young woman's encounter with a mysterious man who claims to be a magician. In "It Takes Two," by Nicola Griffith, we ponder whether what we think someone believes is more important than whether they actually believe it. And there are fine stories by Karen Joy Fowler, Elizabeth Bear, Maureen M. McHugh and others

You might notice that there's a preponderance of female names in that list. The book is unusually tilted towards female authors; ten of the 15 stories are by women, and one's a male-female collaboration. I don't know if that's a deliberate effort on Strahan's part, or just the way the submissions happened to land. I don't think it makes any particular difference in the quality of the book; the only effect that I would connect directly to authorial gender is that there are more lesbian characters and relationships than one would usually find in a collection of this sort.

I had missed the first two volumes in Strahan's Eclipse series, and he's also been editing an annual "best of the year" volume for a few years now. If his taste in this volume is any indication, I've got lots of good reading ahead of me.

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