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Saturday, November 04, 2006

Again, borrowing--then crossing out lines with a black Sharpie, writing notes on the side, and adding my own rules to--Nick Hornby's playbook, I give you what I read last week.
  • Sarah Zettel, "Kinds of Strangers"
  • Jonathan Lethem, "The Dystopianist, Thinking of His Rival, Is Interrupted by a Knock on the Door"
  • Harlan Ellison, "Chatting With Anubis"
  • Neil Gaiman, "The Daughter of Owls"
  • Neil Gaiman "Shoggoth's Old Peculiar"
  • Gabriel García-Márquez, "Big Mama's Funeral"
  • Orson Scott Card, "Unaccompanied Sonata"
I hadn't heard of Sarah Zettel except through my copy of THE HARD SCI-FI RENAISSANCE. Her story was a solid example of everything that compilation stands for. It's a straightforward genre plot about a ship in deep space but the emphasis isn't so much on the science of space travel as much as the science of psychology.

"The Dystopianist" is your typical Lethem fare (that's not an insult, btw). It's a simple well-written story with one theme being, basically, about self-examination.

I got two Gaiman stories in because they were short and followed one another. I'd call "The Daughter of Owls" pleasantly grisly (Note to self: I think there's a comic adaptation of this around somewhere that I should check out). "Shoggoth's Old Peculiar," yes, refers to that Shoggoth and is set in Innsmouth. Truth be told, they were written as well as Gaiman's usual, but the stories were...well, okay.

Ellison's "Chatting With Anubis" and Card's "Unaccompanied Sonata" had some pretty straightforward plots as well. In them, the protagonists go through some pretty profound changes and not necessarily for the better. True, most like stories where a hero acts heroic and wins big. Some like the hero to lose, but still be a hero; more people can identify with a hero like that. But stories where the hero loses himself? Those stories, stories like these, can be a little harder for some people to stomach.

The story that blew me away was "Big Mama's Funeral." This is now, hands down, my favorite short story. The mechanics are nearly flawless and the language (at least insofar as the translation) is beautiful. García-Márquez's attitude toward the subject matter, i.e. his truth, isn't readily apparent until near the end, though reading it makes the last line of my choice for Passage of the Week more relevant.

Now that the nation, which was shaken to its vitals, has recovered its balance; now that the bagpipers of San Jacinto, the smugglers of Guajira, the rice planters of Sinú, the prostitutes of Caucamayal, the wizards of Sierpe, the banana workers of Aracataca have folded up their tents to recover from the exhausting vigil and have regained their serenity, and the President of the Republic and his Ministers and all those who represented the public and supernatural powers on the most magnificent funeral occasion recorded in the annals of history have regained control of their estates; now that the Holy Pontiff has risen up to Heaven in body and soul; and now that it is impossible to walk around in Macondo because of the empty bottles, the cigarette butts, the gnawed bones, the cans and rags and excrement that the crowd which came to the burial left behind; now is the time to lean a stool against the front door and relate from the beginning the details of this national commotion, before the historians have a chance to get at it.

Gabriel García-Márquez, "Big Mama's Funeral"
This was only one of about five that I could've chosen. I still get shivers.

Next time: Maybe some of that Doris Lessing I promised last time and possibly a comment or two about Satrapi's PERSEPOLIS, should I decide to include comics in my weekly reading list.