Which is fine, I guess. It's fun, and games make the world worth playing, if you will.
Where was I?
Right. Reviewing Michael Chabon's edited volume of McSweeney's Quarterly, from 2002, of avowedly genre short stories, with a distinctly genius introduction about contemporary fiction.
Someone recently pointed me toward George Orwell's thoughts on book reviews, in which he argues against spending 600 words on every volume, because while a few books deserve much more than that, the majority barely require notice be taken of them. Now, I really enjoyed the Mammoth Treasury, and not just because of its conversation-starting title and cover: some of the stories flat-out rocked. However, others ... filled their pages admirably. With that in mind, here's a sequence of capsule reviews of the volume's short stories.
- Jim Shepard, "Tedford and the Megalodon": a brilliant start, introducing the themes of (a) obsession and (b) nature's opacity, in the form of an unknown species of giant shark
- Glen David Gold, "The Tears of Squonk, and What Happened Thereafter": circus fiction, featuring elephants, vengeance, and clowning -- good stuff
- Dan Chaon, "The Bees": horror via the circularities of time -- meh
- Kelly Link, "Catskin": fantasy plus the collective unconscious, but otherwise WTF, in the bad way
- Elmore Leonard, "How Carlos Webster Changed His Name to Carl and Became a Famous Oklahoma Lawman": all kinds of awesome fun, with riffs on racism, being A Product of One's Time, and odd characters
- Carol Emshwiller, "The General": SF or alt history, about an immigrant general turned mutineer who's hunted for his crimes -- a highlight of the volume, for me, even if I felt like I'd read it before
- Neil Gaiman, "Closing Time": the best pure ghost story of the volume, an absolute classic that's been steeped thoroughly enough in this hoary genre to seem both ancient and new
- Nick Hornby, "Otherwise Pandemonium": of which I was of two minds, both loving the concept and setting (both of which need to surprise you), but far from enamoured of the narrator (who I found tiresome)
- Stephen King, "The Tale of Gray Dick": another reason that Stephen King should just go to hell already and leave me alone, thank you very much, since I haven't forgiven him for the execrable, book-destroying trick ending of Under the Dome
- Michael Crichton, "Blood Doesn't Come Out": hard-boiled detective fiction like they've given up writing now, but with an ending that moves unhelpfully outside genre expectations
- Laurie King, "Weaving the Dark": a story that for me didn't at all fit with the others, but is nonetheless a really impressive work about a woman progressing toward blindness who still sees some things clearly
- Chris Offutt, "Chuck's Bucket": exactly the kind of thing that belongs in this volume, complete with time travel, madcap inventors, and metafiction
- Dave Eggers, "Down the Mountain Coming Down Slowly": explorer fiction, if I had to guess its genre, but it's a wonderful story about the ignorant climbing of Kilimanjaro, and one climber's coming to social awareness
- Michael Moorcock, "The Case of the Nazi Canary:" Hitler! unspeakable sexual peccadilloes! zeppelins! alternate history!
- Aimee Bender, "The Case of the Salt and Pepper Shakers": chilling little noir detective action, combined with the macabre
- Sherman Alexie, "Ghost Dance": let me use capitals, so there's no mistake about what I mean -- HOLY SHIT, WORTH THE PRICE OF ADMISSION ALL ON ITS BLOODY, ANTI-COLONIALIST, ZOMBIE-LOVING OWN
- Harlan Ellison, "Goodbye to All That": meh, though some will love it
- Karen Joy Fowler, "Private Grave 9": an awkward fit, though interesting enough, if I might damn the story with faint praise
- Rick Moody, "The Albertine Notes": slow to get going, but overall the second-best story in the collection behind Alexie's, and fricking awesome in so VERY many ways
- Michael Chabon, "The Planetary Agent, a Martian Romance": really a fun, Eggersy kind of story about a North America which never left Britain's orbit via revolution, and in which Custer died not at the Little Bighorn but in an attempt to revive the 1776 Revolution, but with zeppelins and hangings.
All of which means ... awesomeness, but in more pages than it should have been. And some readers are harsher than I am.