November 19, 2009

Turning Pages: Bring on the Shorts

It's sort of an open secret, my obsession with anthologies.

I love short stories and think there should be way, way, WAY more short story collections for young adults and teens, and heck, adults and science fiction lovers and fantasy fiends. I think genre fiction has kind of stolen the short story, handed it to Raymond Carver, and effectively blocked out everyone else. I mean, think about it: the words "short story" make some people break out in a graduate-school induced pox, a flash-fiction induced fever. They hear the words and expect Pretentious. Insanely ambiguous. Boring. And that's not right. After all, a short story's just like a novel, only... shorter. Beginning, middle, end. Engaging characters, subtle tensions. Depth. Conclusion.

My favorite short stories are those which are pieces of the author's heart that they couldn't leave behind when they finished writing a novel. Minor characters are fleshed out and briefly given life -- it's a wonderful gift to be allowed into a world one last time. (J.K. Rowling should have considered doing something like that instead of the whole "I control this world and will now tell you exactly what happens to everyone their whole lives, thus ruining the whole Potter mystique permanently." I mean, a short story. OR three. It would have helped get him out of her system.) Select and savor the story collections in the SFF genre group for the Cybils this year:

The Eternal Kiss: 13 Vampire Tales of Blood and Desire, edited by Trisha Telep actually didn't grab me right off -- mainly because the cover depicts Eyeless Head Girl, and her mouth is open. Whether she's meant to be gasping with that aforementioned Desire or not, she looks like she's dead, with her neck situated limp-awkwardly. Which would be just right for vampirism, but eek and ewww.

Never mind. The collection is chock full of awesome -- freaky, disturbing, arresting stories, told by some of the most loved names in YA fiction. Sword Point by Maria V. Snyder tells the story of obsessed fencer, Ava, who dreams of Olympic gold, and is on her way to being trained by the best. Never mind that loitering outside of the karate studio next door to the fencing school gets her doused with water -- what was up with that?? Her fencing trainer has an unlocked room full of swords, and a GREAT BIG CRUCIFIX on the wall in his inner sanctum. He's Italian - obviously serious about his religion. Who cares if everyone at the school looks at her a little weird, and the karate guy thinks she should learn self-defense? Everything's cool...

Undead Is Very Hot Right Now, by Sarah Rees Brennan is horribly ironic and funny and sad and poignant. Like a lonely rocker vampire in a boy band, searching yearningly for his one true love, and never finding her. Yeah, exactly like that.

Kat, by Kelley Armstrong is my FAVORITE, and anyone who's read Darkest Powers series will be lured by this one, too. The Edison Group: they're baaaack... And chasing people down. Again.

In the terrifying category are Cecil Tell-It-Straight Castellucci with Wet Teeth (Yes. Your stomach. Turning. Got it.) and Cassandra Clare's Other Boys. Egads. There's a woman whose imagination I don't want to meet some dark night in an alley. Yikes. And Libba Bray's The 13th Step?? Talk about disturbing. Vampires: some scary people. Things. Whatever.

Sharon November heads up the Firebird imprint at Puffin, and since it's just her month all over anyway (How much do I love her name? And the brilliantly autumnal shade of her hair...), I've got to give props to the newest in her triumvirate of speculative fiction anthologies. Firebirds Soaring is a much meatier collection that the previous one, twenty tales which fill over five hundred meaty pages. This collection will appeal to adults and teens who love speculative fiction. Firebirds has a more literary mien, and readers will have to work a little for the gems of story concealed in its pages, but it's good, satisfying work, and pays high dividends.

Some of the numerous highlights of the collection are Ellen Klages' scary Singing on a Star, wherein a very young girl finds her way into a new world by way of a friend's closet -- and has to make a decision about whether or not she'd be better off where she is, as the song says.

Jo Walton's Three Twilight Tales opens up the delicious possibilities of reversal that most fairytales often don't broach. What would happen if the handsome King came to the village and met the shy maiden, and, instead of making her the Queen, became something else himself?

Dolly, the Dog Soldier by Candas Jane Dorsey is a powerful story about pack behavior, the gifts that innocence and childhood give us, and the strength it takes to fight incandescently for something else -- not to be an obedient puppy, looking for puppy love, but for bigger, better, and more.

The collection is rounded out by Something Worth Doing, Elizabeth E. Wein's meticulously written tale of a true flygirl, whose feckless but much loved younger brother is run down by a van in the spring of 1940, just a month shy of his eighteenth birthday. Bereft and infuriated by her parents who can only nod in agreement at the sympathetic murmurs of "what a waste," in reference to her brother's life, Kim is bound and determined to memorialize her brother better than that. She finds a way to make him live again - with her own life. This is an absolutely smashing piece with which to end an all-round pleasing anthology, and Firebird readers are already looking forward to the next dose of intelligently written fictional shorts, I'm sure.

More anthologies, people! Short stories make good reading. Bring 'em on.

Buy The Eternal Kiss and Buy Firebirds Soaring from an independent bookstore near you!


Ethel Rohan said...

eel and ewww, I hear you, but isn't that just the perfect cover for the collection? I'm working hard on visualization these days (don't laugh), and have so much fun picturing all the possible covers for my short story collection WHEN it's published :-)

Sarah Stevenson said...

Oh, man--these sound great! Makes me wish I knew where to send my haunted-guitar story...

And, Ethel--way to go on the visualization!! "WHEN it's published"--those are three VERY appealing little words. :)

tanita✿davis said...

Ethel, you have the right of it. Definitely, one must visualize. And the neck in that cover makes perfect sense. It still squicks me out!