A collection of short stories that are either based on fairy tales (like specific ones) or based on fairy tale elements and tropes. So this makes this collection a two-fer in terms of possible issues. The first i s that modern day retellings of fairy tales are very hit or miss. Sometimes they’re great ala Angela Carter and a few others, and sometimes they’re very weak. And the same thing happens in this collection. And of course in any kind of solicited short story collection you always have a range of how serious the writer took the solicitation and what to do when a not great writer is cast alongside an incredibly strong writer.
In this collection, I found the standouts to be the Rainbow Rowell story first and foremost. For me, this was the best story in the collection. More of a fable than a fairy tale, we meet a young prince who lives along the road, walking along the road, when he drops his cellphone into the much below a bridge, which happens to span a dried up riverbed. Looking for his phone he meets a mysterious resident who lives under the bridge, a creature whose features are hidden beneath layers and layers of mud. The story develops as he begins to bring the creature coffee each day. This story is strong throughout for its subtlety but especially for its incredibly engaging tone and narration. It’s really hard to capture just how charming, but also cryptic the narration in this story is. Think back to the subtle ways in which Eleanor and Park slowly discover little things about each other while barely communicating for a partial understanding about it.
Another story that I really enjoyed was the story by Soman Chianani. It’s kind of a 21 Jump Street that plays into private school/public school cultural myths. The story is not exactly a fairy tale, but at the school we’re seeing, popular girls are being murdered in ways that recall famous fairy tale princesses. The narration is done though taped interviews with witnesses and suspects.
The rest of the stories range in quality, but they didn’t stand out to me particularly.
This collection over all is more successful in part because a bad thriller story bothers me a lot less than a bad fairy tale story. And while a couple of these are bad, most of them are at least interesting. The most interesting and/or entertaining ones are the Jeffrey Deaver and Laura Lippmann stories, both of which really tell a full accounting of a story. Deaver’s is much longer and feels pretty full throughout. Both of them also end up doing some goofy things that mar the over all quality. I think the fact that both are among the more prolific writers in the group speak to this. I have credit Ruth Ware for really trying for something in her story. “Snowflakes” is presented as a kind of post-apocalyptic thriller set after some kind of coming civil war in the US. Not really her wheelhouse and it made for an unexpected story. The Oyinkan Braithwaite story also feels like a younger writer stepping into her opportunity in interesting ways, and for anyone excited and thrilled by her first novel, purchasing just this story would satisfy that energy for some additional of her work. Her story is good, but it’s very short and more literary (not an issue!) and this makes it a little less fulfilling if you’re looking more for something to read or listen to on a commute. The remaining stories honestly didn’t really register with me.
If the South Won the Civil War
|While there have been plenty of books that have asked the question, what would have happened if the South had won the Civil War, this book explores it relatively in a straightforward way, which is perhaps the only real moral way to do so, and the best part about it is that it’s short. Every few years or so someone goes: maybe we need a new [book/movie/show] about what if the South won the Civil War, and with this book and plenty of others, we can just say: no thanks, that’s already happened. And that doesn’t even get to the problem inherent in the question since, well, the South basically did win the Civil War. Given that Reconstruction was upended almost immediately and there was about 100 years of Apartheid and racial terror in the South, and a continuing 150 years of purposeful Black economical and political disenfranchisement since, it’s at least a conversation to be had. Sure the military victories didn’t come through, but given that pretty much no traitors (except the ones that died) faced any consequences for their actions, many faced rewards, and the results were, well the America we know today that still does whatever it wants and can to appease white feelings, again, seems like there’s a case.
This book mostly just supposes. It’s suppositions are based on two main threads: what is Grant had died from a fall from horseback (something that he wrote about fearing from his mounts — hating the ride horses as he did) on his way to Vicksburg, and what if Lee’s battlefield commands at Gettysburg were as brilliant and competent as his legend would have us believe now (instead of the “It’s in God’s hands” nonsense that lost the battle). From there, Kantor makes some reasonable guesses about how it would play out. It’s short enough that you might take a look
This novella by Rikki Ducornet is playful that mostly works as a dialog between an artificial intelligence and a human together in a space ship on a long-haul. The human being is a long way from Earth as we know it, but in terms of physical distance, as well as, the trappings of human culture. There’s a conscientious near-constant alluding to recent pop music in ways that are both funny and revealing. One of the things that makes me laugh about a lot of futuristic sci fi (and it’s just a limit in the genre, not an actual fault) is when we’re looking at the future, there’s always some real misses in what predictions are made about human society. Sure, it’s usually in the realm of technologies being predicted or failing to be predicted, but somehow only the Simpsons were like, it’s crazy that Trump was president. Or like, how come no one is the future is like, Whoa, crazy about that whole pandemic thing and also Twitter existing. Star Trek makes music, Sherlock Holmes, and Shakespeare references all the time, but is never like, on today’s Holodeck, Data will be dancing to “All the Single Ladies”.
Anyway, in addition to the interesting conversations about human society and music, this novella also sends our duo off to a near infinite number of planets in which one singular thing happens to be true. Riffing off the Star Trek tendency of “Umm this is the Ancient Greece planet” trope, it’s fun and funny (but also decidedly weird).
In a way, this most reminds of a pop culture remix of something like Solaris, alongside Invisible Cities.