Portable Childhoods - Ellen Klages [Tachyon Publications]
The Secret Files of the Diogenes Club - Kim Newman [MonkeyBrain Books]
Hart & Boot & Other Stories - Tim Pratt [Night Shade Books]
Tiny Deaths - Robert Shearman [Comma Press]
Dagger Key and Other Stories - Lucius Shepard [PS Publishing]
My opinions on the Diogenes Club stories as a whole are covered in my post on the nominated novella “Cold Snap”, but the short version is that after attempting to read The Man From the Diogenes Club last year I am so burnt out on the entire concept of the Diogenes Club that I can scarcely stomach reading another story, let alone a full collection of the Diogenes Club. So, here’s my full admission: I have not read this collection, nor do I have any intention to do so. I’ve read “Cold Snap” and that was more than enough.
The crazy thing is that I’m willing to put a collection I have only read one story from below a collection I could not find. I checked both my local library as well as my library’s interlibrary loan catalog (in state only) and it was nowhere to be found. Even so, I’m quite confident that Plots and Misadventures HAS to be better than The Secret Files of the Diogenes Club.
Hart & Boot & Other Stories from Tim Pratt marks the first of the collections here I’ve actually read cover to cover and while individual stories are good reads, the collection as a whole somehow does not stand out. The title story “Hart and Boot”, in particular, is a strong story. “Impossible Dreams” is a favorite and was a previous Hugo nominee and, along with the title story, is the true standout of the collection. The rest of the collection, while interesting, is a grouping of slightly quirky stories that one might find at Strange Horizons (not a bad thing), but not necessarily something I would pay money for to have in book format.
Robert Shearman’s collection, like Tim Pratt, is filled with quirk, and while the stories generally have one “trick” that Shearman builds the story around – Tiny Deaths is a stronger, more exciting collection to read. Here is what I had to say about Tiny Deaths:
The thing is, the stories of Tiny Deaths are one-trick ponies. In nearly every case they have one thing about them which twists the story: the woman giving birth to furniture in "So Proud", reincarnation of Natalie as an ash-tray in "Ashes to Ash", a woman who has to die individually for each person in her life in "Favourite", and a television that bleeds in "Static". The rest of the story is normal, more or less, and the stories are short enough that Shearman is riding the one trick, the one main "idea" of the story. What makes all this work is that each story is short. Shearman never overstays his welcome in any given story. He gets in, tells a quick story, and gets out.
Now, I’ve only read a small handful of the stories from Dagger Key, but Lucius Shepard is one of the best writers working today and any collection of his will be outstanding. The fact that this collection includes “Dead Money” and “Stars Seen Through Stone” only make that impression stronger. “Limbo” is another solid story, though not quite as exceptional as “Dead Money” or “Stars Seen Through Stone”. Basically, having read four of the stories in Dagger Key, I feel okay placing it as the #2 collection nominated for the World Fantasy Award. There is a good chance that had I the chance to finish reading the collection before the World Fantasy Awards I might rank this one as the best collection, but right now I can’t.
Portable Childhoods. Ellen Klages. Before Portable Childhoods I had not read a single thing written by Klages and if not for the World Fantasy Award nomination I may never had read anything from Klages. That would have been my loss. Portable Childhoods is an exceptional collection. Here’s what I had to say about Portable Childhoods.
This praise of the best stories of Portable Childhoods is not to suggest that every story is superb or that there are not disappointments (I'm looking at you, "Ringing Up Baby), but taken as a whole Portable Childhoods is an exceptional collection. More often than not the stories contained within easily engage and entertain. They strike chords within the reader. The less successful stories do not linger in the memory like an angry specter. The fade, leaving the stronger stories to shine all that much brighter.
This can and should be said about any category and about awards as a whole: the best thing about award nomination lists is that it exposes readers to works and writers which they may not have otherwise encountered. I would have read the Lucius Shepard collection anyway, the same with Tim Pratt. But, I would never have discovered Ellen Klages or Robert Shearman without the nomination and just for that, awards have value. For this particular category my choice / hope / nonvoter for winner would be Portable Childhoods from Ellen Klages.