Thursday, September 11, 2008

"The Girl Who Sang Rose Madder", by Elizabeth Bear

Em dropped her head, pressed her palms over her ears, and wished she were home in the hot tub with a bottle of Bordeaux and the Bad Seeds cranked up really loud.

She’d bet a platinum record there weren’t ten people in this audience who would know Nick Cave if he gave them a lap dance. 1976 was thirty fucking years ago, and none of the fat shuffling zombies in the chairs around her wanted to hear anything newer.

And that was a reason to hang up her guitar.

Elizabeth Bear
has written a damn fine rock and roll story in "The Girl Who Sang Rose Madder". She tells the story of Em, an aging and once rock goddess who hasn't picked up her guitar in years. The story opens with Em back stage at a rock concert where the headlining act is her sister's boyfriend, a sixty year old who looks like he is a walking corpse and who hasn't had a spark of something special in years.

"The Girl Who Sang Rose Madder" hits all the notes (no pun intended) to get across Em's disillusionment with her life, the loss of her music, old music fans who stay in the past, and quite a bit more. The story gets her disappointment.

On a very basic level "The Girl Who Sang Rose Madder" is a kick ass story of rock and roll, and perhaps the loss of it. It seems like the only stories I've read about rock and roll take it from the end of an era and not so much in the moment, and this is no different.

What Bear does different from a straight rock and roll story, though, is inject a fantasy element to the tale, though it isn't obvious from the start and it needs to be worked up towards rather than revealed up front. Except, that astute readers may catch what that element will be. I was not an astute reader, but the clues are there.

While I am very much a fan of Elizabeth Bear's novels, I have been a bit more hit and miss with her short fiction. I've found some excellent stories ("Orm the Beautiful", "And the Deep Blue Sea", "Your Collar"), but I have not been as overall excited by Bear's short work.

"The Girl Who Sang Rose Madder" is an exciting story, one that feels like rock and roll in similar ways to George R. R. Martin's The Armageddon Rag. Except this comparison isn't entirely fair because The Amageddon Rag is truly an outstanding novel, one of the best novels from one of fantasy's best writers. At its best, "The Girl Who Sang Rose Madder" evokes the Martin novel.

One of the things I appreciate most about the story is that I'm pretty sure it is chock full of detail and stuff that I have no clue about and yet it is that very stuff which makes the story to feel rich. "The Girl Who Sang Rose Madder" is a good one, one of Bear's better short stories.

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