Tuesday, October 07, 2008

"Shoggoths in Bloom", by Elizabeth Bear

I've had the March 2008 issue of Asimov's sitting on top of a pile of magazines on my end table since, well, probably January 2008 given how far in advance Asimov's ships subscriber copies. This was one of the two magazines I took with me to read on the drives to and from Disney (along with Weird Tales #346). Anyway, the story I most wanted to read in this issue was Elizabeth Bear's second Asimov's story "Shoggoths in Bloom". Her first Asimov's story ("Tideline") won her the Hugo this year.

If you've been coming around these parts for a while, it's probably more than obvious that I have a love / love relationship with Elizabeth Bear's novel length fiction.

Where I am in less of a love / love relationship is with Bear's shorter work. I think she works better in the longer form where she can more fully develop the atmosphere of a story and really suck the reader in. She excels at this. Even the Jenny Casey novels, which have been slower starts for me as a reader, really deliver by the end as Bear immerses the reader in that future Hartford (and beyond). Her short work, by comparison, has been hit or miss for me. Stories like "And the Deep Blue Sea" or "Your Collar" connected with me, but much of the rest of her shorter work has been less memorable simply because I am unable to get that immersion from her short stories that I get in her novels.

"Shoggoths in Bloom" falls on the more successful side of her short fiction catalog.

Set in 1930's New England, "Shoggoths in Bloom" features Dr. Harding, a black college professor doing research in a Maine fishing town on shoggoths. I make mention of Dr. Harding's race because, in this story and given the setting, it matters that he is a black man.

Oh, and for those whom this will matter, the shoggoths in the story are the lone science fictional element. "Shoggoths in Bloom" is really a human story, though the shoggoths do feature prominently as a natural creature.

The story touches upon race and while not in a cosmetic manner, the fact that Dr. Harding is black does not mean "Shoggoths in Bloom" is about race. This fact does inform the story and quite obviously who Dr. Harding is informs his decisions which in turn directs "Shoggoths in Bloom" in a particular direction which may not have occured were Dr. Harding white. Or a woman.

The gradual research and exploration Dr. Harding undertakes to understand the shoggoths is the heart of this story and even without the issue of race and the burgeoning realization through newspapers of what is occuring in Germany, "Shoggoths in Bloom" would be an interesting story. With everything else that Bear has put into the story to show that these characters are not operating in a vacuum devoid of life, "Shoggoths in Bloom" is a rather strong story from Elizabeth Bear.

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