Friday, October 24, 2008

Thoughts on 2008 World Fantasy Award Nominees: Novellas

"The Mermaids" - Robert Edric [PS Publishing]
"Illyria" - Elizabeth Hand [PS Publishing]
"The Master Miller's Tale" - Ian R. MacLeod [F&SF May 2007]
"Cold Snap" - Kim Newman [The Secret Files of the Diogenes Club,]
"Stars Seen through Stone" - Lucius Shepard [F&SF July 2007]

I've resigned myself to the fact that I'm just not going to be able to read Ian MacLeod's story "The Master Miller's Tale" before the World Fantasy Awards. It will be available in The Year's Best Fantasy 2008, but that comes out next year (explain that one). If I thought at all about it when I stopped by Uncle Hugo's last weekend, I could have grabbed the back issue of F&SF and read the story. Alas, I didn't and this weekend is out, and the following weekend is World Fantasy. So, no review of the story. I'll trust that it doesn't suck and if it happens to win, I'll track it down. Stiff competition in this category, though.

So, "Cold Snap". It isn't that I passively ignore the Diogenes Club, I actively dislike it. Even though this in no way impacts me as a person, I actively hope a Diogenes Club story is not nominated for a Hugo, Nebula, or World Fantasy Award next year. Simply because then I can pretend it doesn't exist. I feel some weird obligation to read the story when it is nominated. Anyway. Here's what I previously said about "Cold Snap."

The story benefits from not having read the previous stories in The Secret Files of the Diogenes Club. “Cold Snap” is the last story in the collection and I am quite positive that had I attempted to read the rest of them that the book would have been tossed across the room long before I got to “Cold Snap”.

Without really talking about the story, since I’m really disinterested in discussing the Diogenes Club at any length, I semi-enjoyed “Cold Snap”. The over-description of flamboyant clothing was not there, and getting into some of the secret societies was interesting, as was the threat of the Cold demon that was about to freeze the planet. There is just something about the story, and the larger world of the Diogenes Club that simply falls flat for me as a reader. I’m not sure what, except that I certainly was not going to start from the front of the book and read any of the other stories. I’m pretty much done with the Diogenes Club until the next major award nomination (Hugo, Nebula, World Fantasy), and may that nomination not be soon. I am content with that decision.

Still content. Basically, the story was light on the aspects of the Diogenes Club which really turn me off and I've been down on these story since last year's World Fantasy Awards, but "Cold Snap" didn't suck like I expected. Still a bit of a chore, though.

Before this nomination I had never heard of Robert Edric or his novella "The Mermaids". It's a solid story and I would definitely read more Edric if given the chance. Here's what I had to say when I reviewed the story.

The Mermaids is, at its core, a simple story of disbelief in the face of the fantastic. It’s more, though. The heartbreak of the attack on a fifteen year old girl who, despite the discomfort of the magistrate, is no Lolita (though, even Lolita too was a victim). Sarah Carr is simply a young girl who saw something and believed what she saw. For that, for daring to tell the truth about what she saw, for daring to see the fantastic, the trial with unknown stakes proceeds. So, in a sense, The Mermaids is about truth, about belief, about the fear of small towns and sensitivity about how they are seen by the world, and not at all about mermaids. Despite the title.

Moving on to Lucius Shepard. Given that "Stars Seen Through Stone" has been nominated for both the Hugo and Nebula this year, and that I first read the story as part of The Best of Lucius Shepard anthology, I'll just do what I've been doing and repost part of what I said then.

The story was originally published in Fantasy and Science Fiction and later in The Best of Lucius Shepard collection (forthcoming in August 2008). Like many other Lucius Shepard stories “Stars Seen Through Stone” is not an overtly SFF story. His fiction takes place in the real world, but a real world where sometimes something unexpected and unreal can occur. This is actually addressed early on in the story when the narrator mentions that the world contains all sorts of weirdness, but it is only the most extreme that anyone notices at all. “Stars Seen Through Stone” is set in 1970’s (sort of) Pennsylvania in a town called Black William (great name, by the way). Vernon is a small time, but moderately respected independent music producer and he signs a talented, if creepy, singer. There is an early incident with some odd ghost lights at the town library, but after that early incident the story follows Vernon developing his creepy singer, but comes back to the history of the town and the history of those odd lights. It is a quietly fascinating and compelling story, one that doesn’t necessarily jump out as being the story readers bang down the doors of their friends house to talk about, but it is also a really good story and one definitely worth the recognition of the various award nominations it has received.

While I will never be surprised by a Lucius Shepard win for any major award (or minor award), but I think the class of the field is another of The Inferior 4 + 1 (along with Shepard), Elizabeth Hand. "Illyria" is an outstanding story. I had never read Hand's work before, but this is a damn fine story. From my review of the story.

Outside of a slightly stilted too descriptive opening, Illyria rings with the earnest sense of youth that powered Dead Poets Society. The comparison may not be fully appropriate as we are comparing a novella to a feature length film, but this is a certain air to the movie, which if the film ever hit you, is clear and understandable and relatable. Illyria has that same special “something”.

This is all vague and incomplete, but writing about Illyria is difficult. I could tell you that the story is about Madeline Tierney, a young woman in love with her cousin Rogan, a scion (Madeline) of a once famous theatre family which has since abandoned the theatre as if it were unclean. I could tell you that the story is about the relationship between Madeline and Rogan as they grow, about the influence of the their and Madeline’s Aunt Kate. I could tell you all this, and more, but it would not serve to get across the quiet grace of Illyria, the still-small voice that gets under the skin and whispers to the reader.

So, there you have it. If I was on the jury for this award, and I had any say or sway, I'd give the World Fantasy Award to Elizabeth Hand. Without having read the MacLeod, the only nominee I'd be disappointed to see win is Kim Newman's "Cold Snap". But, seriously, if not Hand, then it should be Lucius Shepard. The man can flat out write.

Previous Thoughts:
Short Story

No comments: