Monday, January 25, 2010

Scenting the Dark and Other Stories, by Mary Robinette Kowal

Scenting the Dark and Other Stories
Mary Robinette Kowal
Subterranean Press: 2009

Scenting the Dark and Other Stories is the slim debut collection from Campbell Award winning writer Mary Robinette Kowal. Astute readers of this blog will realize that I’ve been a fan of Kowal’s work for several years now, but the surprise here is that I had only previously read three of the eight stories collected here. So, despite being familiar with the work of Mary Kowal, Scenting the Dark and Other Stories offers surprises and discovery.

This collection opens with “Portrait of Ari”, a story which can be viewed as a college conversation, but with a twist. It’s a quick and simple story, but certainly an enjoyable one. The second story, however, is the one which really sets the standard for Scenting the Dark. Kowal writes in the Postnote to “Death Comes But Twice”, “I also admit that I wanted to see if I could write an epistolary tale where you know the narrator dies but still worry about him.” She could and she did, and it is a fascinating story. There is a Victorian feel to this story and it is a wonderful piece of fiction.

The title story is a science fiction horror tale where the protagonist is blind and the sense of smell is all-important. What “Scenting the Dark” demonstrates so well is how scent can impact a story, that while readers frequently don’t think about the smells of a world or a story, those scents really enrich the story. Here they are essential, but in general smell can very much enhance a story. Kowal uses scent to great effect in this fantastic and heartbreaking story.

Mary Robinette Kowal closes the collection with “Jaiden’s Weaver”. This is a story born of the question “Could a habitable planet have rings, too?” and then wondering how that would impact life and culture on that planet. The thing is that despite how central the world is to the story, “Jaiden’s Weaver” is a story of a girl and her desire for a “teddy bear spider”, a pet nothing like what we would imagine. “Jaiden’s Weaver” is the newest story in this collection and it is absolutely wonderful, but that can be said about so many of Kowal’s stories.

There are only eight stories in this 80 page collection from Mary Robinette Kowal, but there is not a wasted word here. The stories of Scenting the Dark and Other Stories should delight readers as much as they delighted me. With two novels and more short fiction pending, you’ll want to pay attention to Mary Robinette Kowal.


Tia Nevitt said...

I don't usually read short story collections, but I might go for this one because I've liked everything I've read by Kowal, and I'm really looking forward to reading her first novel.

Greyweather said...

Honestly, I have mixed feelings about this collection.

"Scenting the Dark" and "Jaiden's Weaver" were very good.

"Death Comes But Twice" was excellent.

I thought "Locked In" was absolutely fantastic.

The other four however, did nothing for me. The were not bad stories, but they simply did not live up to my expectations.

Joe said...

I can see where you're coming from, Grey, and you did highlight the strongest stories, but I fairly well enjoyed everything in the collection.

"Horizontal Rain" would have made a great addition, though.