This week’s reading:
Turning Angel, Greg Iles
The O. Henry Prize Stories 2006, ed. Laura Furman
The Space Opera Renaissance, ed. David Hartwell and Katherine Cramer
How to Accommodate Men, Marilyn Krysl
Zero Tolerance, ed. William Ayers, Bernardine Dohrn, and Rick Ayers
Green Angel, Alice Hoffman
The Hollow Earth, Rudy Rucker
First, the gems: The Space Opera Renaissance started out weak, with some so-bad-they’re-good (but not always quite bad enough) early space fantasies. It picked up around Leigh Brackett, though, and stayed strong through to the end. Honor Harrington’s my secret vice, and there was a very nice story about her early career; ditto Miles Vorkosigan, except I’m not embarrassed to admit that I like Bujold. The best piece in the entire collection, though, was the last story - which they warned me about in the introduction, and the story still surpassed my expectations. Any story that has dueling space courtiers vying with each other to better interpret the bad doggerel they consider their chivalric code is totally up my alley. I now must go read everything John C. Wright has ever written.
That story’s the only reason The Space Opera Renaissance beat out How to Accommodate Men as my pick of the week. The Krysl book is full of razor-sharp little stories. My favorite stories were the ones where she gets razor sharp about gender, class and religion. The retelling of the Genesis story as the tale of a relationship gone bad, for example, gets major points from me. The title story’s the one that sold me on the book, and the piece about a man trying to live a virtuous life was also smart and gorgeous. Unfortunately, her middle section about Sri Lanka occasionally comes off as the worst sort of liberal self-indulgent pity masked as guilt, but that’s only a few pages out of a generally lovely book.
The other gem of the week was the Rucker, a Jules-Verne-style science adventure about an nineteenth-century kid who, with his slave, his dog, and Edgar Allan Poe, discovers a way into the Hollow Earth and finds all sorts of interesting things there. Like aliens. Seriously awesome, totally pulp.
Greg Iles, as usual, turns out a solid thriller. I like how he’s building up a picture of Natchez over the course of several books in his series, and he’s not afraid to change the world that he creates (unlike many thriller and mystery writers!) because of the consequences of his characters’ actions.
The O. Henry stories ranged from fantastic to “How in hell did they let this in here?” but as I don’t have the volume in front of me, it’s hard to get specific.
Finally, the disappointments of the week. The Hoffman, despite being recommended to me by my usually-right-on friend Phil, was soddenly sentimental and sententiously symbolic. Imagine the worst of Patricia McKillip’s writing style combined with the emotional depth of the Chicken Soup for Your Soul series. Yikes - I expected better of Hoffman!
But fortunately for my continued ability to read Hoffman, Zero Tolerance was distinctly worse. It’s a collection of essays about schools’ zero tolerance policies, and the negative consequences they have for kids, and their racist implications, and so on and so forth. Each individual essay was generally excellent! Unfortunately, as a whole, the book read like a sledgehammer to the brain: the same few statistics, facts and stories over and over and over again. The writers aren’t at fault here, but wow, this project clearly needed better editors.
Shabbat Shalom, folks! See you next week!