Short story review, Nov 2012: Erikson, Lynch, Abnett and Niffenegger
Joshua S Hill rounds up the best short stories he has recently read.
Goats of Glory by Steven Erikson
The first story in another anthology that I’ve had the pleasure of browsing recently – Swords & Dark Magic: the New Sword and Sorcery edited by Jonathan Strahan and Lou Anders – is by one of fantasy’s biggest names; Steven Erikson.
His addition to the anthology is Goats of Glory and it has all the Eriksonian flare you’d hope for.
Set in an indeterminate world – which is to say, it could fit in his Malazan world and it may not – we encounter five surviving members of a thousand-strong army, and the half dozen or so inhabitants of the run down town of Glory.
It is suitably morose from the get-go, though the “why” behind that sense is not fully explained until halfway through the tale. Maybe slow to begin with for those who are unused to Erikson’s style, the story quickly steps up into a fantastic action sequence through a warren of tunnels, turning the preconceived notion of how the story would go – at least from the view of the residents of Glory – up on its head.
To cap it all off there is a great cliff-hanger that receives no explanation, attention, or thought whatsoever and leaves the reader suitably hungry for anything else written by Erikson. Just as he would have hoped, I imagine.
All in all, one of the best short stories I’ve read in a while.
In The Stacks by Scott Lynch
It was with utter and purely unadulterated joy that I was able to start reading ‘In The Stacks’ by Scott Lynch and realise just how much I have missed his writing. Author of the widely loved Gentleman Bastard series, Lynch has suffered from severe depression and been forced to continually postpone the release of his third novel, ‘The Republic of Thieves’. However, with his contribution to ‘Swords & Dark Magic: the New Sword and Sorcery’ edited by Jonathan Strahan and Lou Anders, I was once again reminded of just how wonderful a writer he is.
I love that feeling of returning to the pages of one of your favourite authors and just knowing it is him.
In The Stacks is set, funnily enough, in the stacks of the Living Library of the High University of Hazar. It is the final exam for the fifth year magic students and their task is simple; return a library book.
So obviously it isn’t as simple as that, and the lack of simplicity is what makes this story so engaging. It jives on the library dynamics I’ve read of in Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series, which dictates that the more magically themed books you put in proximity to one another the more unstable the whole region becomes.
The magic system is interesting and almost entirely ignored by our protagonist, and the climax of the story is suitably fascinating. The twist is enjoyable, and gives a great texture to everything that came before it, but only once you reach the twist, giving the whole tale a sort of duplicated sense by the time you finish.
If for no other reason than to read this story, I would recommend buying the whole anthology. Thankfully, there are some other great stories in there too, which just makes the enjoyment of In The Stacks all the more special.
Party Tricks by Dan Abnett
Contained within the anthology ‘Magic: An Anthology of the Esoteric and Arcane’ compiled by the wonderful Jonathan Oliver at Solaris publishing, Dan Abnett’s story ‘Party Tricks’ is an absolute gem.
As I trundle through this quiet reading period in my life, I’m enjoying being able to read a short story from some of the variety of sources available to me, without worrying about needing to review an entire book. So when I opened up Magic on my iPad Kindle app, I went straight to a name I knew and dove straight in.
I was not disappointed.
I must make it clear: you probably want to have a small attachment to politics to get as much enjoyment from it as I did; say, maybe a love of the TV show The West Wing.
Party Tricks is set in Britain during an unnamed period of political strife inside a party of indeterminate political leanings (in other words, you shouldn’t be upset by any particular inaccuracies or politics). There is magic, but it is never displayed and barely acknowledged. It is a little bit of a whodunit, and you’re left with a great little cliff-hanger that doesn’t so much leave you wanting more but does wrap up any mysteries you might have had.
The whole story is told in an “I remember that time when …” style but with a narrator who is funny, witty, and important. There is no real detractor for me in this story, and if this is representative of the whole anthology then I’ll be stoked to recommend it to people.
The Wrong Fairie by Audrey Niffenegger
Another story to reside in Jonathan Oliver’s spectacular collection, ‘Magic: An Anthology of the Esoteric and Arcane’ is a tale from one of the planet’s most post recognisable names; Audrey Niffenegger, author of ‘The Time Travellers Wife’.
“My story is called The Wrong Fairie and is about Charles Altamont Doyle. He was a Victorian artist who was institutionalized for alcoholism. He was also the father of Arthur Conan Doyle, and he believed in fairies.”
And indeed that sums up the story very well. I wasn’t overly impressed with the tale, as it seemed very much a beginner’s attempt. Without the polish and hook of other stories I’ve read recently, Niffenegger’s ‘The Wrong Fairie’ seemed somewhat bland in comparison.
Nevertheless, the story was interesting, shining the light on an untold/fictional slice of Charles Altamount Doyle’s life. It leaves you feeling happy, if a little deprived, as you enter a fairie world that entices the reader.
More could have been made of Charles’ situation and love of fairies, but what we are left with is a nice little story that surely adds to the collections overall worth.