So far to kickstart our year off, we have 13 reviews of 11 books by 11 authors within the first two months alone. Now this is great because it means, we (and by we, I mean you because I haven’t even begun my challenge reading yet this year), we are reading more authors, reading more widely and more female authors being read by many rather than one or two being read by many is something to celebrate.
Abigail Ulman‘s Hot Little Hands and Amanda Pillar‘s Captive were the two collections of short stories that got two reviews each.
And here is where it gets really interesting. Amanda Pillar‘s Captive is speculative fiction and a prequel of sorts to her novel Graced. This poses many intriguing problems. As you may or may not know if you have ever attempted to write a short story within the sci fi/speculative fiction/fantasy genres, there is a lot of world building to do before you even get into the plot and characters. It is a really hard technique to master within the word count of a few thousand and if you manage it well then you are amazingly adept at your craft.
Most speculative fiction writers who turn their hands to short fiction set their works in their worlds, which is fine but Captive is a prequel, designed to bring new readers in. So there is even more onus on the world building aspect of things if it is intended to be the first introduction to the world for many.
Elizabeth Fitzgerald points this out quite clearly in her review of Captive:
It’s always difficult to write short speculative fiction because the premise and feel of the world needs to be conveyed in not much space. Captive faces a difficult challenge because it’s set in a world that isn’t our present day or the far future of Graced but something in between. A prologue in the form of a character’s diary entry tries to set the scene but ends up feeling like an awkward infodump that left me without a visceral feel for the world. Since the pertinent information comes up again later–repeatedly, in some cases,–I feel it would have been better to put the prologue’s word count to better use within the story itself.
But she still ended up liking it so have a go at reading it and see what you think – can we have speculative fiction short stories that aren’t necessarily set in an already canonical established world as prequels/sequels/concurrent events to the main story in a novel or series? Or can we have standalone short fiction in speculative fiction worlds? How hard is it to create that story and bring the reader in? Have you read any examples where this has worked? Let us know in the comments.
But what about Hot Little Hands? Kate of Books are my favourite echoes that writing short stories is difficult no matter the genre and that it is different to engage the reader and draw them in but Cassie of Book Birdy in her review of Hot Little Hands brings up another interesting idea: the one of our concept of what it means to come of age, to grow up, to become an adult as it were.
[B]eing young is all about self discovery – discovering your identity, your sexuality, your career ambitions, your priorities. As exciting as discovery can be, it’s also tremendously uncertain. No one really knows the end point, nor how to get there. Mistakes and back-tracking are almost guaranteed.
Traditionally, ‘coming of age’ narratives have tended to treat ageing in a lineal fashion – you start young and clueless, you get older, and suddenly you’re less clueless.
But as we know from experience, and are now seeing reflected back at us on our TV screens and in our books, it doesn’t quite work like that…
Certainly, a lot of issues surrounding a sense of self and identity seem to stem from the expectation and idea that once a person reaches a certain threshold of age or a particular event in their life, they are now an adult with all the knowledge of how to be one, of how to exist and live in and navigate the world successfully and also the knowledge of who they are as a person with a determinedly fixed identity and that wisdom in all things will only increase as we grey and grow older as if we are now only able to be added to instead of molded, shaped, subtracted from, multiplied and sometimes even divided by what we continue to come up against. A deviation from this pattern is referred to as a crisis – midlife, quarterlife and so on. But who we are as people is ever constantly changing, a dance between the neurons in our brain creating our unique sense of who we are individually, reacting and responding to what occurs around us everyday – so, is fiction now starting to capture this? And if so, is that something that can be adequately captured in short fiction?
We are asking a lot of questions here about what the short fiction format can and cannot do but they are interesting ones. As our collective consciousness and knowledge changes to incorporate more information about the world and ourselves and how things work so too does our literature change. So as we see more diverse voices, more marginal ideas be expressed more often in more mainstream ways and means, as we see more difference and change in our ideas and information, how does this affect the short story? What new problems does it create? What new opportunities for spinning a tale? Are there now new topics and genres where the short story can do new, innovative things? Let us know your thoughts below.
And as I have now gone all meta on you, let me pull you back with a quick rundown of the other short fiction collections reviewed this month before we launch into the poetry section. We had Christina Stead‘s The Salzburg Tales; Angela Slatter‘s Sourdough and Other Stories; Margaret Lynne Sharp‘s, Love, Now and Then; Josephine Rowe’s Tarcutta Wake; Tansy Rayner Roberts‘ Love and Romanpunk; Sue Isle‘ Nightsiders; Angela Slatter and Lisa L Hannett‘s The Female Factory; Mabel Forrest‘s The Green Harper and Rachel Amphlett‘s The Legacy Device. And let me further point out to you why I think it is an interesting question as to whether (and more to the point, exactly how so those of us who are writers can nick the tricks involved) short fiction can work for the speculative fiction genre: most of the books reviewed were in the speculative fiction genre.
On to poetry. Which right now is really easy to describe: one review of Mabel Forrest’s The Green Harper which is in the fantasy/speculative fiction genre and is half poetry, half short fiction in what seems a rather apt chimerical embodiment.
And as Debbie Robson tells us in her review, it is all about fairies:
Her little book The Green Harper is a delight and raises AGAIN a question that’s been hovering over me for a while. Why the fascination with fairy and saturnalia in the first two or so years of the 20th century? Some of it after 1918 can be viewed as a retreat from reality after the horrendous war years and the aftermath that everyone was coping with…
…But what is even more interesting in this collection is her various swipes at the government of the time and the White Australia Policy. In the short story The Little Black Man (he’s some sort of leprechaun) he says:
“I don’t like all this talk about a White Australia,” he said.
The pink waterlily opened her petals, and out came a fairy face—all dimples and rose.
“ Never listen to gossip,” she said, and then the leaves closed over her again.
The kingfisher put his beak on one side, and considered.“ There are points about being a coloured bird after all,” it said. “ I suppose only the crows will suffer—the magpies have enough white to save their reputation—even in a Labour community.”
Politics aside, this month we had World Poetry Day and next month is National Poetry Month in the US at least. I think we should contrive up a review fairy – I am hoping that we have read and reviewed more Australian poetry for March and April in the next round up.
About me: Marisa Wikramanayake is a freelance journalist, writer and editor. She published her first book at 17, has lived on three different continents, been in ground zero of a bomb blast twice, covered a Presidential election campaign and is currently hibernating in Perth, Australia. She’s also been freaked out by the Scientologists, helped run a national publishing conference for the Society of Editors (WA) and currently sits on the WA Media Alliance committee worrying about freelancers, editors and publishing and diversity. She is dangerous when bored, having terrorised educational institutions to finish an Honours thesis on Archaeology and a Masters thesis on Neuroscience and Science Communication. She penned book reviews for The West and science news and now writes and edits novels and dreams of fun cross platform media projects in the spare time that’s left over after painting, dancing, gaming and mentoring. She contributes her two cents as non-fiction editor at Australian Women Writers and is sort of in the charging into the fight and terrifying everyone else role at the Diverse Writers of Australia project. Feel free to read her latest book as she writes it at marisa.com.au, on Facebook or tweet at her at @mwikramanayake