REVIEW SUMMARY: A brief glance at two recent stories acquired for Tor.com by award-winning editor Ellen Datlow.
PROS: Tight, imaginative prose; interesting blend of science fiction and fantasy; myth and mystery skillfully knit together; meaningful artwork accompanies each story.
CONS: One story may be too enigmatic to satisfy all readers.
BOTTOM LINE: Editor Ellen Datlow has acquired a couple of winners for Tor.com, a feat she seems to pull off with some regularity. One story weaves together old myth and contemporary mystery in a way that will draw the reader in while delivering a chill that is not simply the result of its winter setting. The other is a mix of science fiction and fantasy which examines the idea of multiple realities in a highly creative fashion. This second story is quite enigmatic, and yet it won over this reader who is often a curmudgeon when it comes to that type of storytelling.
She didn’t understand. I’d been a myth before she was born.
This short story, set on a cold Seattle night during the Christmas holidays, will put a chill in your bones, even if you are currently experiencing the near-Summer heat of June. A woman walks into a bar, expectation is in the air, only she is not looking for a lover, not in the conventional sense at any rate. No, this woman’s expectation is of a different sort. She knows…or at least strongly suspects…that her long-awaited expectations will be fulfilled tonight.
Nicola Griffith’s redolent language reveals a tale set in modern times, yet steeped in the myth and mystery of a far older age. It is a dark, brooding story that begins quietly enough and then builds upon itself as steadily as an ever-quickening heartbeat. It is a tale of predator and prey and Griffith does a marvelous job of keeping you guessing as to the identity of each until the story’s conclusion. Nicola Griffith paints the dark, cold scenery beautifully and by the end you cannot help but feel a satisfying warmth in a story well told. This vague review is attempting to dance clumsily around anything that might spoil this deeply satisfying work of short fiction.
Read it after the sun has gone down.
The artwork commissioned by Irene Gallo to accompany “Cold Wind” is by artist Sam Wolfe Connelly. Connelly is a young, twenty-something artist based in New York City whose portfolio is full of wonderfully haunting images. Like that created for “Cold Wind”, his work evokes mood with his use of minimal color and effective use of dark and shadow. This accompanying art piece gives visual clues regarding the heart of “Cold Wind”‘s mystery while also putting the reader in the perfect seasonal frame of mind right from the start.
They skittered back and forth over her skin, a shirt of rosy sequins, and across their bodies the projected constellations flickered in and out of sight.
I think this is before she died.
I generally do not enjoy weird science fiction or fantasy stories, “weird” here defined as stories that are never completed grounded and leave you with as many questions, or perhaps more, than you had when the story began. Genevieve Valentine’s novelette is a stunning exception to my usual tastes. That “Insects of Love” is so engaging is as much a tribute to Valentine’s skill with crafting ethereal sentences as it is to the fact that she uses those sentences to so deeply weave you into the narrative that you end up marveling at the enigmatic conclusion.
What is known for certain is that “Insects of Love” is the story of two sisters, Fairuz and Soraya. One sister gets a tattoo of constellations covering her back and disappears into the desert. The other is obsessed with bugs, and with finding her lost sister. More than that, however, “Insects of Love” is an imaginative exploration of the concept of multiple realities. Soraya acts as narrator, offering tantalizing riddles in nearly every paragraph, as her tale leaps back and forth in time and dimension. It is a testament to the strength of the story that the more I read the closer I felt myself leaning in towards the screen, as if unconsciously being drawn in by the words, intuiting that a closer view might reveal its secrets.
I discovered Genevieve Valentine through her short fiction and am reminded with each story why her work has such a powerful magnetism.
Irene Gallo chose a work by artist Tran Nguyen for the image that accompanies “Insects of Love”. Approximately three weeks prior to this story’s release, Tran Nguyen won a Gold Award for this piece in the Editorial category at the Spectrum 21 Awards Ceremony. Although butterflies are not the primary insect of Soraya’s obsessions, they perfectly represent the metamorphosis that occurs throughout this novelette. It is a beautiful image and I was happy to be in attendance to see Tran Nguyen accept her award.
Authors are doing wondrous things with short fiction. I hope you are availing yourself of the many free offerings available not only at Tor.com but on sites all over the internet. It would be a shame to miss what is happening today.