Wednesday, 24 March 2010

Short Fiction Wednesday

Two very different stories this week. I don't plan along themes or ideas when I choose stories, and in fact, the whole process is embarrasingly random: I use the fiction sidebar on Futurismic to choose a venue, poke around, see if the content catches my eye and then choose somethihg from the contents. I don't choose anything too long - I'm not reading novellas or even novellettes. I don't comment on the presentation of the stories because I don't read them online. In fact, I copy the text into a Word doc, that's formatted in the style I find easiet to read, and print them out (at work - sh!). It takes me an hour or so to read a couple of stories - I can do it between eating my lunch and the commute home - and another hour or so to ponder and write about them. Fascinating! Let's get on with the stories.

Like last week's publishers, Subterranean Press produce an online fiction zine to help publicise their print products, a print magazine and expensive collectiable editions from well-known writers and fan favourites. It's similar to the model of PS Publishing, but PS is print only. They feature a lot of well-known names in their online offering, and the winter 2010 issue from which this story comes, includes stories from Ian R McLeod, John Scalzi, Kage Baker and Brian Lumley.

Harboring Pearls: A Lucifer Jones Story, is not really fantasy or SF, but a kind of a yarn, a tall tail that makes me think of Damon Runyon or mid-century American humourists. The central charatcter and narrator is a kind of roguish wise fool, which is a hard thing to pull off without it sounding like an annoying Mary Sue. Authors are not roguish brawlers and card sharps, by and large, and when they try to pretend to be they can come unstuck. It requires a kind of affectionate mocking tone necessary to avoid the protagonist becoming a Mary Sue, and successful examples of it are George McDonald Fraser's Flashman and Vance's Cugel. Both these characters are nicely undercut by their authors, balancing the character's self regard with the author's more aware stance on the character. Resnick provides a strong example of the genre here, with crosses and double crosses that leave the central character finally unstuck. It's a gentle, genial story, and I gather part of a series relating to the Lucifer Jones character. I did feel like I missed a bit of continuity jokes, but the tale lived up to its genre and the voice flowed easily and convincingly.

Mindflights is also planning to release print anthologies, but the print side seems less dynamic than the online fiction output. Mindflights decribe themselves as striving "to provide quality fiction, poetry, and exposition, all in means that respects traditional values and Christian principles." It's an interesting market distinction to take, but there's aalways been a vigorous strand in SF that adrresses Christianity rather than ignoring it or lampooning it through subtle or not so subtle fantasy analogies.

It's another tricky genre, of course, and I can understand how materialistic cynics (of which I am one) might be nervous about the genre. Doug Kolacki's The Never People demonstrates, however, that Christian and fantastical themes can be successfully intertwined to create fascinating and insightful fiction.

The Never People addresses a character question: how would you explain to a bunch of immortals the idea of going to heaven? How does it feel to die when everyone around you lives forever? We're not interested in the whys and wherefores here - the world of the immortals is only lightly portrayed - the immortals live in a kind of edenic eternal bliss, childlike and filled with joy and love for the world, and Leo doesn't do a lot of exploring of their world. We never find out what this place is - is it the future? another planet? another dimension? Could it be Heaven itself? THe immortals themselves are childlike and naive, ready to accept everything Leo tells them, but one suspects only lightly. With no concept of death or pain they don't really understand the Crucifiction.

At the heart of this story is Leo, at first confused, then angry and finally accepting at being thrust from our world into the world of the immortals without explanation. The story resonates deeply with Christian themes - Eden and the fall, the Crucifiction and the resurrection - but it never asks us explicitly to believe in Chirstianity. This is to the story's great credit, as it explores the ideas of sacrifice and resurrection implicitly and never asks us to believe the metaphysics of Christianity while giving us great insight into Christian ideas.

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