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The Journal of the Lincoln Heights Literary Society
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08/14/2004 Archived Entry: "Trek book review: Imaginings"

Imaginings: An Anthology of Long Short Fiction
Edited by Keith DeCandido
Published by Pocket Books
352 pages, $14.00

Review by Laurel Sutton

Novelettes are funny animals. At 8-15,000 words, they're way longer than your average short story, way shorter than your average novel, and often confused with novellas, which usually run 15-40,000 words. Like any short fiction, they are whole discrete entities: characters are introduced, the stage is set, and before you know it the plot has climaxed and it's all over. If it's a good novelette, the point of the story has just whacked you right between the eyes before you have time to catch your breath.

Anthologies are also a gamble will there be enough variety to keep you reading? Will half the stories be great and the rest suck?

(See our review of Strange New Worlds.) You have to rely on the editor; fortunately, we're in good hands with Keith DeCandido, himself quite a prolific SF author. This collection has a broad range of topics, styles, and settings, so if you don't like one story, you're bound to find another more to your taste.

The best speculative fiction is all about what's possible. What if there was a revolution, but nobody showed up to revolt ("Next Year in Jerusalem")? What if people with telekinetic powers were just plain walking-around folks right now ("Amends")? What if you could see just a little into your future ("Great White Hope")? And those stories are just for starters. By the time we get to the last piece, "Of a Sweet Slow Dance in the Wake of Temporary Dogs", we're faced with a decision between an uneventful but stable life, and the possibility of pure, exquisite happiness for nine days at a time when the tenth day is pure hell?

A few complaints: the premise of "A Planet Called Elvis" is great uh, a planet full of Elvii but the main character is too stupid and pathetic to care much about; I liked his female sidekick much better. In "Insider", a woman who has been living virtually in an online environment (kind of like Stephenson's "Snowcrash" etc.) for twenty years has to go to the outside world to save a life. Um, I know her body was cared for all those years, but hell, if you were basically immobile for that long you couldn't support your own weight, much less hoof it around town.

The most interesting story is also the most frustrating. "Walking Contradiction" is a detective noir-ish tale in the not-too-distant future where there are "ambigendered" folks - both male and female. Huge kudos to the author, Nancy Jane Moore, for using non-gender-specific names and for avoiding the use of personal pronouns when writing about ambis, and making it look effortless. (Kind of like trying to write a novel without the letter "e".) But I have a big problem with the behavior of the main character, Morgan, who is fierce in defending the rights and choices of ambis, but completely opposed - irrationally, I think to a group of people who want to become sexless. WTF? Both sexes at once is OK, but wanting to be neither is bad? I couldn't tell if the author was expressing her own opinion here, or whether I was supposed to recognize that Morgan was being just as closed-minded as the people who think ambis are freaks. Help me out, here.

However, those are minor quibbles. One of the best things about this collection is that the stories are uniformly well-written. There's so much bad writing being published these days that it is pure joy to read 342 pages of fiction that is free from spelling errors, grammatical mistakes, clumsy construction, hackneyed metaphors, cardboard characters, and plot holes bigger than Donald Trump's ego. (Try reading "The DaVinci Code" if you don't believe me, in which "Aston Martin" is misspelled. Twice. And don't get me started about the use of "tutored" as a substitute for "said".) Let us be joyful that in the world of so much published bad writing, there are still editors and publishers who care about such things. Opa!

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