I always loved to read anthologies or collections of short stories. My favorites tend to be the collections of older sci-fi. Science Fiction from about the 1950s and earlier just has some sort of mystique that modern sci-fi doesn’t seem to have. I could list a dozen favorites, but I’ll save that for some other time.
Recently, I read The Best of Pulphouse: The Hardback Magazine, edited by Kristine Kathryn Rusch. As with any anthology, there are some really good stories in here and some real stinkers. Most of the stories in this one, though, seemed just middle of the road.
A cursory review of the titles makes me think there are two main themes to the 25 stories: sex and murder. Some of the stories were really a little more graphic than a like—a cop-out for writers, in my opinion. I’ve always felt that my imagination is much better than a writer’s description. I feel the same way about comics. One of the things I really liked about the early issues of Cat & Mouse (which I wrote), was that many of the characters were brutal, but the viciousness generally happened off-panel. Your visualization of what might have happened off-panel might not be the same as mine.
Rather than run down a list of the entire 25 stores, which features work by such writers as Edward Bryant, Nancy Collins, Harry Turtledove, Adam-Troy Castro (a person I know peripherally), Jane Yolen, Harlan Ellison, George Alec Effinger and Charles de Lint, I’ll talk about the best and worst—in my opinion, that is.
Ellison, of course, always produces some pretty eerie stuff. The story that stands out to me, however, is “Why Pop-Pop Died” by Francis J. Matozzo, an author I’d never heard of before. “Why Pop-Pop Died” tells the story of a family’s home being invaded during a Christmas celebration by a small gang of thugs. The point of view is from that of a small child—one who does not understand all the things going on around him; beating, raping, etc. It is a very eerie story and really leaves the hair standing on end. It reveals both the brutality of human nature and at the same time, the innocence of youth.
Castro’s “Clearance to Land” comes in a close second for me. It’s hard to talk about the story without giving much away. Like Matozzo’s work, it is full of graphic brutality, brutality that takes place on a hi-jacked plane. We figure out something’s a little different when we realize the plane has been up in the air for three weeks without landing or running out of fuel. It isn’t until we hear the millions of screams and see the flaming earth that we realize where the plane is headed. Keep in mind, though, it has been hi-jacked.
The least (I can’t say “worst” here, because obviously all of the stories here have beaten out others to be included in the anthology) of the stories would probably have to be Yolen’s “Creationism: An illustrated Lecture in Two Parts.” The editors noted that Yolen’s intent with the story was “to offend every religion she could think of.” The only thing that offended me about this piece is her ignorance of religion. What she tries to do is tell the Biblical story of creation—interjected with smart aleck comments—as if from a scientist’s point of view. It’s quite clear that Yolen is smitten with the religion of Darwinism to explain creation.
It’s hard to recommend this book, so I don’t think I will…not unless you can find it at a garage sale for less than $5. That would allow you to read the stories that are worth reading in it.
But hey! That’s just my opinion.