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It’s Gargoyle Laundry Day…

…at the old homestead. Hard to find a quiet moment.

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Short Story (Well, Novelette) Review: And Then There Were (N-One) by Sarah Pinsker

Amazon com Uncanny Magazine Issue 15 March April 2017 eBook

Spoiler Warning: I try to avoid the worst spoilers, but as one of those weirdos who doesn’t care about spoilers I can easily miss them. Assume there are spoilers!

(Also, this appeared about a week ago on my Patreon page — become a patron and you’ll get to read my posts early, too — and sometimes get a free ebook in the bargain!)

And Then There Were (N-One) by Sarah Pinsker (you’ll find it in Uncanny Magazine’s March/April 2017 issue – it’s a public read at this writing) is an alternate worlds yarn. It’s not the standard “let’s see history if X battle were won instead of lost” or “what if dinosaurs evolved human-scale intelligence” alternate world story. It’s still a familiar take, and also a good read.

Standout features: There are some pretty excellent passages pertaining to regrets in life, satisfaction vs. dissatisfaction with your life (yes, yours. I know “universality” is a hotly debated point right now, but regrets are about as universal as you can get I think), as well as love and work-life balance and “life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.”

Impressions: As soon as it became apparent this was a multiple versions of one person story (and that is made obvious quickly), I had a moment of fear that it would be in some way a Citadel of Ricks ripoff. My next thought was that an editor for a prozine or semiprozine would almost certainly not buy a story like that. It isn’t at all such a story.

With the ‘coincidence’ of suthor name and character name(s) I wondered briefly how much author self-insert there was and where. And then I forgot to wonder and it didn’t matter at all. I was too busy reading.

The story maintains a blend of serious and light as it progresses to and through the central, darkish, murder mystery (is a murder ever not dark to some degree or another?). The mystery takes on an extra dimension given the premise. How much of our lives are shaped by self-harm, here being the kinds that don’t show in cuts and balding patches and so forth? What would we do or suffer to change our choices and their ramifications? Why do we spend so much time (well, I do, though I’m (no, really, I’m serious) trying to cut down) maundering over what could have been instead of looking to what tomorrow can be? This story makes you look at that perhaps more than is comfortable, as good stories tend to do with the issues they highlight.

There’s also, by the way, an amusingweird aside in which two Sarahs are clearly contemplating making out. Is that masturbation, incest, or a unique, um, phenomenon? You decide.

The writing isn’t strongly descriptive (which I’m fine with, by the way, even though I’m a description guy most of the time) and tends toward a lean narrative – except when we see the feelings of the main Sarah. Then we get soulful and evocative without the reader getting all covered with syrup or angst. Which was nice; as a Gen-Xer I’m steeped in angst from my foundation and a break from that is always welcome.

The action of the story is clear, though the multiple selves in a convention center aspect (one of those selves being the hotel manager was a touch that makes a lot of sense, and its cleverness should be appreciated, by the way) made me go back and reread a couple of paragraphs a couple of times to be sure I was understanding. I didn’t mind it at all. It seemed natural given all the Sarahs. The minor confusion also lent itself well to the mystery part of things, which resolved in a not unexpected way. I really didn’t care (I feel like I’m saying that too much, but here we are) that I had guessed the general shape of the mystery’s resolution. I was still engaged by the particulars of who exactly did what and why.

The wide range of Sarahs didn’t play a whole much with variability in world events as an influence in what might change a person’s life, though that aspect was there to a small degree and was integral to the resolution. It concentrated way more on reactions to events in one’s own life and how a very small change butterfly-effects a person into something radically different given a decade or two to diverge – we see musician Sarahs, and addicts and alcoholics and scientists and humble insurance investigators (our main Sarah), and equestrians and concentrations of similar types that reflect high likelihoods and foundational traits (the gay Sarahs – I wasn’t quite sure if any were straight, but then we don’t see the sexuality of every Sarah, and we mainly know because most have a girlfriend or wife but not present – the crowd is Sarahs only). Others are outliers, like apparently insurance investigator is not a popular career choice among Sarahs, and only a small handful were transgender.

I appreciated the choice to make the setting an isolated island cut off from outside contact by not only its remote nature but also a nasty weather system. This story had enough on its plate without dragging the wider world into things.

I’m happy to have read this story. It gave me a good plateful of food for thought, and those are my favorite kinds of stories in all their multiplicitous glory.

END

The Proper Way To Read A Book…

…is to hold it open with your toe so both your hands are free. Antics and toe courtesy of my middle son, 6 year old Victor, who now often reads the bedtime stories for his little brother Cuinn.

Confession of a reading writer: it takes me forever to read a collection of short stories…

Short Circuit Johnny-5 speedreading.gif

From Short Circuit which you might remember if you’re KINDA OLLLLLD

…because the nature of short stories, for me, demands slow consumption (I wonder if that’s why I almost always write them slow, too. Putting them down halfway through for days or even longer before finishing them. Hmmmm).

I don’t mean short stories are automagically HALLELUJAH THE CLOUDS PART AND A RAY OF EPIPHANY TRANSFIXES MY SQUIRMING LITTLE BRAIN when I read them.

I mean, if they are decently written and the story is my cup of tea (I have diverse tastes in tea; I’m not very picky) and the story has something to say about something rather than just being a sequence of stuff happening just to have stuff happening — then it takes me forever to read a collection or anthology or ‘zine or whatever grouping they’re in.

It takes all that time because when I finish a short story, I have to put the book down and let the thoughts and feelings it inspires rattle around in my subconscious for a while. Sometimes I can read two in a row before I have to stop.

Otherwise the feelings and thoughts get all muddy, and I start feeling all bloated and sickly, kind of like if you sit down for dessert and cram a quarter of a double chocolate cream cake AND a big plate of tiramisu AND a gigantic plate of flan down your gullet all in the space of fifteen minutes.

I don’t know about you, but if I do that I end up all pukey and unhappy and regretful. I wish I’d just had one dessert and saved the others for later.

That’s how I read short stories, to avoid that pukey regret and savor the deliciousness. And to drag the metaphor out a little farther, if the dessert is a bunch of plain ol’ slabs of cheapo junkfood factory cake (uninspired little ‘look a thing is happening who cares’ stories), I could pig out and eat ten or something. Because who cares, it’s just meh. It’s not like you’re going to miss anything if you cram them down your throat with the heel of your hand one after another after another after another after another without really tasting them.

But why would I want to? Where the good (and great) stories have me stopping after one or two so I can digest and savor the memory, the meh ones have me stopping after one or two because WHO CARES OH MY GOD I’M BORED.

I hear there are people who can read through a whole collection, even a long one filled with STELLAR stories, in one sitting. Just chow down a dozen profound and excellent short stories with tons to say one after another.

Y’all are weird. But, hey. It takes all kinds.

You weirdos. Seriously, you weird me out. Have I mentioned I find it weird?

Joker Ledger freak like me.gif

If you don’t recognize this I DON’T KNOW WHO YOU ARE ANYMORE WHAT ARE YOU DOING ON A WRITER GEEK’S BLOG

Perfectionism Kills Writers…

 

Perfectionism kills writers… because it kills stories. If you let it, it will drive you to editing and proofreading and reworking and expanding and cutting without end and you’ll never finish a damn thing. Overcompensate by rushing work out and you’ll rush out lousy stories that don’t make sense and are shot full of typos and plot holes and tense shifts and characters who change name halfway through and who knows what else.

 

If you want to get your work out into the world you have to find your sweet spot. Enough perfectionism to put out your best, enough humility to be honestly open to improvement, enough arrogance to think you’re worth reading, enough recklessness to mark a deadline and throw one story out into the world and begin the next, the bullheadedness to take rejection as a challenge rather than a defeat, and the stubbornness to keep flailing away until one of the stories you throw connects.

 

It all begins with that perfectionism, though. You have to accept that there’s no such thing as perfect, just the level best — and the real best, not a “fuck it I’m over it” halfass best — that you can do right now.

 

Or you could say “to hell with that!” and just read without worrying about all this writing jazz.

 

Honestly, that way is easiest at all.

 

Whichever you choose, best of luck.

Chickenscratch

Why do I do my writing in longhand first? Sometimes *I* can’t even read this chickenscratch.