Photo: Beth Gwinn
This collection of short stories by five time Hugo award winning author Micheal Swanwick is simply a delight to read. Running the gamut between science fiction and fantasy, there is something for everyone inside this aggregate of stories. It really exemplifies ‘speculative fiction’ in the sense it originally had. Reading it is like a full blown blast into the pulp era, with highly digestible stories that will leave your head spinning.
The writing is, in a word, immaculate. There is an ultra-tight word economy in place here. A single word out of context would bring any given story to its knees and it is through, no doubt, skillful editing that this is accomplished. Not So Much, Said the Cat never aims above the readers head, and everything is, almost, believable in any particular story. Even in the most outlandish piece of intertextuality I have ever seen, Swanwick to my delight, pulls it off without a hitch. It is truly a testament to his writing that he can sustain the reader’s attention and suspension of belief at the same time in some of the most bizarre environs the reader travels.
Plot is where these stories really entwine the above. In any given story there is, surprisingly, a lot of labyrinthine paths the characters must tread. Not So Much, Said the Cat, exemplifies the plot-driven story and masterfully pulls back on ‘introspective’ pieces. The sheer number of different plots boggles the mind and it’s just a minute fraction of what Swanwick has produced. The reader is engaged in every piece, and it’s a nice ‘put-down, pick-up” book that is necessary to fully digest the implications, usually social, the plots produce.
If the old adage, there’s a story in anything, holds true, Not Much, Said the Cat is proof enough it is valid. Full of life, energy and depth of concept, each individual story can (and could) appeal to anyone. This is a story collection that definitely deserves a spot on anyone’s shelf, electronic or otherwise. It’s a rare glimpse into how short stories should be constructed, and I guarantee, they’ll leave you thinking well after each story is done. High praise is in order for Swanwick’s collection.
At LOCUS ONLINE, Paul Di Filippo lauds the collection.
Mostly unremarked, this year signifies the thirty-sixth anniversary of Michael Swanwick’s first story sale, in Robert Silverberg’s anthology NEW DIMENSIONS 11. The astonishing array of high-quality tales he has graced the world with since then would constitute a sufficiency for most writers. But the damn thing is, nearly forty years into his career he is still working at the top of his game. Not many authors can say that.
His entertaining and touching autobiographical introduction fittingly looks backwards at this embryonic stage of his existence, and reflects on the start of his professional writing life and a few intermediate quantum leaps of skill. Then he mentions an attitude he had toward the genre, when he was first getting acquainted with all its stellar practitioners: “I read science fiction as if it had all been written by a single genius possessed of an impossible variety of styles and interests.” This is the key to the stories that follow (and to the fact that Swanwick, debuting during the fabled cyberpunk-humanist rivalry, could never be categorized definitively as one or the other). Swanwick is still striving to embody every good thing SF does, all its modes and styles, themes and tropes, in his one lifetime. This makes for a highly pleasing variety in his tales.
All in all, as variegated and smart and ecstatic a ride as you can get from SF these days.
Ultimately, I think what strikes me most forcefully about Swanwick’s fiction, aside from his fresh yet historically resonant conceits, is its elegance and economy. Per the definition of the perfect short story, not a word is extraneous or wasted, not one element of plot inessential. The maximum effects are achieved with the minimum of prose.
Kalanadi discusses Michael Swanwick’s reading and signing at Rainy Day Books.
On TWITTER, Tim Ward, winner of Beelzebub and a signed copy of NOT SO MUCH, SAID THE CAT, posted this adorable video of his son meeting the stuffed cat.
For more information on NOT SO MUCH, SAID THE CAT, visit the Tachyon page.
Cover design by Elizabeth Story