A pair of new reviews and a humble homage for Michael Swanwick’s full gourmet NOT SO MUCH, SAID THE CAT.
Jonathan Crowe on his eponymous site praises the collection.
It’s hard for me to review Michael Swanwick’s latest collection of short stories, NOT SO MUCH, SAID THE CAT (Tachyon, August 2016), without coming across like a total fangoober. That’s partly because, when it comes to Swanwick’s work, I am a total fangoober, and have been for decades. He’s one of my favourite writers and a literary hero of mine, so I’m primed to like a collection of his — I always have. But it’s also because NOT SO MUCH, SAID THE CAT is such a good collection — far better than any book of its kind has any right to be.
Collections like these inevitably have stronger stories and weaker stories, the latter more or less serving to pad out the collection. Here’s the thing: there are no weak stories in NOT SO MUCH, SAID THE CAT. They’re all great. Every last one of them. (I checked this assessment with Jennifer, no small Swanwick fan herself, and she agrees with me.) These 17 stories are all of a very high standard, each infused with emotional insight, clear intelligence, meticulous craft, and the cunning and clever mischief that are Swanwickian hallmarks.
The quality of this collection is mind-boggling and has forced me to recalibrate my expectations: I almost have to go back and take one star off my reviews of other short story collections. With NOT SO MUCH, SAID THE CAT Swanwick is at the top of his game, the height of his powers, the insert-whatever cliché-seems-appropriate-here. It’s all the more striking when you consider that at the same point in Isaac Asimov’s career — 36 years after first publication — Asimov published BUY JUPITER AND
(Doubleday, 1975), a collection of feghoots, shaggy dogs and other minor Asimoviana whose prime virtue was that they had not yet been published between boards. But Asimov had largely been phoning it in on the fiction front since the late 1950s. Swanwick has done no such thing: this collection is proof positive of that. Indeed, it is proof that Swanwick, who has spent considerable time talking about the important figures of the science fiction and fantasy field, is one such figure himself — and almost certainly one of our greatest living writers.
If that sounds like fangoobering, so be it.
Photo: Beth Gwinn
STRANGE ALLIANCES enjoyed the book.
These tales are not about writing technique. That looks after itself, chugging away unobtrusively in the background. In NOT SO MUCH, SAID THE CAT it’s the story that’s the thing. Swanick’s stories often tread the type of ground other story makers have trodden (Of Finest Scarlet Was Her Gown, has shades of
MASTER AND MARGARITA), yet it all feels so fresh.
Swanick has an interesting way of telling a story. The framework provides you with plenty of what you are familiar with, then either he slides in the odd anomaly or simply airdrops something extraordinary into the mix, and we’re off.
These are stories of humour, love, subtle or not so subtle-horror and philosophical considerations of life. The styles vary from credible fairy tales, to science fiction by stealth and cyberpunk. Despite the weird and wonderful, this is about humanity in all its guises and expressed so well.
You think you’re getting the kind of hors d’oeuvre many short stories deliver. But settle down, you’re in for a full gourmet meal that makes you feel as if you’ve just enjoyed a novel and lost a friend when you’ve finished it.
On his TUMBLR, Manuel Preitano shared his initial thoughts upon hearing of NOT SO MUCH, SAID THE CAT.
A humble homage to Michael Swanwick’s recent new book. Being a fan of his Darger and Surplus stories, I couldn’t help but picturing this when I heard the title!
For more information on NOT SO MUCH, SAID THE CAT, visit the Tachyon page.
Cover design by Elizabeth Story