No one has time to read everything. If you work full-time, perhaps you read 50 books a year. And that’s if you manage to read on the bus or the subway.
After a certain age, I wanted to emulate Thomas Hardy, who, I believe, spent six hours reading every night. And the more I read, the fussier I became. In my forties, it seemed that either (a) much worse books were suddenly being published, or (b) my taste was so honed that fewer books passed my standards. (N.B. The less exhausted you are when you read, the pickier.)
Here’s the good news: I have read some outstanding new books in 2017. And here’s some curious news: I happened upon some stunning new books that were published with little fanfare.
Ellen Klages crafts one perfect sentence after another in her dazzling new collection of short stories, WICKED WONDERS. Published by Tachyon, a small press in San Francisco, this extraordinary collection is introduced by PEN/Faulkner Award winner Karen Joy Fowler. Klages has a reputation for eclecticism: she won the Nebula Award in 2005 for her novelette “Basement Magic” and the Scott O’Dell Award for Historical Fiction in 2007 for her Y.A. novel, The Green Glass Sea. This pitch-perfect, genre-crossing collection demonstrates her diverse gifts: magic realism, retold fairy tales, and some smart homages to Ray Bradbury’s brilliant work.
Photo: Scott R. Kline
Helen Patterson at NIMROD INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL praises the collection.
Every once in a while, I’m drawn to a book by someone I’ve never heard of because of the tittle. This was the case with Ellen Klages’s short story collection Wicked Wonders (2017). Klages is an award-winning author, primarily of science fiction, historical fiction, and science writing, whose earlier publications include The Green Glass Sea, White Sands, Red Menace, and PORTABLE CHILDHOODS.
Klages’s style is unlike anything I’ve seen recently and is hard to describe. Each story has a different feel to it, likely because, by her own confession, Klages is a little obsessive about researching content, style, and voice for all her pieces. Sometimes her writing is like Ray Bradbury’s; sometimes she’s evocative of Shirley Jackson or more contemporary authors such as Kelly Link. Science and the wonder of the mathematical and physical properties that make up the universe inform her stories, as does a careful attention to details. “Mrs. Zeno’s Paradox” drolly displays the absurdity of applying mathematical paradoxes to real-world dessert division, and “Gone to the Library” explores a budding mathematical prodigy’s conflation of math and magic as she encounters imaginary numbers and magic squares.
Two of the strongest pieces in the collection (and, not coincidentally, my personal favorites) are “Amicae Aeternum” and “Goodnight Moons.” Both pieces are sci-fi but barely, set in futures that are very recognizable and, possibly, quite close to our own. Klages does an excellent job of mixing her exhaustive research and knowledge into a world recognizable in its details and its people, allowing us easily to enter her near-future worlds. There are neither dystopias or utopias, but are rather both tragic and triumphant, as the best and most human stories often are.
It isn’t often that I read more than one book by the same writer. There are so many, many books in the world, and more being written all the time. I’m sure I’m not the only reader who often feels like she is awash in a vast tide of words. However, in Klages I’ve found an author who not only is gifted but who also speaks to me in a personal way that is hard to describe and rare to experience. Several of her stories struck a chord in my heart, twisting it in unexpected directions and upending my world in sympathy with her characters. I’m looking forward to finding and reading Ellen Klages’s other work, both past and future, and I recommend that you do the same.
For more info on WICKED WONDERS, visit the Tachyon page.
Cover design by Elizabeth Story
For more info on PORTABLE CHILDHOODS, visit the Tachyon page.
Cover by Ellen Klages
Design by John D. Berry