The latest reviews and mentions of Tachyon titles and authors from around the web.
Ellen Klages (photo: Scott R. Kline), James Tiptree Jr., Kage Baker, and Nancy Kress (Ellen Datlow)
On her eponymous page, A. C. Wise interviews Ellen Klages.
Congratulations on the publication of WICKED WONDERS! Can you give readers a taste of the type of stories they’ll find in its pages?
It’s a stew. The stories are a mixture of straight out science fiction, fantasy, some mainstream, and one non-fiction piece. Most of the stories in the collection have one foot in the fantastic, and one in the mainstream world.
You’ve written novels, but much of your writing seems focused on short fiction. Do you have a preference for one form over another? How does your writing process differ between the two lengths?
I love short fiction, but I also love the novels I’ve written. I’ve written two novellas as well, which is a lovely length. Short fiction is my first love however. There’s an essay in WICKED WONDERS which explains my writing process, and my frustration before I’d written any novels with constantly being asked “when are you going to write a novel”, as if it’s a natural progression from short fiction. My process for the two lengths is roughly the same, though a novel takes longer, but I treat each novel chapter like a short story.
Everyone’s writing process is different, and I wouldn’t recommend mine to anyone else. It’s messy, but in the end, the important thing is whether it works for readers. On the other side of that, if I’m not happy with a story, I assume no one else will be. If I’m happy with the result, I figure at least half of the readers will like it. With Wicked Wonders, almost every reviewer differs on their favorite story in the collection, which is a good thing. It means I ended up with a balanced collection, and something to appeal to everyone.
It becomes obvious from the beginning that Tiptree/Sheldon knew how to write a story but the opening stories centring on a population decimating by virus, ‘The Last Flight Of Doctor AIN’, and ‘The Screwfly Solution’ having to survive after a plague, both centred on the lives of either the antagonist or protagonist. What does stand out is Tiptree/Sheldon had a way with titles which acts as enticement to read. ‘I Have Come This Place By Lost Ways’ is her first space story in this collection where a human, after mixing with a cross-culture of alien species suddenly finds himself alone with minimal chances of survival. ‘The Martian’ it ain’t and refreshing not to have a happy ending as the American writers like so much these days.
Absolute gold is reached with ‘Houston, Houston, Do You Read’ where, set in the future, the wholly female crewed spaceship encounters a spaceship from the past with just men on board. The language and near rape used is probably what led many to think Tiptree had to be a man. The characters are totally realistic and with some pure SF twists that would be spoiler to reveal here but becomes a must read story if you’ve never come across it before.
Post-apocalypse seems to be a theme of Tiptree/Sheldon here but each is treated different. In ‘Slow Music’, Jakko is looking for his father and, during his trip, he meets Peachthief who needs someone to father her children and decides to accompany him. Although we aren’t told what happened to the population, this is the first early story I’ve come across that describes Viagra in all but name before it was invented. The limited ability of some animals to say a few words and the nativity of the characters makes for a charming story even if the ending seems to jump.
If you’ve never encountered James Tiptree, Jr. before, she is worth seeking out. Not all of her stories hit their mark but the prose, especially when descriptive, gets into you and you’ll realise why Sheldon was so highly regarded.
The story seems much more strongly reminiscent of British children’s fiction than of any US tradition with which I’m familiar; the setting and the sense of boisterous whimsy show echoes, I think, of Carroll’s THE HUNTING OF THE SNARK as well as, say, Mervyn Peake’s CAPTAIN SLAUGHTERBOARD. Baker’s worldbuilding is intriguing and sprinkled with random bits of fascinating invention, while her gentle characterisation still admits of human foibles: the central character set feels somewhat restrained, but they’re well fleshed-out.
The book is fairly obviously aimed at a young audience, but it’s sufficiently fast-paced, quirky, and subtle that it also works reasonably well as reading matter for adults. It would have been interesting to see where Baker next took the series, but the book, like its protagonist, is an orphan, alone in its world: Baker died several months after its publication.
Despite the familiar first contact elements, TOMORROW’S KIN is really a story about humanity—both the lighter side—those inspired to discover that we are not along in the universe, and that we have so much more to lear—and the darker one. The side driven by fear and greed.
Kress gives us characters who mirror parts of ourselves and those around us. What will motivate us, once our place in the universe is challenged? What move us, in the wake of a world-altering event? It’s the same cultural upheaval we’re witnessing now, in the real world, writ science-fictional. Kress catapults the current conversation into an uncertain future, postulating where we are headed and how we might handle something as seismic as a visit by aliens when coupled with a potentially catastrophic natural event.
There are two mysteries within TOMORROW’S KIN, one from the stars, and one that starts much closer to home. As we follow Dr. Jenner as she works to solve them both, we find more questions mounting, and not all of them will be easily answered. This is the beginning of a trilogy, after all—book two, IF TOMORROW COMES, arrives in March 2018. Assuming we make it that long…
For more info on WICKED WONDERS, visit the Tachyon page.
Cover design by Elizabeth Story
For more info about HER SMOKE ROSE UP FOREVER, visit the Tachyon page.
Cover by John Picacio
For more info about THE HOTEL UNDER THE SAND, visit the Tachyon page.
Cover by Ann Monn
For more info on YESTERDAY’S KIN, visit the Tachyon page.
Cover by Thomas Canty