Monday, June 13, 2016

Rags & Bones

edited by Melissa Marr and Tim Pratt

Why You Will Like This Book:
  • Neil Gaiman! Garth Nix! Gene Wolfe!
  • Unlike many collections of retellings that I've read, these retell literature instead of folklore and fairytales. Not that the latter are bad things, but it makes it unique.
  • There are some great little scifi gems with ideas that make you think.
  • And great little fantasy gems with worlds that make you dream.

And Why You Might Not:
  • The stories were of mixed quality. (Or at least mixed in nature. Some reviews I read had pretty much exactly the opposite opinion from me, so I suppose it depends on what you're looking for. Point is, it's likely that you'll really like some and not like others.)
  • There were a lot of romances I didn't like: adultery, great passion, sex with a stranger, marriage rejection, etc.

Thoughts: At first I thought this was pretty much the best thing since sliced bread, at least a 4 star grading. And then it got worse and worse as it went on. But it is a series of short stories by multiple different authors. It's to be expected, I suppose, that they vary quite a bit in type and quality.

Without further ado, here are the stories that struck me, one way or the other:

--"That the Machine May Progress Eternally" by Carrie Ryan: The anthology started out with a bang and my favourite story of the lot. It reminded me of my favourite scifi, of "The Twilight Zone" and the like. Such interesting ideas about the future, about technology and about the nature of humans. It also reminded me of a current theme of my life: the importance of physicality and the Theology of the Body. However, I haven't actually read the story it was based on: "The Machine Stops" by E. M. Forster. It's possible that everything I liked about this story was actually from the original?
--"Losing Her Divinity" by Garth Nix: The Garth Nix short stories I find in collections are almost always among my very favourite. This was no exception. It was greatly entertaining with the fabulous and fascinating world common to his stories. The only disappointment was that I'd heard it was a Hereward & Fitz story, but they were actually only vaguely present and not important to the story at all.
--"The Sleeper and the Spindle" by Neil Gaiman: Some interesting takes on more than one classic fairy tale. This seemed more "regular" than others, due to being a fairy tale, but I loved the characters and writing.
--"Millcara" by Holly Black: I have come to realize (after several other short story anthologies) how much Holly Black's writing is not my cup of tea. In this case, it was especially in the romance department. It's just so... passionate. So different from me, and what I like and feel.
--"When First We Were Gods" by Rick Yancey: Great premise, great world-building, makes you think. Again, I didn't much like the romance, but this was less the point of the story so I didn't mind much.
--"Sirocco" by Margaret Stohl: The story was good enough, I suppose. Not among my favourites. I didn't enjoy the mixed atmosphere and the ending didn't seem built up enough. But what I did like was Stohl's bio, because apparently she spends her free time travelling to faraway places with her husband and three daughters, who are internationally ranked fencers. I want to travel the world with my three daughters who are internationally ranked fencers...
--"Without Faith, Without Law, Without Joy" by Saladin Ahmed: Like above, this was not among my favourites. Not totally sure why. Most interesting part to me was discovering that Sir Edmund Spenser, writer of The Faerie Queene, was both anti-Muslim and anti-Catholic. So that sucks.
--"Uncaged" by Gene Wolfe: I have still not managed to figure out what I think of Gene Wolfe. I've only read one book by him before (The Sorcerer's House) which I almost loved, but ended up not liking. There's the weird structure and playing with time in this short story, but normally I love that. It was also too vaguely poetic. Or something. I dunno, Wolfe confuses me. Basically that sums it up--I just found it confusing in multiple ways.

The rest were in between love and disliking. "The Cold Corner" by Tim Pratt and "New Chicago" by Kelly Armstrong and "The Soul Collector" by Kami Garcia had some interesting premises and ideas, but didn't live up to their promise for me. I was pretty indifferent to "Awakened" by Melissa Marr, finding it generally unpleasant if anything. (Though the selchie tales are not often pleasant, so I suppose it's understandable.)

Additionally, there were illustrations by Charles Vess interspersed with the short stories. I really liked the idea of adding illustrations that are also retellings--no other collection like this that I've read has it. The main problem is that the drawings actually weren't retellings. They were just standard illustrations, done in a somewhat old-fashioned style. It didn't fit with the rest of the book. What I would have really liked would have been twists on old stories: characters in modern settings, drawings representing themes as opposed to specific people/places, the same events with different characters, and other such interesting angles on old stories.
I would like to make a note of the "Goblin Market" illustration, though. It was definitely my favourite. The girl's face was unusual and alluring.

All in all, despite the faults, it's still probably one of my favourite compilations of this sort that I've read in a while. I really want to go back to it some years from now, when I'll have hopefully read more of the original stories.

Grade: 3 1/2 stars

If You Like This, You Might Also Like:
  • Sir Hereward and Mister Fitz by Garth Nix: Because it's fabulous and full of scholar-pirates and sorcerous puppets and dashing sword fights. It has a world that deserves a whole epic series and memorable characters that I love. The Garth Nix story in this collection hardly features Hereward & Fitz, as I mentioned, so you can't get that good a feel for the rest of the stories from this one.
  • Gothic! ed. by Deborah Noyes: Because many of the stories have a similar feel to the stories in this collection, especially stories like "Sirocco" and "Milcara".

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