Monday, February 23, 2004

The Sleeper Awakens

Woohoo! I picked up my pre-ordered book, Leviathan 3: Edited by Forrest Aguirre and Jeff Vandermeer, at Booktopia over the weekend and I am one very happy cat.

Technically, this wasn't pre-ordered since my order wasn't processed by the bookshop. Rather, they gave me the display copy that someone had ordered earlier. But who cares, right?

This anthology of short stories and a short novel by Zoran Zivkovic was printed by a small-press publishing company, Ministry of Whimsy, who're renowned for putting out cutting-edge speculative fiction and contemporary fantastical fiction. They've also won several awards and nominations for their work.

That makes two of three anthologies I'm on the look out for.

The first one, McSweeney's Mammoth Treasury of Thrilling Tales, was handled by Michael Chabon, the author of the Pulitzer prize-winning The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Klay and the book-turned-movie Wonderboys: A Novel, which starred Michael Douglas and Tobey Maguire.

From Publisher's weekly:

Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Chabon teams up with the editors of Dave Eggers's McSweeney's magazine to create a fiction anthology with an innovative, simple concept: the stories are driven by adventurous plots and narrative action, in contrast to the current trend toward stories that are "plotless and sparkling with epiphanic dew," as Chabon writes in his introduction.

The roster includes such heavyweights as Michael Crichton, Stephen King, Elmore Leonard, Nick Hornby and Harlan Ellison. As the retro title might suggest, the collection is heavy on sci-fi and detective stories, often updated with contemporary twists.

Crichton offers a detective yarn called "Blood Doesn't Come Out," in which a disgruntled PI takes out his frustration on his wife in a cheeky spin on the domestic violence that punctuates the pulp fiction of Jim Thompson and James A. Cain. Hornby's contribution is an entertaining sci-fi story called "Otherwise Pandemonium," about a man who buys a VCR that fast-forwards into an apocalyptic future.

In Rick Moody's "The Albertine Notes," a debilitating drug called Albertine wreaks havoc by sending users back in time to relive their memories. Dave Eggers's "Up the Mountain Coming Down Slowly" is a thoughtful story in which a woman climbs Kilimanjaro to bolster her self-confidence after experiencing a personal crisis, but proves oblivious to the deaths of three porters when the weather on the mountain turns ugly.

Half a dozen or so stories are markedly slight, but overall this is a strong collection.

My opinion? Well, the book is a fantastic undertaking: it combines the authors of mainstream fiction, genre fiction and its subset, speculative fiction. And like the intro says, it emphasizes "adventurous plots" and "narrative action" against plotless stories "with epiphanic dew."

However, as stories go, they're not very exciting. Some stories are good, like Michael Moorcock's and Michael Chabon's. But the rest of the storie are only okay, which is a depressing come-down from all the hype it had generated.

That may not be its fault but if you're born a messiah, you better know how to walk on water and turn water to wine, methinks.

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