The Best of the Best, Eh? Riiight.

I’ve been reading mostly novels and non-fiction lately. One o’ these days, I’ll even get around to some reviews. But right now, I just want to bitch.

The other night, after finishing Crooked Little Vein and getting my mind thoroughly fucked, I surveyed my shelf of unread books and decided that I’d better start in on the Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror collections that have been gathering dust. I haven’t read short-form fiction in many moons. Gotta catch up on the state-of-the-art, figure out how the short story is done these days, seeing as how my current fiction projects are short stories.

My darlings, if these collections are any indication, I should either stop worrying about how my stories measure up, or I should just shoot myself.

I’m two stories in. I’m wondering simultaneously a) how this shit got published and b) if it’s the best, how much worse could the mediocre be?

The stories were okay. They had a few unique turns-of-phrase, some good imagery, and a spirited attempt at beginnings, middles, and ends (sometimes even within the same story). But for fuck’s sake, could we just please maybe be a little less fucking predictable?

Story One: a house mysteriously appears overnight. Could it be – gasp – magic? Oh, wow, imagine that – witches.

Story Two: an evil dutchess controls her daughter-in-law with mushrooms. Gee, I wonder if the daughter-in-law is going to figure out and turn the tables. Quelle surprise.

Throw me a bone here, people. Either make the prose or the characters so compelling that I don’t give a rat’s arse that I can tell exactly where this is going, or shock me. Knock the conventions of the genre completely askew.

I know I haven’t lost my patience for fantasy due to my immersion in science and reason. I know this because I’ve read several books lately that left me gasping for air. The mythology is so rich, the characters so compelling, and the elements of the plot so twisty that it doesn’t matter it’s total woo. The fantastic works in these books because the author is masterful at making it work. It seems utterly real, and it reveals the humanity of the characters in a way that reality-based fiction never could.

Not so Story One, in which the appearance of a house overnight leads the suburban neighbors to shrug and pretend it’s not happening, because hey, these things just don’t. The author was trying to make a point that we ignore things that are too out of the ordinary for us to cope with. Not when they suddenly appear in plain sight right in front of our fucking faces, we don’t. I couldn’t suspend my disbelief – I was too busy disbelieving that anything would happen the way the author said it would. And then, to throw in a character who’s working on artificial intelligence and then explain away the sudden appearance of the house by saying it’s witchcraft – that was just so fucking lame. Leave the AI out of it if you’re going to reach for something so pedestrian as witchcraft, people, please.

I’m so fucking afraid to peruse the rest of the stories in that book. I’m terrified I’m going to end up stabbing my eyes out with one of my beloved Uni-Ball Signos, and the only question is whether I would do this before or after lobotomizing myself with a mechanical pencil.

I should be happy. The bar seems awfully low: I could probably hop it with my toes tied together. But I don’t want it to be that way. I want to struggle to measure up. I want the water-mark to be so high I don’t have much hope of reaching it. That way, if I fail, I can be proud of failure – look who I was up against! The literary equivalent of Newton, Einstein and Hawking – even coming within shouting distance of them is a triumph! Whereas right now, failure would give me a sensation akin to that you experience after having been beaten out for a promotion by a stinking, festering, half-brained, syphillitic schizo with a family history of inbreeding that stretches back to the Roman empire.

All right, so the stories aren’t quite that bad, but still. I demand more, damn it.

Guess I’d best get to delivering it, then.

5 comments on “The Best of the Best, Eh? Riiight.

  1. Howard says:

    I hate to sound like a cranky old curmudgeon, but most of the fiction I read is short fiction, and as near as I can tell the “state of the art” in Fantasy and Horror short fiction is still Edgar Allen Poe. Everybody in genre fiction pays lip service to Poe, but if all you know are the old chestnuts like “The Tell-Tale Heart” and “The Pit and the Pendulum,” you’re really not getting a good picture of what a great mind he had. And courtesy of everyone digitizing PD literature, you can find all these great little forgotten treasures like the darkly comic proto-steampunk/fantasy The Angel of the Odd.When I do encounter a contemporary story and think, “Hey, that’s not completely terrible,” the author is invariably a Poe fanatic.If you’re looking for inspiration for short-form genre fiction, you could do a lot worse than to revisit the works of Poe, Nathaniel Hawthorne (“Young Goodman Brown” — that’s how to write about witches), and Ambrose Bierce (forget “The King in Yellow” — the true genesis of the Cthulhu mythos is in Bierce’s Book of Hali stories: “The Great God Hastur,” “An Inhabitant of Sarcosa,” and “The Death of Halpin Fraser”).

  2. cousinavi says:

    The literary equivalent of Hawking, Newton and Einstein.Have you read Flowers in the Attic?No, but seriously…or, you could check out Al Qaeda is Fucked at VNV and praise both me and my snazzy new layout.GUMBAI!

  3. Chaos Lee says:

    There is good fiction of a speculative nature out there, very good, but it never pops up in these compiliations which are, to my understanding, put together by developmentally disabled chimpanzees recovering from soma-induced trances. And much more than just Poe and Bierce derivation.Good writing isn’t what you need to sell. Good marketing is. I saw a book in the Virgin Hell Store the other day, written by some 19 year old punk-looking girl that was absolute crap writing, but they had a nice large picture of her pretty, “edgy” face and endless blurbs about her youtfhul voice. I spot read books like this. “The tree shook and leaves fell like some big hurricane had crshed into it” is a verbatim line from that piece of shit. I’m betting she had a friend in the industry or she can suck the chrome of a trailer hitch, because quality writing and her book publication are mutually exclusive.

  4. I have seen this all the time. I’m glad more people are talking about it. As someone who writes a lot and gets published little, I don’t like to say much because it looks like jealousy.I’m glad you didn’t waste any more time.The market is always hungry for more fiction. The downside is that you can NOT think that the bar is low. You have to write your best anyway.

  5. NP says:

    very so often a writer will come along to turn a genre or form on its ear and change the face of the writing for the rest of the world.Perhaps it’s time you did that.

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