Stories: All-New Tales (pt 1)

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Stories: All-New Tales Edited by Neil Gaiman and Al Sarrantonio

William Morrow & Company, 2010

Hardcover, 448 pages. 27 stories, introduction, and brief contributors’ bios.

“Talking to Al Sarrantino I realised that I was not alone in finding myself increasingly frustrated with the boundaries of genre: the idea that categories which existed only to guide people around bookshops now seemed to be dictating the kind of stories that were being written.” Neil Gaiman (Introduction to Stories: All-New Tales titled “Just Four Words.”)

If you are excited by the idea of an anthology ignoring genre classification, then Stories: All-New Tales will be a delight. For those fearful of the idea, you’ve a right to be nervous. Neil Gaiman and Sarrantonio put out a call for stories that would invoke “just four words:” “…and then what happened?” and “Writers rose to the challenge. We learned to expect only the unexpected” (3). Of course, they hoped for good writing and a “lightning flash of magic” (1), as well. They found it.

Stories is a collection of 27 tales by some of the best known, and few of the less familiar, authors publishing* today. And the tales are All-New so next to shedding genre constraints, they’re offering something that hasn’t been re-cycled or up-cycled from another publication. And Neil Gaiman is co-editor.

One of the complaints I’ve heard is that the anthology reads like the kind in University English Lit courses. Those who read from a variety of genres of short stories will understand the complaint. I am fairly new to this realm of possibility that there other kinds of shorts; like those often found  in Fantasy and Science Fiction, where apparently stories are tales, potential summaries of longer works, daydreams, where paring down images or honing symbols is not necessarily necessary, a sentence could be saying something individually or nothing at all. Not long ago I was reading some stories in an SF anthology and I was getting frustrated. “I need to explicate!” I’m sure I was sweating. Sean looked at me as if my horns were showing again and wondered, “Why?” Some of the stories were asking the same it seems, because they certainly weren’t demanding examination. (Yes, it seems there are very few times I can shut my brain off, and I’m sure you don’t care to hear about the occasions that phenomena occurs most often.) In Stories the stories do whisper to my desire to explicate. It may be in thinking the authors should be good for complexity and meaning even in their most effortless work; this observation could be unfair. I tested by not looking at the brief bios of the contributors at the back. Yes, I expected little from those I had never heard of before, and much from those I’ve heard the praises sung, or hummed a few bars myself. In short: The quality is such that one should be reminded of a University level Literature course textbook. That it would automatically demand the same rigor on the part of the Reader? Those not encoded with “Explicate!” are safe. They are stories, to be entertained by and live in for a short space of time, and perhaps be haunted by them a short while after. They can say something, or inquire after your opinion, or they mightn’t do either at all. Course, as the collection is determinedly without category you’ll not know which story you will get, or what kind of response it may wring from you. So don’t brace yourself, just be prepared.

Stories contains a story or two concerning outer space, two with elderly sisters in their 70s (strangely enough), there are a couple of serial killers, one with one who murdered only once (I think), there is grieving, there are fairytales, historical pieces, contemporary settings, the experience of a game show by a frat boy on acid, there are the paranormal—vampires eroticized in the way I think they were always meant, a lot of mental illnesses (though theirs or ours, I am not certain), some serious, some meta (and therefore take themselves seriously), many are all out bizarre. Stories that might find similarity in protagonists or theme or plot or trope are spread apart and if you dole the works out to yourself first to last and in portions than nothing should feel repetitious (and it might nip the desire to compare the two).

Gaiman and Sarrantonio were true to their word. Good writing, no genre-generated constraints, and the continual use of “just four words.” And not just “…and then what happened?” but “What’ll I read next?”** I believe Stories has something to entertain everyone; you can pick and choose, and ignore any desire to explicate or no.

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*one exception: Life in Fictions is accounted Kat Howard’s first published story.

** a contraction of two words is still counted one word right?

Part two of this post is the ginormous part.. the part where I try to keep it brief in remarking upon each of the 27 stories and the one intro.

6 Comments Add yours

  1. Ooh, my appetite’s whetted and I look forward to the “ginormous” review. I believe my review was the longest review I had ever written at the time, so I feel ya there.

    Intrigued, coming at this collection with pretty much a reading background firmly in SFF that I didn’t think anything odd or literary about the reading experience (aside from what’s “normal”). That said, I can certainly see this being used for a college lit class, and I think I’d’ve* preferred it to some of the other stuff I had to read.

    *Do double contractions even count as words? 😉

  2. Carl V. says:

    I’m not sure why but despite Gaiman’s involvement and my deep fondness for most of his stories, I just haven’t had much desire to pick this up. And I am a true lover of the short story medium. I think part of the reason is that I am not necessarily a fan of works that purposefully set out to bend-genres or do something different. If that happens organically it is one thing and often results in something special. If it is done on demand the results are often very hit and miss and I don’t like to feel I’m being experimented on, if that makes any sense.

    And I’ve been trying really hard to not read any of Gaiman’s short stories in the various anthologies they come out in because I am holding out for the next (hoped for) collection of his short stories and I don’t want it to come out and be a collection of stuff I’ve already read.

    There is nothing at all wrong with wanting to write something different or something new. Heck I’ve enjoyed some very different stuff this year (Jeff Vandermeer’s short story collection “The Third Bear” comes to mind). But there are many amazing and satisfying short stories that fit nicely within genre boundaries that I have read and many I have yet to read so I’m not hurting for a collection that simply exists to do something different.

    I sound like a crank, don’t I? I swear my indifference to the collection is really not that well thought out, but here I think I’m just finally acknowledging it and trying to figure out why it is so. Still, not sure I’ll hold out forever. I haven’t been purposefully avoiding it, I just haven’t had any burning desire to go get it.

  3. Carl V. says:

    Oh, I did really enjoy your review of this though! 🙂

  4. L says:

    the effort to defy genre is in the collection, I’m not sure it was in the authors; but I was unfamiliar with most. I had to look at the contributors section to get an idea of what they write, and I didn’t notice that anyone had written outside their usual. It was that they were collected without an anthology that allowed the (new) reader to anticipate their story.

    there were times I had wished someone had gone ahead of me, maybe put a string emoticons/symbols to prep me for the story, kind of a response to the question of “am in the mood for this…?” But in other ways I enjoyed the not knowing, like maybe this next one will be a pleasant surprise.

thoughts? would love to hear them...

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