Anthologies For Everyone

I went on a short story spree recently and read something like five anthologies, with a couple more still left to be read. They ranged all over the map, O. Henry prizewinners (mostly boring sadly), science fiction, fantasy, crime and pulp fiction (not the movie although I watched that recently also.) Out of all these books I have some particularly excellent stories to recommend to you. One of them even mentions American Banker, one of our sister publications. W00t!

Pulp Masters is a collection of stories from the golden age of pulp magazines, those fabulous and wonderful publications that explored the limits of the universe and broke down barriers and created entire new genres. For a brief shining time in the first half of the twentieth century there was an explosion of markets for all kinds of short fiction and many amazing writers honed or learned their craft in the pages of these inexpensive periodicals. Many writers who went on to become acclaimed novelists got their start writing for the pulps, so called because they were printed on cheap pulped paper instead of traditional glossy magazine paper.

Pulp Masters focuses on hard boiled crime fiction and features six pieces, one from each of these masters of the genre; John D. MacDonald, James M. Cain, Donald E. Westlake, Lawrence Block, Mickey Spillane and Harry Whittington, who contributed an entire novel. Every choice in the book is terrific but my very favorite is the first entry, The Embezzler by James M. Cain, who also wrote The Postman Always Rings Twice and Mildred Pierce, both of which were adapted into excellent films. The Embezzler is a story of an ordinary Joe called Dave, who works for a small bank, usually as a vice president but taking a turn as a head cashier at their smallest branch so that he can figure out why this branch is so spectacularly successful and duplicate whatever is working so well all through the chain. He hasn't been there long before he sees all; a fellow named Bennett is a whiz at convincing his working class clients to invest a pretty good chunk of their paychecks in savings. But Bennett falls ill and is hospitalized, at which point his beautiful wife Sheila comes to see Dave to ask if she can fill for in for her husband until he's better. Dave agrees and gets himself into a big fat mess because Bennett has been embezzling a pretty hefty sum and Sheila wants Dave to help her cover it up and fix it so that her children don't grow up knowing their father is a criminal. Complications ensue as Dave falls for her while trying to decide if she's on the up and up or if she has trapped him in a plot to make it look like he's the one who is the embezzler. This is a great story that will keep you guessing and worried about the fate of the well-drawn characters.

McSweeney's Enchanted Chamber of Astonishing Stories is a book that lives up to its fabulous title and lurid cover. Michael Chabon edited this book with the intent of finding stories that refuse to fit into genres, the interstitial tales that could be one thing but are creeping over to another category. The authors have been called literary (Margaret Atwood, Joyce Carol Oates), horror (Stephen King, Peter Straub), science fiction (China Miéville) and children's writers (Daniel Handler) but the stories they have written defy these categories. For instance Joyce Carol Oates' submission, The Fabled Light-house at Vi-a del Mar, is deliberately written in the style of Edgar Allan Poe, although I think there's also a touch of H. G. Wells as the story vaguely reminded me of The Island of Dr. Moreau. Poe is of course famous for writing horror and the first detective story.

China Miéville's Reports of Certain Events in London is a beautiful, mystifying story written in the first person that describes a strange and puzzling package delivered to the wrong house, the home of the author, filled with clippings and notes sent by someone from an arcane society that appears to track bizarre and impossible happenings in the urban landscapes of London. This is exactly the kind of story I love, filled with tiny details and fascinating descriptions that gradually allow the reader to realize how large and peculiar the mystery is.

Minnow by Ayelet Waldman is a dark, haunted and haunting story that was almost too much for my delicate sensitivities. It's the story of a mother who has lost her baby and is haunted by the sound of crying from the baby monitor. It's an extraordinary story but I was disturbed enough by it that I kind of wished it came with a warning label.

The very first story in the sixteenth annual edition of The Year's Best Science Fiction is a stunning work called Oceanic by Greg Egan. It’s a coming of age story about a young boy called Martin who grows up living on the ocean on another planet where the people believe they have been genetically modified by angels. A member of a church called the Deep Church, Martin takes part in a ritual called drowning and has an epiphany while he's under the water, emerging with his faith exponentially intensified and the knowledge that Beatrice, his Messiah, will always be there with him, granting him peace and serenity. Buoyed by the security he receives from this connection he is able to cope with his isolated life and the fact that his segment of the church is considered extreme and strange. But as he matures he makes a startling discovery that makes him reevaluate everything he knows and feels. This moving, polished, beautifully detailed and provocative story won the Hugo award and leaves the reader with much to think about and discuss. The entire story is available for free online at Greg Egan's website.

This week's one sentence review comes from me and I say, "The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants is a book with a misleading cover and title; it looks like a little fluffy book about nothing but is secretly a powerful book about love, loss and learning to cope when you're away from your friends." Have you got a one-sentence review you’d like to submit to Quality Time? Send it in to me at feedback@qualitytimeweekly.com, and I'll run the best ones. You may focus on just about anything that fits a family entertainment format; games, movies, books, music - the sky is the limit, or is it? Want to review the status of poor ex-planet Pluto? Go right ahead.