Thanksgiving Side Quest

I hope all of my readers in the USA had a great Thanksgiving.  Mine was almost identical to last year’s semi-traditional Thanksgiving.  The last relatives I had in this area have moved away, and my wife and I couldn’t travel for various reasons, but especially since she recently took a job at a retailer, so she (of course) had to work today and tomorrow.

Since side dishes are such a big deal at Thanksgiving, I thought I’d use today to wrap up the first of my side quests.  I’ve already covered the first ten stories in this collection, then ten more and ten more.  I’ll cover the last five stories here, then have some final thoughts on the collection overall.

Short Stories

The Boneless One by Alec Nevala-Lee.  Who is committing the murders on an ocean-research vessel?

Dying Young by Peter Ball.  This engaging story is mostly a western, although there’s a dragon, clones, and cyborgs.

Canterbury Hollow by Chris Lawson.  A space colony which can’t support all its population chooses some of its members to die, although the method chosen isn’t specified.  Two of the chosen live out their last days.

The Vorkuta Event by Ken MacLeod.  This story was described as Lovecraft-inspired, and it lived up to that in many respects, by having a creepy setting (Soviet-era Siberian labor camp) and a ponderous writing style.  Unfortunately, the big, dangerous, mysterious thing at the end was anticlimactic.

The Man Who Bridged the Mist by Kij Johnson.  I was expecting something spectacular from this story.  It is the only work that made it into all three of my side quest readings, and it also won both the Hugo and Nebula awards.  It turned out to be one of my least-favorite in the collection.

The editor’s intro to this story describes it as “long”.  Think of the adjectives he could have used to describe a story:  exciting, innovative, entertaining, thought-provoking.  No, he chose “long”.  At least he was being honest.  There’s a section where the main character has flashbacks to his college love interest, which has no bearing on the rest of the story.  An editor really needed to take a meat cleaver to this one.

The story is about a bridge being built.  There are no real plot twists.  A bridge gets built, that’s it.  The only fantastic element to the story is that the river being bridged is made of mist.  At first I was thinking, OK, this is a sci-fi scenario where there’s a dense, poisonous gas that people need to cross.  But then, it turns out people are taking wooden ferry boats over the mist carrying passengers and cattle and cargo.  So, it’s pure fantasy, and there’s no excuse for it being in a collection called “The Year’s Best Science Fiction”.

Even for the other collections I read, which included both science fiction and fantasy, I don’t think this was a good choice.  The fantasy element has almost no impact on the story.  You could rewrite it as a historical fiction about the building of the Golden Gate Bridge, and the only thing you’d need to change would be a few technical details about bridge construction.

It took me a long time to read this collection, not because it has many stories, but because I kept putting it away, saying “I can’t take any more.”   At least once, I considered giving up on reading fiction, forever.  That’s a powerful anti-endorsement of this work.

I thought I had read a couple of the collections from this series back in the eighties, and don’t remember hating them.  Maybe I actually read some other series.  Maybe my tastes, or the editor’s tastes, have changed.  Maybe I was in school back then, and anything seemed good when compared to my assigned readings:  the work of Shakespeare, in a form of English that hasn’t been spoken in hundreds of years, and the work of Faulkner, in a form of English that hasn’t ever been spoken.

It turns out that the editor of this collection, Gardner Dozois, was the editor of Asimov’s magazine for twenty years.  I don’t remember reading any issues that he edited, but comparing my side quest reading to my negative review of an issue of Asimov’s from 2015, it’s possible the magazine has actually gone downhill since he left.

My final thought on this collection:  while reading, I got the impression that stories weren’t chosen on their own merit.  Instead, I felt the popularity and reputation of the author might have been the determining factor.  Every intro to a story bragged about the author’s awards and/or long list of novels they had written.  Are the best stories only being written in nursing homes?  I doubt it.

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8 comments

  1. Asimovs is trash. I axed my subscription and pretty much gave up on reading SF shorts because of the shit taste it left in my mouth.

  2. Hey, sir. Not that you probably need anymore side quests but…

    For you (and anyone else who might be interested), I’m testing out a new service (well, new to me) that’s a lot of big wig indie writers are making use of: Book Funnel.

    “Testing” means that by using the following link, you can download my book there for free. It’s a trio of superheroish stories: one novella, two shorts. My intent and hope is that they are more fun than those “mainstream” SF stories that have gone so far to the wayside. (These editors remind me of politicians who have completely lost touch with the masses. But I guess someone must like their stories, cuz they still make more money than we do on it…)

    So if you don’t mind, a link for some no-strings-attached reading for whoever wants it:
    BookHip.com/WJTQTC

    1. Thanks, I’ll grab a copy of your superhero work when I’m back at my kindle.

      I’ll post a few more thoughts about mainstream SF when I finish the other two side quests.

      1. I’m quite the fan of Mr. Brinks stuff.

  3. […] Last year, I announced my side quest to read several “best of” collections and see whether any of them were worth reading through the years.  My first attempt was a disaster.  Check out the wrap-up post. […]

  4. […] The Man Who Bridged the Mist by Kij Johnson.  This was the only story to make it into all three of my side quest collections.  I have no idea why. […]

  5. […] bad luck with short stories recently (see the star ratings I gave to the stories in 49 magazines, my first side quest, and my second side quest).  I’m being extremely unscientific by choosing these doubles, as […]

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