If you’re looking for a last-minute holiday gift, or even just after the holidays, I’d like to recommend our current StoryBundle, which features a select mix of novels, novelettes, and anthologies. Much of the content is not available elsewhere right now–for example, the e-book of Anna Tambour‘s novel Cranolin, Ann VanderMeer’s The Bestiary anthology (featuring Mieville and Valente), Egner’s The Eisenberg Constant. Others, like Leena Krohn’s Collected Fiction and Berit Ellingsen’s Not Dark Yet are brand-new releases. Add to that high-quality fiction anthologies from Clarkesworld, Athena Andreadis and Kay Holt, Marian & James Womack, and you’ve got a lovely assemblage of the best in modern speculative fiction. The Leena Krohn 850-page collection pictured above with an author photo is on the year’s best list of both the New Yorker and the Onion’s AV Club. It’s the most mammoth release yet from our Cheeky Frawg Books.
Where does the money from this StoryBundle go? Well, first and foremost to the writers and publishers. In some cases, the writers will earn out their advance from the proceeds. For our part, our cut (as publishers of some of these books) goes right back into research on international fiction and into translations. The expensive involved in translations can preclude them from being included in anthologies. What we work hard to accomplish is the idea that translations in our anthologies are part of the plan every single time. We do the investigative work necessary to track down fascinating and unique voices. We find the right translators. Our goal on anthology projects, to be quite frank, is to cast as wide and deep a net as possible, to the point of throwing our part of the advance into the story permissions pot. Material from this research also winds up on Weirdfictionreview.com, and this StoryBundle serves as an unofficial fund-raiser for that site as well.
So, for this StoryBundle, running until December 31, I thought I’d tell you about three titles included that I really think should be in anyone’s library: Crandolin by Anna Tambour, The Narrator by Michael Cisco, and Not Dark Yet by Berit Ellingsen. I think they’re all modern classics. The reason I group them together in this post isn’t just because they’re in the StoryBundle, but because I think they typify some of the great work that’s currently being done in the fabulist/speculative mode.
Perhaps the hardest novel to describe is one of the most delightful: Crandolin by Anna Tambour. In a medieval cookbook in a special-collections library, near-future London, jaded food and drink authority Nick Kippax finds an alluring stain next to a recipe for the mythical crandolin. He tastes it, ravishing the page. Then he disappears. As the ad copy goes, “The only novel ever committed that was inspired by postmodern physics and Ottoman confectionery.” There are adventures and also clever conversations, there are characters named Falderolo and Savva. There’s also a drunk with a fish, but perhaps it’s best not to mention him. The novel is episodic and wondrous, reminding me of the best of Merce Rodoreda, Rikki Ducornet, and others of that ilk. With a little dash of Don Quixote thrown in, lingering in the background. What I particularly enjoyed was the mix of the fantastical and the science-fictional. Not to mention…The Omniscient (you’ll know what I’m talking about when you read it). In short, utterly original and a work of great energy and originality. “Isn’t a cyclops quaint? And wolves that eat little girls, etcetera?” I’m not at all surprised it wound up on the World Fantasy Award shortlist as well as praised by Ellen Datlow and Lucius Shepard.
In Michael Cisco’s The Narrator, the narrator Low is conscripted into an army to fight against the “blackbirds,” who possess lighter-than-air armor. But first, our hero must play a waiting game in a city of cannibal queens and uncanny dead things, with priests for both the living and the dead. The Edak, strange remnants of a mighty imperial power, must be avoided at all costs. Once his unit is mobilized, Low sets off on a journey that is by turns absurd, surreal, deadly, and one of the great feats of the imagination thus far in this century. These feats depend on a layering that’s extraordinary for weird fiction and is given rare power by the attention to detail in the brilliant set pieces that Cisco strings together to tell his tale. I’ve rarely come across so many instances where I was simultaneously in the moment of the novel but also recognizing that I was encountering images and situations unlike any I’d ever read before–like sleepwalkers that bruise the skin of reality and assailants who skim the surface of the water in armor that’s lighter than air. Yet the true wonder of The Narrator is that in addition to the hauntings and unique marvels of the supernatural on offer, the novel is also an extended treatise on the negation of meaning that is war. The individual meaninglessness of it and the group rationalization of it. The result is to come close to conveying the derangement required to wage war. “An army is a horror. It’s a horrible thing.”
As we enter farther into an era of climate change and environmental instability, the rules for fiction change a bit. The usual attitudes about animals and how we view the landscapes around us will become altered, and some fiction will become extinct or unreadable except as toxic nostalgia. Berit Ellingsen gets the complexity of what faces us, and has found interesting and sometimes startling ways to express it through fiction in her novel Not Dark Yet. An ex-military man, Brandon, goes off to be alone in a remote cabin in the mountains–abandoning his boyfriend in the aftermath of catastrophe in a day job that involves experimenting on owls. From that anchor, Ellingsen weaves a tale of true character and narrative complexity, one that opens up into Brandon’s past and forward into his future while examining the ways we deal with the ways in which our world is being altered for us and by us. From the astronaut program to sustainable farming, from eco-terrorism to animal behavior, the novel has a sprawling and impressive range. It’s powerful and sometimes surreal stuff, and Ellingsen doesn’t try to provide clear-cut answers or to lecture. More, she follows her character and we come to see the strangeness of the world through his eyes. This is the best work yet from a truly unique writer who clearly will be a name to conjure with for decades to come.
On the StoryBundle, anything you can do is of use–even just sharing this link. We’d love to reach our goal, and we’re close to it but need a little help from friends, a little push to get us over the top. Thanks!