Friday, December 01, 2017

Not So Much, Said the Cat by Michael Swanwick

Michael Swanwick's last big collection of short stories was 2007's The Dog Said Bow-Wow, which somewhat explains the title of last year's Not So Much, Said the Cat.

(Note: there may be a talking cat somewhere in this book, and possibly even one that says "Not so much." But I can't recall what story that cat could possibly be in, so I will leave this as a possibility rather than a reality.)

It collects seventeen stories -- some may actually be novelettes, but none seem long enough to be novellas -- originally published in this last decade. Close to a majority came from Asimov's, but others were in F&SF, on, and in various anthologies. So it is possible that a very assiduous SFnal reader could have read all of these already -- perhaps more likely if that reader were a big Swanwick fan -- but it's not very likely.

As I've said several times before: there are two ways to write about a book full of short fiction: you can either (as I did for many years at the SFBC, writing internal reader's reports) run down story-by-story, giving thumbnail plot descriptions and canned literary judgments, or you can talk vaguely about the book as a whole. "Real" reviewers tend to do the latter, and not just because it's easier -- the former tends towards the tedious and unnecessary at the best of times. So I stick to the easy style these days, and not just because I don't read with a notebook open and full of scribbles anymore. (That's how I read, a lot of the time, for sixteen years. I miss it, now and then, but the feeling passes.)

The stories here are mixed SF and fantasy. I felt it tilted towards a fantasy feeling, but that's in large part because the SF is mostly post-apocalyptic, either part of Swanwick's "Darger and Surplus" series or similarly motivated, with mysterious superpowerful AIs serving as "gods" and "demons" and along the way proving Arthur C. Clarke's famous dictum.

More important than genre -- for me at least, and I hope for any self-respecting reader as well -- is the question of how good the stories are. They're very good: emotionally resonant, pointed and precise, carefully crafted for maximum impact. Swanwick is one of our best short-story writers, in genre or out of it, and this is yet another example of why.

I don't read a lot of short fiction these days -- I read a lot less of everything than I did, back when I read for a living -- so I'm not in any position to say any of you need to read anything in particular. But Swanwick is vital and important and great; if you read SF/fantasy short fiction at all, he's someone to know and keep track of.

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