Book Review: Shoggoths in Bloom | Elizabeth Bear

in #books6 years ago (edited)

Elizabeth Bear's short story collection Shoggoths in Bloom is just one of the things I have spent the month reading. Here is my review of it.

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Published in 2012 by Prime Books.

My journey with Elizabeth Bear, a person whom I have never met and in all likelihood never will, has been a singularly interesting one. It began with Range of Ghosts, a book which I enjoyed but which I couldn't completely get into. It continued with the next two books of that trilogy, Shattered Pillars and Steles of the Sky, and I wasn't any more sold by any of them.

Ostensibly they contained many of the things sure to instantly grab me, but it didn't latch me. When things don't latch me, I attribute this to myself, and give it time. I adore the Vandal Hearts scores now, but the first time I listened to them, I thought they were barely above average. Give it time. And make a deliberate effort to understand better what the author (artist) is trying to do and meld yourself more to it. Sometimes things don't fit into our preexisting boxes very well. So we need time to create new ones.

Part of trying to put together my Elizabeth Bear box (sentences I'd never thought I'd say) was checking out her (first) short story collection Shoggoths in Bloom. So. Let's dive right in.

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Opening the collection is an introduction from her husband Scott Lynch, whom himself is a writer of no small renown (he writes the Gentleman Bastard series). His introduction is smart, piercing, and funny.

The first story of the collection is her 2008 Short Story Hugo winner "Tideline." This tale is of the last soldier of her platoon slowly inching towards death, alone on the beach, who is discovered by a young child. It's a sad, yet beautiful story.

From here, I'll skip around.

"The Something-Dreaming Game" may be one of my favorites, focusing as it does on a high-concept idea and its human consequences. I am not generally inclined to comment on if a story is too long or too short but this really did feel too short. Here, the tale is of a girl with a quantum computing implant to interrupt the electrical signals of her brain - Tara suffers from reflex sympathetic dystrophy syndrome.

But also it is the story of how the 'something-dreaming game' leads to a discovery. What is the something dreaming game? Autoerotic asphyxiation, in a couple words. The result, during the dreaming period of unconsciousness, is contact with an alien, whom Tara names Albert. I'll say no more, but the ending is at once sad, happy, and disconcerting.

"Shoggoths in Bloom" won the 2009 Hugo for Best Novelette and having read it I can only say that it deserved it: this tale concerns a black college professor who makes a startling discovery about the shoggoths - they were designed to be slaves. It is set, further more, in the early 40s. It makes for an atmospheric, thoughtful tale.

Another tale I particularly enjoyed was "Orm the Beautiful," who sacrificed himself to preserve the Chord, the corpses of numerous dragons whose songs still sounded, so that their songs could be preserved. But in doing so he himself will never join the Chord.

One story here is the first writing by Elizabeth Bear I'd ever read: "In the House of Aryaman, a Lonely Signal Burns," which was first published in an issue of Asimov's. This detective story is set in India many, many years into the future. It contains parrot-cats, who can speak and have the rough intelligence equivalent to a five-year old child. Parrot-cats! I'm sad I won't live to see a future with them.

There are many other stories here. "The Ladies" is quite small, set in the very late 1700s in America just eight short years after the Revolution, but also entirely charming. When I first read it, my reaction was 'delightful!' "Love Among the Talus" is set in the same world as the Eternal Sky trilogy. "The Cold Blacksmith" is a fairy tale type story, which I didn't much cotton on to but I have no doubt it will bring joy to others.

"Cryptic Coloration" is a spot of urban fantasy (I think), taking for its protagonists a magician and also a clique of three teenage girls who discover this. It is, of course, set in New York, and borrows aspects of the detective story as well, for the magician is investigating something.

The other stories, though I have not mentioned them here, are also quite good and worthy of reading.

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With two deserving Hugo winners, and eighteen stories besides, making for a total of twenty stories, something here will please you and just about everything here will get you thinking. Elizabeth Bear's tales are fascinating and subtle, her prose quiet and beautiful and only ever "showy" in those places where prose should be showy.

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One more day and I technically would've made it just past the month's mark between posts, so long as you take for your month February during a leap year. My apologies. I have been busy with schoolwork and with music projects and this month I am participating in NaNoWriMo.

It may be sometime before I post again, but I hope not! But it might happen. We'll see.

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