My continuing search for short stories to read between full-size books continues, and this time I’m not writing about stories I’ve read online, but about a few I found in an anthology (THE MAMMOTH BOOK OF BEST NEW SF – 23, edited by Gardner Dozois): the authors’ names I saw on the table of contents for this one were enough to pique my curiosity, either because I already read them in the past, or because they were writers I was eager to sample. As it often happens with anthologies, there were good stories, so-and-so stories and works that did not “speak” to me at all, and I’m sorry to report that the overall impression was not a very encouraging one, despite the presence of many talented authors in the list.
Still, there were a few stories that did reach out and leave a lasting impression, and here is another one that truly caught my attention, and what’s more important made me think.
Jo Walton is an author who features prominently in my “must read” list, thanks to the enthusiastic comments about her works I read from other fellow bloggers, so I was thrilled at the opportunity of sampling her writing in this anthology: if this is a good example of her style and narrative voice, I know I will enormously enjoy her longer works.
In the alternate world depicted here, the Great Depression never truly ended and things went from bad to worse with time: even the events of World War II developed quite differently from established history, and the USA at the time in which the story runs are in a very sorry state indeed.
The tale is told in brief flashes alternating newspaper headlines and points of view from various characters, and the overall impression is that of a place where survival is often attained at great price: we see people being overworked under the threat of losing their employment; long queues at soup kitchens; news of strikes and insurrections being mercilessly dealt with, and there’s an often-repeated hint about people being taken away from the soup kitchens’ queues, loaded into trucks and disappearing forever.
Interspersed with these quite appalling scenes are the newspaper and television ads for miracle products like hair regrowth or for the new blockbuster movie from Hollywood, a quite creepy “The Reichsmarshall” starring Marlon Brando: these snippets of information convey more than anything the real state of affairs in this alternate world, one where a man might choose to take his lover not on a dinner date but to a political rally, an event sporting “…rallies and torch-lit parades and lynchings, beating up the blacks as scapegoats for everything. It didn’t help at all; it just made people feel better about things to have someone to blame”.
As an oasis of hope in this very bleak background, now and then a listing for a new science fiction novel or story pops up, the only apparent means of escape from this miserable, depressing world…
To say that this story made quite an impact on me would be a massive understatement.