Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Shadow Show by Sam Weller and Mort Castle (Editors)

Review based on ARC.

It is difficult to rate something written in honor of the eminent Mr. Bradbury.  Part of the rating must assuredly originate from the topic.  Part of the rating is in the appealability thereof.  And part must be from the writing and/or stories themselves.

In Shadow Show, many authors who themselves are worthy of celebration, gather to honor the works, life, and influence of Ray Bradbury.  I have only actually read two Bradbury novels, though 'the rest' have been on my wish-list for as long as I can remember.  Shadow Show renewed my desire to jump to it and start gathering the Bradbury tomes for my reading pleasure and intellectual enlightenment (according to those featured in Shadow Show ;)).

Some of the novels take a theme in a Bradbury piece and run with it; some are merely written in his honor; still others written in what the author hopes is his style.  All of the stories are followed by quick blurbs from the author explaining the impact Bradbury had on them in their lives and/or careers.

I enjoyed the collection as a whole, and, as stated above, I am eager to grace myself with other Bradbury pieces.  There were some stories that I loved, some that I liked, and just a couple that I felt were "meh."  (For those interested in a story-by-story blurb, see below.)  Overall, I highly recommend the collection.  Obviously, Bradbury fans will want to partake, but I equally recommend the collection to all readers -- people who love discovering new stories, new worlds.

Overall, FOUR of five stars.

The stories, individually blurb'ed, without acknowledgment of their added explanation/blurb.  The following is not a description OF the story (since they're so short) so much as a brief response TO the story.  I've noted after each whether they fit into a sort of fantasy/sci-fi category or a more "real-life" (drama) category:

A Second Homecoming by Ray Bradbury
This is more of a second introduction than a story.

The Man Who Forgot Ray Bradbury by Neil Gaiman (drama)
Neil Gaiman is one of my favorite authors, so I was actually a little disappointed with this one, the one I was probably looking forward to the most in the collection.  It was good, insightful, well written... but just didn't jump out at me and didn't do much other than pay homage.

Headlife by Margaret Atwood (sci-fi)
I particularly liked this one.  I've read one other Atwood (so far) and this one easily trumped it. As with the Handmaid's Tale, Headlife made a point about society, but does not shove your face in it.  This story was was also reminiscent of Twilight Zone and, dare I say, Futurama....

Heavy by Jay Bonansinga (drama)
Heavy was thought provoking and emotion-making.  It was simultaneously touching and grim; hopeful and morose.  Bonansinga did an excellent job of channeling what I think of as the Bradbury-spirit.

The Girl in the Funeral Parlor by Sam Weller (drama)
This one was a little creepy and had a wonderful concept.  I'd actually like to see this one developed into at least a novella and maybe put at least a little more into the sci-fi (or fantasy) category.  Regardless, I enjoyed reading this short and am looking into Weller a little more...

The Companions by David Morrell (sci-fi (fantasy))
I loved the way this one started and middle'd.  I did not love where the author went with it, but I understand it.  I imagine that this short will appeal to a lot of people, but for me, I wanted something more "fireworky" at the end.  The short felt, perhaps, a little self-indulgent.

The Exchange by Thomas F. Monteleone (drama)
This was another one that was okay and felt a little self-indulgent. It was a little sentimental in the way that it feels like you're listening to a story by a grandfather type, about that "one important person" who really impacted his whole life....  It was fine, but not spectacular.  Enjoyable but not staying (I had to re-read a little bit to remember which one it was just now...)

Cat on a Bad Couch by Lee Martin (drama)
I really loved this one and, whenever I think about "Shadow Show" as a whole, this is the story that first comes to mind.  It was so nicely put together, very complete, and impressive in its subtlety.  Martin's character is somehow relatable and even endearing in his weaknesses and very human desires.

By the Silver Water of Lake Champlain by Joe Hill (drama'ish)
Another great short.  Hill leads the reader around corners effortlessly, never hinting at what is on the other side of that corner.  His characterization is impressive given his subjects and, in the end, satisfies the reader while leaving her (me) longing...

Little America by Dan Chaon (sci-fi (fantasy))
He never comes right out and says it (and neither will I), but Chaon dances around his story - a theme that has become much more popular in the past couple decades - with a lithe leap.  The perspective is impressive, the plot is brief and to the point, and the end is, again, satisfying, and I appreciated that Chaon did not attempt to think for his reader.

The Phone Call by John McNally (sci-fi)
This one is right up my alley.  When I realized who the author was, I was not surprised and was, instead, reinvigorated in my desire to read more McNally.  His topic is not new anymore (though, as he states in his after-the-story blurb, he's been toying with the idea for a couple decades), but it is presented with a fresh spin, a modern perspective, and a thoughtful end.

Young Pilgrims by Joe Meno (sci-fi)
Another excellent story.  Exploring the next frontier in the context of a zealous religious group could, in another's hands, be inaccessible.  But Meno approaches both with an eye toward present, modern, and very-Earth concerns and ideas.

Children of the Bedtime Machine by Robert McCammon (sci-fi)
The story begins bleak and hopeless and slowly, subtly, moves into hopeful and bright.  I loved the concept, and I thought the characterization was really excellent.  I did, however, think the end was just a little too neatly packaged.  I like my happy endings, but with short stories such as these, leaving room for a little wonder is welcomed

The Page by Ramsey Campbell (drama'ish)
I really liked the way Campbell weaved just a touch of the possibility of supernatural into the everyday, the potentially mundane.  The story was informative and complete, yet still left room for the reader to question everything in the short -- the presence of perhaps a ghost and the influence of such an existence on everyday life.

Light by Mort Castle (drama)
I've read other Norma Jean / Marilyn Monroe pieces, but this one was really well done.  It was insightful and aware.  I don't know if any of the experiences and thoughts described therein were documented and merely re-played here in an effective manner or if Castle created it all from his, apparently vast, imagination.  The short was a believable account, deftly, efficiently, and emotionally told.

Conjure by Alice Hoffman (drama'ish)
I went out and bought another Hoffman this weekend as a result of this story.  I love exactly how she told it.  Nothing more needs to be said.

Max by John Maclay (sci-fi (fantasy)'ish)
I liked it, but I didn't love it. It was just a little too much like reading history for my tastes... a little too memoir and not enough story.  But, fine.

Two of a Kind by Jacquelyn Mitchard (sci-fi (fantasy))
This was probably my least favorite.  It was good, well-written, well-told.  It had a little bit of spook and a little bit of creep.  But in the end, it felt more like someone was trying to educate me than spin me a tale of two boys...

Fat Man and Little Boy by Gary A. Braunbeck (sci-fi'ish)
Another one I loved.  Braunbeck touches just enough on human frailty and conceit, the ego and insecurity.  He dabbles with the future and establishes a life.  I am interested in more of what he has to say...

The Tattoo by Bonnie Jo Campbell (sci-fi (fantasy))
I have, for some reason, mixed feelings about this one.  It is right up my alley, but I was, nevertheless, dissatisfied.  I love the concept, and I think that Campbell did a great job of describing the details.  I think that what was dissatisfying for me was the relationship side -- perhaps realistic, but unmoving.  Intriguing, but I feel like the story could have gone just a little bit further.

Backward in Seville by Audrey Niffenegger (sci-fi)
For those who know me, you know that I am the anti-fan when it comes to Niffenegger's Time Traveler's Wife.  Nonetheless, I purchased her second book, and I read this short with an open mind.  I felt, after reading Time Traveler's Wife, that Niffenegger has potential that could have been better illuminated by a more aggressive editor (vis-a-vis cutting about 150 pages from the 500-page book).  But I digress....  Backward in Seville was nice.  It was sentimental, which was not even slightly surprising.  Overall, I felt that with this (much) shorter foray, Niffenegger did a (much) better job telling her tale.  It was good.  Possibly even very good...

Earth (A Gift Shop) by Charles Yu (sci-fi)
I have heard of Yu and was eager to read this short.  Yu presents the tone just right. I mean, just right.  It is completely convincing in what it endeavors to accomplish.  You are reading (listening to audio of) a marketing brochure for Earth, a Gift Shop, written by (told by) a wry, self-defacing marketer.  Looking forward to more Yu.

Hayleigh's Dad by Julia Keller (sci-fi)
Awesome.  Am definitely going to look into more Keller.  Maybe it's this one.. maybe this is my favorite...

Who Knocks by Dave Eggers (sci-fi)
This is in the tone of an urban legend.  And it was fun.  Not deep, but fun.  And creepy.  Enjoyed my first tiny jaunt into Eggers-land.

Reservation 2020 by Bayo Ojijutu (sci-fi)
This was well told, but it felt a little preachy.  I understand that a lot of authors are moved by Bradbury's ability to preach so effortlessly, but that's the point -- it's effortless.  In Fahrenheit 451, the reader gains a sense of Bradbury's opinion, perspective, and, as far as he is concerned, truth.  But it's a story first.  Ojijutu's story has intrigue, and I loved (loved) the interaction between Joseph and the Governor, but overall, I felt that the tale fell flat -- onto a moral message and not a story.  It was not bad, and it was certainly well-written, it was just not my favorite.

Two Houses by Kelly Link (sci-fi)
Kind of awesome.  Reminds me of Haunted by Chuck Palahniuk for some reason.  Fun, light, deep, and provocative.  I'm curious about Link...

Weariness by Harlan Ellison (sci-fi)
His name is trademarked, which made me feel like I've missed out on a lot of good sci-fi.  I thought the story was OK, a nice thought, a well-done conclusion to "it all."  But what I really enjoyed from Ellison was actually his after-the-story blurb.  He sounds like just the sort of person I'd love to have a long conversation over tea with..


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