Friday, 6 November 2015

Review: Super Stories of Heroes and Villains

Super Stories of Heroes and Villains Super Stories of Heroes and Villains by Claude Lalumière
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I enjoy superhero prose. More accurately, I enjoy some superhero prose, and a few of these stories are the kind I enjoy.

The usual unevenness of any multi-author anthology applies, both in how much I enjoyed the stories and how well they are edited, and some of the stories only fit within the theme by stretching the definition a long way (also common for anthologies). This particular anthology suffers from another issue, too: in some, there are a lot of references within the stories either to the particular story's pulp origins and the associated characters, or else to a shared universe with many other stories and characters in it, and in both cases, since I'm not familiar with the names, they're just a list of names. For me, this detracts from the story rather than adding to it.

The main problem, though, is one that means I always have to pick my superhero prose carefully: a generally dark, gritty, cynical and depressing tone, common in the genre but very much not to my taste.

A lot of the stories are well done, but I didn't often like what they were doing. The three stars reflects my personal taste, not the writing quality.

There is an odd quirk in the layout: some, but by no means all, of the opening quotation marks have a space inserted after them.

"A Knight of Ghosts and Shadows," Chris Roberson: a neo-pulp story in the traditional style, if with modern attitudes to immigration and sex. Well done, though it does have a couple of homonym errors ("principle" for "principal", "lead" for "led").

"Trickster," Steven Barnes and Tananarive Due: this is the first of several stories in the collection which stretches the definition of "superhero". I usually enjoy trickster tales, but this particular one wasn't as tricksterish as some, and was more of a postapocalyptic tragedy (something I don't enjoy). A couple of apostrophe issues detract from the general competence of the writing.

"They Fight Crime!," Leah Bobet: A bit of a tendency to tell, and a tone of detached tragedy, so again, not my favourite thing.

"The Rememberer," J. Robert Lennon: Also in a mode of detached telling, which is an interesting choice for the story of someone who remembers everything and experiences the emotions powerfully, eventually helping others to do the same. Rather lovely, despite the tragedy, and despite again stretching the "superhero" definition a bit.

"The Nuckelavee: A Hellboy Story," Christopher Golden and Mike Mignola: What Hellboy gets right is the compelling noir feel of an outsider trying to do good and fight his own cynicism, placed in a setting of richly imagined myth. This story has all those elements, so it worked for me. Very much the shape of a 1930s Weird Tale, too, in which someone horribly gets what they deserve. Is Hellboy a superhero? Again, if you push the definition. Unfortunately, features a comma splice.

"Faces of Gemini," A. M. Dellamonica: More definitely a superhero this time, part of a super team. The story is mainly about the family dynamic between two sisters, with the supers stuff almost background, dire though it is. Homonym: "hoard" for "horde".

"Origin Story," Kelly Link: Link is known for a type of story I have very little time for, in which alienated people get battered by gritty tragedy for a while, unable or unwilling to do anything effective about it, until the story stops. This is one of those. She is a talented writer, but I don't enjoy her work.

"Burning Sky," Rachel Pollack: What Amazons might really be like. Not safe, not nice, is the short version. There are two stories intercut here, a first-person one about a BDSM sexual awakening, and a third-person one about a photographer who discovers an Amazon conspiracy, and they remain separate throughout - presumably throwing thematic light on each other. Overly literary for my taste, and thin on the superhero theme.

"The Night Chicago Died," James Lowder: Very dark noir with a horrifying ending which totally matches the tone up to that point.

"Novaheads," Ernest Hogan: Cyberpunk. Drug-addled, alienated, and cynical, all the things I like least in cyberpunk. Several minor editing glitches.

"Clash of Titans (A New York Romance)," Kurt Busiek: Maximally cynical, narrated in the voice of a New York advertising man who is completely unconcerned about the number of his fellow citizens being horribly killed in superhero fights, except insofar as this affects his chances of getting an apartment in the city so he doesn't have to commute.

"The Super Man and the Bugout," Cory Doctorow: If Superman had been raised, as one of his creators was, by a Canadian Jewish mother, and had to deal with Canadian bureaucracy. A little more hopeful and positive than average for the collection. "Proscribed" for "prescribed".

You know what? I'm not going to review every story after all. There are too many, and very few I like. I'll mention a couple of others.

"Sex Devil," Jack Pendarvis: A pitch-perfect pitch, supposedly by a teenage boy, for a new superhero who is transparently the boy's adolescent revenge/sex fantasy. Only someone who can write very well could pull off this beautiful imitation of someone who writes badly.

"Man Oh Man--It's Manna Man," George Singleton: A superhero with psychic powers makes televangelists urge their congregations to donate to actual worthy causes, instead of to them.

"The Jackdaw's Last Case," Paul Di Filippo: Franz Kafka immigrates to America and becomes a masked vigilante. A happier ending than you might expect.

"The Biggest," James Patrick Kelly: I normally like Kelly's beautifully crafted stories, but the sad pointlessness of the main character's life and death in this one are too much.

"Just Cause," Carrie Vaughn: I'm a big fan of Vaughn, and this was one of the more successful stories in the book for me. Very much about how hard it is to be a superhero, even one who retains some idealism.

"The Pentecostal Home for Flying Children," Will Clarke: Yes, of course the Pentecostal lady, though good-hearted, is ineffective in raising most of the children to even be civilised, let alone good people. There is, at least, one exception. What there isn't is a definite ending. "Bows" for "boughs" and "Cane" for "Cain".

"The Detective of Dreams," Gene Wolfe: Finally, a Gene Wolfe story I actually understand, and more or less like, though I know most people will dislike it because, unusually, it lets Wolfe's Catholicism out into the open. Done in a flawless 19th-century style.

So, to summarise the collection: not my thing, but certainly someone's, and done with skill, though far from flawlessly.

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