Friday, 3 July 2015
Shoggoths in Bloom by Elizabeth Bear
This is a book of short stories, and as long as people get that I mean this in a positive way, reading them is a lot like swallowing razors. They're sharp, dig in as they go down, lodge in your throat in unexpected and painful (deliciously painful) ways. I've loved her novels, but these short stories are really something else. Each one packs a punch.
Several stories in this collection take place in worlds she's already created - the Eternal Sky books give space to a princess finding out how to be a queen when she really doesn't want to, under the looming heel of an empire, with an attractive bandit causing problems. The Promethean Age takes a story, with Matthew dealing with a creature that preys on virgins, with tragic results.
Other stories feel like they all belong in the same fictional universe, although it's not one that I've read any of the books from, if there are books from it. There are three that struck me as similar, one (In the House of Aryaman, A Lonely Signal Burns) in India, a murder mystery with a parrot cat; one (Confessor) in the Pacific Northwest, tracking down genetic manipulators in the woods; and one (Gods of the Forge) in...oh goodness, I can't remember exactly where, with a scientist who must decide how much of a technology she believes in is too much. All share certain assumptions about future uses of energy, and massive changes in the way we can abuse the environment. They're all great, and the world that surrounds them is fascinating.
We also have little gut punches of stories about Weyland Smith, Sonny Liston, and a dying combat robot on a war-wracked world. And, of course, the eponymous story, Shoggoths in Bloom, which takes H.P. Lovecraft and adds race in a sensitive manner, that I found far creepier than the one Lovecraft book I've read.
There's also a lot here about what you must give up in order to move forward, to keep creating, to embrace humanity and pain in order to be whole - The Girl Who Sang Rose Madder, about an aging rock star who is given an agonizing choice, and Dagmar, about moving on after a difficult relationship.
There are several stories I haven't mentioned, but it's actually not because I liked them any less. I just don't have time to talk about them all without entirely losing any readers I might have! Trust me, these are stories that are pointed and painful and absolutely worth it. I may have snagged this at a sale, but you should have no compunction about going out and buying it right now.