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Posted by Matt | December 31st, 2010

Kaaron Warren, Walking the Tree. Angry Robot 2010 (US & UK): paperback.

Somewhat belatedly, I should mention that my review of Kaaron Warren’s Walking the Tree has been published by Strange Horizons. When Kaaron Warren is writing, she tells us in an Author’s Notes section at the end of the book, she keeps a notebook of “threads,” ideas she wants to interweave throughout the text. In the Notes section she gives us several pages of such threads. In a small case of congruence, when I read a book for review I do something similar: I jot down the threads I’m seeing, the repeated or emphasized elements in the text that might be interesting to write about. So I thought here, since Warren shared with us some of her threads, I’d share some of mine that didn’t make it into the published review:

Warren as a writer known for horror short fiction, and many themes and images Warren has dealt with in her short fiction are clustered here around the Tree like a bleak Christmas–beach and bones, babies and blood, birds and masks of clay.

Basic premise is also reminiscent of horror films like Friday the 13th: young female camp councilors put on front of respectability, but really are eager for the kids to fall asleep so they can hook up with the men. Like those movies there’s the sporty one, the brainy one, the kind one, etc. Like those movies, one by one they drop out of the story. But here, often in a more positive (or at least neutral) way. Is Warren playing on expectations, of the story type and/or of her own reputation in horror fiction?

Although there is some of the usual horror movie plot logic used: bad things–death or rape or both–happen mainly (only?) when women make errors in judgment, typically due to overconfidence or insecurity.

Also feels a bit like a feminist take on the traditional male post-apocalyptic narrative: typically lone man leading single child or woman, here that image and its implications–generational, educational, species survival/reproductive–have been thoroughly domesticated.

Metatextual elements, the focus on stories. Each Order has a different origin story of the Tree. Most contain a seed of truth, none are wholly true. Also game of “telephone” Lillah and her brother invent. How stories get distorted by the passage of time and distance seems a recurring theme.

Selected past reviews at other venues:



Posted by Matt | November 29th, 2010

Darin Bradley, Noise. Spectra 2010 (US): trade paperback.

My review of Darin Bradley’s debut novel Noise has been published by Strange Horizons. When I came to write this review, I had the notion to mention a few other books I had reviewed recently that shared some similar qualities. That’s when I realized that these books all had the same publisher, and, checking further, the same editor. I wrote the following paragraph. But it ended up not fitting into the review I went on to write, so I present it here, as an outtake.

I wasn’t surprised to learn that Juliet Ulman had acquired Bradley’s book for Bantam Dell/Spectra, before her untimely downsizing. In several ways Noise is very characteristic of the late run of Ulman’s editorship that I’ve read–books like Catherynne Valente’s Palimpsest, and Christopher Barzak’s One for Sorrow and The Love We Share Without Knowing. These works all feature excellent, refined prose; most include small but effective experiments with narrative structure; most can be read as speculative updatings of classic stories (Palimpsest of the Narnia-like portal fantasy, One for Sorrow as a speculative take on The Catcher in the Rye, elements of The Love We Share echo Sleeping Beauty, and Bradley’s Noise can read like an Americanized, post-apocalyptic Lord of the Flies). And all these works chronicle the dissociation of America’s Generation Y, that generation’s–my generation’s–complex relationship to the classic narratives and myths embedded in our society at large and in the specific places we live, our fascination with secret knowledge, and our at-times scary susceptibility to more overt forms of story.

Selected past reviews at other venues: