Thursday, November 26, 2015

Stories for Chip: A Tribute to Samuel R. Delany, edited by Nisi Shawl and Bill Campbell

Find this book
(SF) A disappointing collection of short stories by authors inspired by Samuel R. Delany. These aren't works imitating Delany's style; they're just by authors who felt he had influenced their writing. (102,100 words; Time: 5h:40m)

Rating: ★★☆☆☆, Not Recommended

"Stories for Chip: A Tribute to Samuel R. Delany," edited by Nisi Shawl and Bill Campbell, published on by .

I've always been a big fan of Samuel Delany, so when I saw that other reviewers had recommended a few stories from this volume, I was eager to read it. My first disappointment was that out of 33 stories, only 21 are new fiction. The rest are either reprints (some as old as 1968) and/or non-fiction. I only read the 21 new stories, so my review only addresses those.

Only 19 of the 21 have any speculative element. Of those, I only found one story to recommend. The rest are murky, they use scientific words with no apparent understanding of their meaning, they frequently don't end, and they often don't seem to have anything to say at all.

A Comparison With Delany's Actual Works
I was so disappointed by these stories that I wondered if perhaps I wouldn't like Delany's own stories if I read them today, so I went back and reread a couple of them. I'll talk a bit about The Einstein Intersection (Wesleyan University Press, 1967), since I have seen it criticized as unscientific, confused, and inconclusive.

On rereading it, I actually enjoyed the book more than when I read it thirty years ago. The narrative is very clear; the reader never wonders what's happening at any given moment in the story. The plot is straightforward. It starts with Lo Lobey trying to resurrect his lost love and ends with him accepting that that's not to be and deciding to seek his fortune in the stars. The subject is important and timeless. It's about love, and loss, and being different. And it's about growing up.

As a more mature reader, I enjoyed the author's literary and historical allusions, and it was fun to look for the deeper meaning(s). The "bad science" is entirely in the what-if of the story (what if human beings vanished and Earth was reoccupied 30,000 years later by aliens obsessed with recreating our civilization and even our physical form). But that's okay in the setup, and Delany doesn't keep hitting us up with new impossible things every few pages.

Nor do you need to assume that anything is meant literally. A fun way to read it is to assume the Lo Loby is Delany himself, a young writer who'd lost his innocence and searches for it without success through all the old tropes before seeking his fortune in science fiction. The "vanished human beings," in that interpretation, would be the writers before say 1950, whose culture has vanished and whose world we inhabit as uneasy imposters. I can't say that that's what Delany really meant, but you can take that interpretation a long way. And there are other ways to read it, if you're so inclined.

More broadly, then, I'd say Delany's works tend to have multiple interpretations. They make you think about things. They open your eyes. And they're fun.

Sadly, not a single story in this volume measures up to that. They seem to be complicated for no reason. Instead of choosing between two or three interpretations, we're unable to find any at all. And reading through this volume was pure drudgery.

There are two fun stories in the volume, but only one of them is SFF. Jamaica Ginger is a neat little adventure story set in a steam-punk 1930s New Orleans. It has almost no symbolism and almost no cultural references, which makes it the least Delany-like story in the volume, but it's an entertaining read without being a lightweight.

Characters in the Margins of a Lost Notebook is literary fiction set in 1970s or 1980s New York City. It has no speculative element whatsoever, and it has little or no plot, but it's without doubt the best read of any story in the volume. What saves it is "Jack," a thinly-disguised Samuel L. Delany, who mentors the narrator and offers great bits of salty wisdom. His advice on the subject of writing a negative review of a high-profile book: "If you're going to fuck the dog, stick it all the way in."

If you already bought the book (or if money is no object), just read those two stories and skip the rest. Otherwise, I suggest you pass on this dog.

Other Reviews: Search Web,

5- & 4-Star Stories: 1;  Estimated Time: 28m (9K words)
Recommended By Stories: 6;  Estimated Time: 1h:43m (31K words)
Total Stories: 21;  Estimated Time: 5h:40m (102K words)
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Rating: 5 -> Hugo-worthy

Rating: 4 -> Recommended

Jamaica Ginger by Nalo Hopkinson And Nisi Shawl  Time: 28m (9K words)  IssueStories for Chip 
In a steampunk New Orleans, Plaquette works for miserly "Msieur" building watches and automata. The "George" she's working on could gain her freedom, if it doesn't ruin her first.
Other Reviews  RSR Mini-Review [4]  Recommended By: RSR:4 SFRevu:4 SFEP

Rating: 3 -> Average

Billy Tumult by Nick Harkaway  Time: 14m (4K words)  IssueStories for Chip 
Billy Tumult is a psychic surgeon, who operates in virtual reality disguised as a wild-west cowboy.
Other Reviews  RSR Mini-Review [3]  Recommended By: SFRevu:4 GDozois
Capitalism In The 22nd Century Or A.I.r. by Geoff Ryman  Time: 18m (6K words)  IssueStories for Chip 
Graça and Cristina want to leave Brazil and go settle on another planet, but it's expensive, physically challenging, and illegal.
For Sale: Fantasy Coffin (Ababuo Need Not Apply) by Chesya Burke  Time: 14m (4K words)  IssueStories for Chip 
In this fantasy story, eleven-year-old Ababuo lives in modern-day Ghana. She's a "safe-journey" child, which means she has a magical power but also bears a curse.
Other Reviews  RSR Mini-Review [3]  Recommended By: SFRevu:4
Heart Of Brass by Alex Jennings  Time: 32m (10K words)  IssueStories for Chip 
At need, Thea becomes the Brass Monkey, who roams the streets of Seattle fighting crime and super villains. But Thea is dissatisfied and wants to spend more time with her boyfriend.
Holding Hands With Monsters by Haralambi Markov  Time: 12m (4K words)  IssueStories for Chip 
A horror story, in which the narrator meets the monster under the bed, and things go from bad to worse.
River, Clap Your Hands by Sheree R. Thomas  Time: 10m (3K words)  IssueStories for Chip 
The narrator, a survivor of a hurricane-induced flood, mourns her lost baby and feels that the water is calling to her somehow.
Song For The Asking by Carmelo Rafala  Time: 24m (7K words)  IssueStories for Chip 
The narrator, a priest in a fantasy world, crosses the ocean to bring his church a boy he has trained and a woman he has captured. But something is strange about both of them, and the convoy has lots of problems.
The Last Dying Man by Geetanjali Dighe  Time: 08m (3K words)  IssueStories for Chip 
Nisha and Chayaa bear witness to the end of the world, watching Mumbai collapse, and "indexing" everyone who falls. Without knowing why.
Voice Prints by devorah major  Time: 12m (4K words)  IssueStories for Chip 
Held captive by aliens, a woman tries to reason with her new guard.

Rating: 2 -> Not Recommended

An Idyll In Erewhyna by Hal Duncan  Time: 14m (4K words)  IssueStories for Chip 
Two couples on Mars have challenges with their new furniture and accommodations.
Be Three by Jewelle Gomez  Time: 14m (4K words)  IssueStories for Chip 
Tryna is being held captive, immobilized, but she doesn't remember why. Perhaps she's being tortured, but she's not sure about that either. It might be something she agreed to. But she needs to figure it out.
Clarity by Anil Menon  Time: 13m (4K words)  IssueStories for Chip 
In a future Mumbai, India, a man mourns the loss of his brother, who left him only his 11-year-old child and a useless glass desk.
Clones by Alex Smith  Time: 21m (6K words)  IssueStories for Chip 
While Zyrn looks for habitable worlds in a distant future, Martin looks for love in the gay bars of 1980s Philadelphia. But what's the connection between them?
Each Star A Sun To Invisible Planets by Tenea D. Johnson  Time: 05m (2K words)  IssueStories for Chip 
William is a giant who has forgotten everything, but he's got a data recorder to remind him--assuming he really wants to know.
Eleven Stations by Fábio Fernandes  Time: 06m (2K words)  IssueStories for Chip 
The narrator wants to commit suicide, but then he finds his body is levitating. That's worth exploring before the end, for sure.
Festival by Christopher Brown  Time: 35m (11K words)  IssueStories for Chip 
Eden is a 20-something news reporter in a US dystopia. She and some college friends plan a long weekend at a festival in Austin, TX, but Eden has bigger ideas.
The First Gate Of Logic by Benjamin Rosenbaum  Time: 20m (6K words)  IssueStories for Chip 
Today, little Fift will attempt the first gate of logic. She's excited, but some of her fathers and mother are worried that she's not ready.
Other Reviews  RSR Mini-Review [2]  Recommended By: GDozois
When Two Swordsmen Meet by Ellen Kushner  Time: 07m (2K words)  IssueStories for Chip 
Three vignettes about what happens when two swordsmen meet.
Other Reviews  RSR Mini-Review [2]  Recommended By: SFRevu:4

Rating: 1 -> Needs Improvement

Rating: Not Rated

Characters in the Margins of a Lost Notebook by Kathryn Cramer  Time: 11m (4K words)  IssueStories for Chip 
The narrator describes her adventures with "Jack," a man who seems a whole lot like Samuel Delany.
Hamlet's Ghost Sighted In Frontenac, KS by Vincent Czyz  Time: 15m (5K words)  IssueStories for Chip 
Logan is 18, part Hopi, missing his father, hating his uncle, and stuck in a small Kansas town.

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