Friday, July 3, 2015

Time for a Short One

Review: The Acts of 1 by Jon de Silva; Ingathering and Hidden Wonder by Zenna Henderson

Somewhere between the flash fiction and the novel lies a once-ubiquitous fiction form: the short story. Collected into fiction magazines and anthologies, these stories paid the bread-and-butter for authors in the Golden Age. 

Now, with the growth of self- and independent-house-publishing, or perhaps with the disappearance of many of the magazines that once paid for writers to craft such tales, the short story is getting harder to find. To balance this dearth, though, many anthologies and collections that once were available only on paper are being re-released as e-books.

The Acts of 1 (Jon de Silva)

I was pleased to see the release of this collection of short stories from de Silva, author of the enjoyable time-travel novel Rickshaw, New Mexico. Like that novel, most of the stories in this collection have a theme of asynchronicity: either time travel or time-shifts are at the heart of the action. Powerful emotional tension and thoughtful handling of the out-of-time characters help raise these seven tales above the ordinary.

Of all seven, the two not listed in the Amazon description—and the two that do not deal with time-twisting—turned out to be my favorites. I particularly enjoyed the story "A Wish for Sarah," in which the anachronism is an old-fashioned name-tag on a nurse in a cancer ward. De Silva presents the choices we all make in living by giving us Sarah, a dying woman who has a short time left to make those choices for herself, her husband and her friend. Also satisfying was "The Waiting Room." We all love to see others get their comeuppance!

I like stories that can wring emotional response. So I'll warn youmy 5-star rating for this collection is the equivalent of the warning: Have a Kleenex available!

Ingathering (The Complete People Stories of Zenna Henderson)

I was a teenager just discovering the power of the short science fiction story by the likes of Sturgeon and Bradbury when a kind librarian put a collection of stories by Zenna Henderson, The Pilgrimage, into my hands, and I met the People for the first time. Refugees from a Home that demolished itself, the People live apart from others in the remote reaches of an Arizonan desert canyon, and in scattered other communities elsewhere. 

Like Superman, another alien who fell to Earth in the same era, they possess powers they brought from that other world. Unlike Superman, however, their powers must be hidden from a world that is too ready to reject the odd and different. They fly, and lift their broken-down jalopies above the trees. They bring molten metal and artesian water flowing from beneath the earth. They converse silently and Share their powerful memories.

Also unlike Superman, the People live ordinary lives around these powers. There is sibling rivalry, and naughtiness in the back of the classroom, and despair, and the innocence of children. And when I found Henderson's second collection of People stories, The People: No Different Flesh, the title made it obvious why. The People are people. They are us, plus.

To a geeky teen in an era when to be a geek (indeed, to be an ardent reader!) was to be an object of scorn, the People were a wonderful promise of community somewhere, a hope that I could be an Insider there because of being an Outsider here. 

Henderson's power was to bring that feeling to a wide variety of out-group readers:

A wide variety of people have embraced and recommended these stories: Jews, Wiccans, Latter-day Saints and other Christians. People in the GLBT community have felt unique kinship with the People, probably not realizing that Muslim readers have felt the same way. from an essay on Adherants blog

Holding Wonder (Zenna Henderson)

Many of Henderson's stories of the People have a teacher's voice somewhere. This is not surprising; Zenna Henderson taught elementary school in Arizona. She brought that desert schoolroom esthetic into almost every story she wrote.

Holding Wonder is one of two collections of tales not specifically about the People (although The Indelible Kind crosses over.) Many of the stories, including You Know What, Teacher? share the child's or teacher's point of view of the schoolroom or playground. Here again, though, the two stories that have resided in my heart for over fifty years involve neither school nor student.

Crowning Glory presents a North America in which the almost-universal fashion is for females and males alike to wear their hair cropped close and shaven into patterns. The protagonist is an odd girl in this culture, clinging to her undyed waist-length hair despite the teasing of her friends and the inconvenience of caring for it. How she becomes the invited guest of the alien visitorsand why—is a prime example of writing power.

Love Every Third Stir has a classic feel to it. For a long time, I was convinced this had been made into a Twilight Zone episode, but it had not. It's just a very visual presentation. The twist at the end is a real zinger!

Liner Notes:

  • Ingathering combines the two collections of the People stories, adding some story-to-story narrative linkage to the first book. Since I had lost my original paperbacks along the way, I was happy to add this double collection back into my library. 
  • There is no Kindle edition of any of the Zenna Henderson books yet.