And I Feel Fine: One Hundred Apocalypses and Other Apocalypses by Lucy Corin

Lucy Corin’s One Hundred Apocalypses and Other Apocalypses merrily scoffs at genre boundaries. Some of the stories contained herein, like “Smog Monster Versus Godzilla,” are realistic and heart-wrenching, and follow a recognizable arc. Others, especially the stories gathered under an umbrella of “Apocalypses” can be a single sentence, a series of questions, a fable, a margin note.

I’m glad to be with Lucy Corin, here, at the end of all things.

The book is divided into two sections. The first half (ish) of the the book is made up of three short stories, while the second half (again, ish) is a collection of accounts of the end of the world.

The opening three stories are self-contained, but no less apocalyptic for falling outside that eschatological header. “Eyes of Dogs” is a slightly modernized retelling of Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Tinderbox”, in which a soldier returns home from war, ...

™

Uncovering Speculative Fiction Lurking in Four Literary Collections

Usually I use TBR Stack to dive into a book I’ve been eyeing for months or even years, hoping each time that I’ll be able to breathlessly recommend it to you. This time I’ve decided to do something different: I’m recommending four books.

Or, more specifically, I’m recommending some excellent speculative short fiction, and one essay, that I found lurking in otherwise realistic collections. Sara Batkie’s Better Times, Everyday People, edited by Jennifer Baker, Alexander Chee’s How to Write an Autobiographical Novel, and Nafissa Thompson-Spires’ The Heads of the Colored People are all great recent collections that each contain speculative gems.

 

“Cleavage” and “Lookaftering,” Better Times by Sara Batkie

Sara Batkie’s debut short story collection, Better Times, was the winner of Prairie Schooner Book Prize in Fiction. While the collection is largely realistic literary fiction, two of the stories edge into the ...

Subversive Victoriana: The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter by Theodora Goss

If you recall my last entry for TBR Stack, I found Artemis to be a fun read; while Andy Weir’s stated aim is to write exciting SF, not make a political statement, part of the fun for me was investing in Jazz Beshara’s financial troubles. In Theodora Goss’ The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter, the politics are much more apparent—this is a feminist retelling of Victoriana, after all. But it’s also an examination of class, mobility, propriety, and finances, and how they echo through women’s lives, and constrain them.

In short, this book is about opportunity, and its specific relationship to women’s bodies.

Miss Mary Jekyll is the daughter of the esteemed Dr. Henry Jekyll, who died when she was only eight years old. Her mother, always a fragile woman, gradually descended into madness after her husband’s death, raving about a horrible face appearing ...

Final Frontier Town: Artemis by Andy Weir

Most heists that I’ve seen are either criminals in for one last score, super glitzy fluff like the “Oceans” movies or The Italian Job, or desperate political heists like Rogue One. When they’re about money they’re usually about money as a macguffin, and when they’re about class it’s usually in an escapist way, watching Danny Ocean or later his sister Debbie slink around in gorgeous clothes and glittering settings. While author Andy Weir tends to say that his books are pure fun, Artemis is one of the few heist stories I’ve come across that, for me at least, is explicitly about money and about class.

Artemis is a frontier town, with a frontier town’s haphazard structure, uneasy diversity, and DIY justice. There’s one cop, a former Mountie named Rudy who polices the city. There’s an Administrator, Madame Ngogi, a Kenyan economist who essentially created Artemis as ...

Post-Apocalyptic Roadtrip to Nowhere: Philip K. Dick and Roger Zelazny’s Deus Irae

Thus far I’ve liked most of the books I’ve read for TBR, and even found things to admire in books I didn’t exactly enjoy, like Anna Kavan’s Ice. This one, though…I respect what it was trying to do? I found the basic plot fascinating. But I don’t tihnk I can actually recommend reading Deus Irae as anything other than a record of a very different time in SFF.

As I’ve mentioned, the idea with TBR Stack is that I’m literally pulling things down from my “to be read” shelf and diving in. Every once in a while there will be some external impetus (I’d been meaning to read The Confessions of Max Tivoli, so when author Andrew Sean Greer won the Pulitzer a few weeks ago I figured that was a good nudge) but normally my selection process ranges anywhere from “random” to “haphazard.” Hence, ...

Unstuck in Time: Andrew Sean Greer’s The Confessions of Max Tivoli

Welcome to TBR Stack! As of last week, this column is one whole year old! And speaking as someone who is terrible at both commitment and deadlines, I’m pretty proud of this fact, hence the exclamation points.

Realizing that I’ve been at this for a year has also made me think a whole lot about time, and it’s passage. I’ve been meaning to read Andrew Sean Greer for a while now, and since he just won the Pulitzer Prize in Fiction last week for his comic novel Less, I figured that was a great excuse to dive into an earlier work of his that carefully walks the litfic/specfic divide. The Confessions of Max Tivoli follows the life of a man who ages backwards through time. He’s born with the mind of an infant but the body of a wizened 70-year-old, and as he simultaneously ages and de-ages, he and ...

Mothers, Love, Bones: Mr. Splitfoot by Samantha Hunt

Any author who wants to write horror has a decision to make. Supernatural? Splatter? Is this horror featuring men with rusty weapons who chase down helpless people, or is this a ghost story by a campfire? Is there a cosmic battle driving humans mad? Is there a curse? A serial killer? A hook hand? Revenants? Demons?

Samantha Hunt’s third novel, Mr. Splitfoot, is a horror story, though the kind of horror that tends to bob and weave with the reader. This review will be split, like a cloven hoof. I will speak in vague generalities for about five paragraphs, and then I will dig into spoiler territory. This is a book that relies on surprise and plot twist, so if you haven’t read it, and would like to, be warned.

Mr. Splitfoot is a rural Northern Gothic—which is basically a southern gothic but with more snow ...

The Most Realistic Surrealism I’ve Ever Read: The Complete Stories of Leonora Carrington

Leonora Carrington was a surrealist painter and writer. She lived from 1917 to 2011, making her the last living surrealist. Here’s a thing, though: I’m not so sure she was a surrealist?

Like previous TBR Stack author Anna Kavan, Leonora Carrington went mad for a while, did a stint in an asylum, and wrote about it later. How many creative women have gone mad? And is it madness when you fall into despair at the state of your world? In Carrington’s case because her lover, Max Ernst, 26 years her senior, ditched her and fled into the American arms of Peggy Guggenheim when the Nazis invaded France.

I mean I can’t entirely blame him? If the Nazis come for me I don’t know what I’ll do—but I hope I’ll have the good grace not to leave a trail of terrified people in my wake. I hope I’ll find a ...

Books Make the Best Home: Ruthanna Emrys’ Winter Tide

Winter Tide by Ruthanna Emrys

I missed Winter Tide when it was first published—the simultaneous blessing/curse of working in publishing meaning that I am drowning in books at all times. I was excited to finally delve into Ruthanna Emrys’ debut novel, and not only am I glad I did so, but I’m hoping I get to the sequel a lot faster.

Because here is a book that understands the importance of books.

Lovecraft’s Mythos is particularly ripe for cultural commentary and exploration of otherness because the eldritch gods are themselves so deeply, horribly other. Especially since Lovecraft himself was so extra about his racism, it makes it all the more interesting to probe the racial assumptions, weirdness, and hatefulness in his work. Hence The Ballad of Black Tom, which tells a story of racist police violence wrapped up in a riff on “The Horror at Red Hook,” and Winter Tide, which ...

Hitting the Road with Bored of the Rings

In 1969 Doug Kenney and Henry Beard, editors of the prestigious comedy magazine The Harvard Lampoon (and soon-to-be creators of the National Lampoon) co-wrote a deeply silly parody of Lord of the Rings called, wait for it, Bored of the Rings. It turns out that a long, debauched scene at the book launch for Bored of the Rings features prominently in David Wain’s (somewhat fictionalized) recent biopic of Kenney, A Futile and Stupid Gesture. While I was watching the film I realized that (a) I had the book, and (b) I had somehow never read it. And thus this week’s TBR Stack is born!

I have to say, I was shocked by how many interesting comedic thoughts Kenney and Beard stuffed in under all the silliness.

As a comedy nerd I’ve been maybe a little obsessed with the Lampoon. I’ve always been interested in the fact that a ...

[Spooky Ghost Noises]: Collected Ghost Stories by M. R. James

How have I missed M.R. James? I love ghost stories, I grew up reading horror, but somehow I’d never even read James’ most famous story, “Whistle and I’ll Come To You, My Lad”. But part of my original plan for TBR Stack was to work my way through the teetering towers of tomes that have made my apartment increasingly unlivable awesome, and I finally got to James! I’m not going in any particular order for this column (that way lies madness) but since I’d just read Colin Winnette’s brand new ghost book, The Job of the Wasp, I figured I’d keep the trend going. Luckily among my many stacks of books is the the 1992 Wordsworth Classics edition of James’ Collected Ghost Stories—a collection I greatly enjoyed.

We all agree that telling ghost stories at Christmas is one of the greatest holiday traditions of all ...

White Knight: Anna Kavan’s Ice

Anna Kavan’s Ice is off like a shot from the first sentence, “I was lost, it was already dusk, I had been driving for hours and was practically out of petrol.” This haunting novel was one of Anna Cavan’s last works, after an early career writing in a more realistic vein, and a mid-career exploration of insanity and power through experimental fiction. Ice was described as “The Avengers meets Kafka” and I think that sums it up quite nicely—it’s a terrifying work of speculative fiction that could be post-apocalyptic from one angle, and allegorical from another.

We are in an unnamed country, traveling down and icy road in the dark. We soon learn that our narrator (he will never have a name) is searching for a girl he once “loved” (she also remains unnamed) who is now married to an overbearing, possibly abusive man. The girl is ...

Christmas Trees, Toys, and An Epic Battle Between Good and Evil: The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus

“And now we come to a turning-point in the career of Santa Claus, and it is my duty to relate the most remarkable circumstance that has happened since the world began or mankind was created.”

Histories of Christmas are pretty much endlessly interesting to me. I love piecing together Sinter Klaas, St. Nicholas, Wotan, Three Kings’ Day, Saturnalia, and the Nativity. I love the Krampus. I love Mari Lwyd and Jólakötturinn and the Jólabókaflóð and the Yule Log. Most of all maybe I love Christmas specials, and of all Christmas specials I love those of Rankin/Bass the most. Their decades-long project was to create a single unified theory of Christmas—a Christmas Cinematic Universe, if you will—which included everyone from Rudolph and Frosty to the Little Drummer Boy, and even a few leprechauns for good measure. But best of all were the multiple Santa Claus origin stories, including one ...

Children of Women: Megan Hunter’s The End We Start From

Where Canticle for Leibowitz gradually unveiled its catastrophe through a series of unreliable narrators, and The Road meditates on every grim reality of life after a societal collapse, in Megan Hunter’s new novel, The End We Start From, the apocalypse unfolds in the background of the story, refracted through the first few months of a baby’s life.

The unnamed narrator gives birth bare days before floodwaters begin to overtake London. Soon she and her husband are both brand-new parents and refugees seeking higher ground. This gives the story both an urgency, and a haunting, far away feeling, as the narrator can’t think too far beyond the needs of her baby, but she is also terrified at all times that he won’t survive.

It’s a fascinating way to tell this kind of a story, because we get all the details needed to see what’s happening to England, ...

Simulacra Suburbia: Duplex by Kathryn Davis

Duplex by Kathryn Davis Cover Detail

Isn’t it funny the way time passes? The way it rolls out slow like honey from a bear until suddenly you’re a grownup and everyone around you is dying and you don’t recognize your face in the mirror? But when you think about “yourself” if you think the pronoun “I” it’s still the young you, isn’t it? The one who first got their shit together, started out into the world. “I” apart from my parents, my brothers, my classmates, my teachers. “I.” And then time unfurls around you and ticks by so fast you can’t see it, and the thing you think of as “I” is now a past version of you, unrecognizable to the people you know now.

Kathryn Davis’ Duplex is a thorny book the revolves and revolves around time, what it does to people, and the ways we remain unchanged. It’s probably one of the most ...

A Cabinet of Curiosities: Amber Sparks’ The Unfinished World

A good short story collection can be an overstuffed attic, a trunk overflowing with costumes and masks, a cabinet of curiosities. Rather than pulling you into one world and making you love a cast of characters over time, as a novel does, a collection can function like a jewel, each surface refracting light in a unique way, showing you a different part of the world or the human mind. Amber Sparks’ The Unfinished World is a very good short story collection. Each time you think you’ve hit the bottom of the trunk, there’s one more mask tucked away under a tulle skirt; each time you think you’ve seen every curiosity in the cabinet, you come across a stuffed albino alligator or a preserved bear’s tooth hidden in a corner. The best part? Sparks never lets you get too comfortable. Do you think you’re in some gossamer-winged fairy story, where true ...

Problem Child: First Born by Caroline Thompson

First Born by Caroline Thompson Long before Caroline Thompson wrote the screenplays for Edward Scissorhands or The Nightmare Before Christmas, she wrote this dark, deeply weird novel called First Born. She sold director Penelope Spheeris the rights to the film adaptation for $1, and adapted her first novel into her first screenplay. The film was never made, but it launched Thompson on a new career in Hollywood, and she soon met Tim Burton at a studio party. The two bonded over feeling like nerdy outcasts in a room full of Hollywood insiders. As a lifelong Tim Burton fan, I’ve been meaning to read this book ever since I first found out Thompson had written it. It took me a while to track a copy down, but even after I had it I was nervous about cracking it open. Would it be worth it? Does the book offer a glimpse at the writer who would ...