First, the beefs: there are typos and errors galore, and several of the stories desperately need to go back in the drawer for a substantial reworking. That first part’s easy enough to fix – one careful read-through by a good editor would have taken care of it. The second part, though, is what really showcases the difficulty of writing sci-fi and fantasy short stories. Of the four that fell flat for me, three were doing what would have worked PERFECTLY in novel-length fiction: setting up a fantastical scenario, explaining the rules of the magic system / super-technology, and then forcing the protagonists to duke it out within the given rule-set, often by doing something clever to overcome long odds and carry the day.
What sucks is that that tends not to work in short stories, because even if you’re efficient and canny in explaining how her Grass-type Pokemon beat his Fire-type Pokemon because she Pokevolved the Bulbasaur into an Ivysaur at the last minute and then used Overgrow to KO the Charmander… it still tends to evoke more of an “oh, okay” than an “ohmygod NO WAY.” I think that’s because after you’ve spent so many words setting that all up, and more words on top of that to describe all the resulting awesomecool special effects, you the short-story writer have very little space left to accomplish what the novelist still has chapters and chapters’ worth of room for: creating emotional investment in the character(s), amping up the tension and the stakes, and bringing the reader right to the edge of their proverbial seat before the first Pokeball is thrown.
The thing is, though, there is PLENTY of evidence in this collection to show that Hickey and Jacobs are black-belt masters at all of the above, and the simplest of their stories show it off the best. For example, there’s the one about the second-grader, whose monster under the bed is actually real. That’s it – that’s all the setup you need. It’s real, it’s under there, it wants to eat her, and let me tell you, by the time you get to the part where the monster is starting to ever-so-slowly tip the bed, your eyeballs will be RIVETED to the page.
And maybe part of the reason why that’s so gob-smackingly effective is because it’s scarier and more mysterious when you DON’T know all the rules. Maybe that’s the real advantage of the short-story format: for almost the entirety of your 10-30 pages, you can absolutely marinate the reader in the “strange happenstance” phenomenon that the novelist is obliged to start actually explaining after the first three chapters.
And at the end of it, that is why I will absolutely recommend That Weird City to anyone with a passing interest: it’s HARD to pull off a triple-lutz, and the fact that these guys occasionally fall flat on the ice in attempting it actually serves to underscore what an ambitious, talented, and profoundly entertaining program they’ve created. Like I said in my review, $3 won’t buy you a better time anywhere.
Come back tomorrow for Finding Misery, in which Misery absolutely does come with the capital 'M'.
There was rioting, yes, in the first days after the announcement. Rioting, and skirmishes, even a nuclear exchange somewhere in Asia. It was all just a tantrum. A species kicking its feet and flailing its arms, not wanting to be put to bed.