Review: Tales of Falling and Flying by Ben Loory

Tales of Falling and Flying by Ben Loory, Penguin Books, 2017

I picked up Tales of Falling and Flying on the recommendation of Jeffrey Ford. Since I’d also discovered the weird and wonderful Strange Tales From a Chinese Studio from the same source, I was more than inclined to give this one a try, and was definitely not disappointed, especially in the weird and wonderful department. Tales of Falling and Flying excels in both categories.

At first glance, this looks like a collection of short stories. Once you’re into it, that perception gets stretched a bit, or at least mine did. Not that the tales within ran roughshod over classic definitions of a short story. I mean, they were about something. They had a beginning, middle, and end in the sense that they started somewhere, went somewhere, ended somewhere. It’s those “somewheres” that need a bit of a mental adjustment.

Take for example, the very first piece in the book, “The Dodo.” I’m just going to quote the opening line: “Once there was a dodo, and he died with the rest, but then he suddenly got back up again.” So what does a dodo who should be dead but isn’t do? If you guessed “Get forced into an identity crisis because he’s alive but all the dodos are dead, therefore everyone says he can’t possibly be one,” then you have the idea. Or consider “The Sloth,” which features, yes, a sloth, one who decides he doesn’t really want to hang around the jungle eating leaves and decides to go to the city and get a job.  What sort of job is there for a sloth in the big city? It takes the sloth a while to find out, but the answer follows very reasonably from what the sloth discovers in his search along the way. Or “Death and the Lady” where a woman goes to church and discovers Death sitting next to her, and if you think you might know where that particular story is headed, you’re both right and very wrong. If I had to pick one, I’d likely say that was my favorite, which is silly because you don’t have to pick one. The very idea is limiting.

One thing I can confirm is that there will be tales of “falling and flying.” Along the way the reader could be forgiven for thinking she was reading a book of special kinds of stories called parables, deep into double meanings and lessons and metaphors and whatnot. But then you hit a story like “The Ostrich and the Aliens” which, in its own metafictional way, pokes fun at the very idea. So maybe they’re not parables, or perhaps they are, or some of them, and I found myself thinking about each one even while I was reading it. Normally that sort of thing kicks me right out of a story, but not in this case. The stories invite a bit of consideration. Invite? Say rather they demand it. As for classification, well, I can’t speak for other readers, but after a while I stopped worrying about that and just gladly went wherever Loory was going. Plenty of time later to think about where that was. No conclusions yet, but I’m still thinking.

Which is just about the highest compliment I have to give.

 

 

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Story Time: The Trickster’s Wife

This week’s Story Time is “The Trickster’s Wife,” originally published in Realms of Fantasy Magazine back in 2001 and later included in The Ogre’s Wife: Fairy Tales for Grownups, my first ever story collection and finalist for the World Fantasy Award. In a way this piece is a meditation on the nature and limits of fate. Mostly, however, it is a simple revenge story, using inevitable fate as the weapon.

Almost everyone knows the Norse myth of Sigyn, Loki’s wife. For his many crimes  Loki is bound to a rock in a cave where a venomous serpent drips poison on him, causing him to writhe in agony. His faithful and devoted wife catches the venom in a bowl to spare him the pain, but every now and then the bowl has to be emptied, and in that time the venom hits him and his thrashing causes earthquakes. But Sigyn is always there to catch the poison again, even though, one day, she will spill the bowl and Loki will thrash until he is free of his chains, signalling Ragnarok, the end of the world.

I always thought fate handed Sigyn a very raw deal. It occurred to me that perhaps Sigyn thought so too. Which puts her activities in an entirely different light, and so the story.

 

Standard Reminder: Next Wednesday, October 11th, the Story Time will change.  Until then, I hope you enjoy “The Trickster’s Wife.”

Taking Inventory

I’m not sure if this is a blog post or an inventory report. Recently I’d been thinking of planning a new collection. Not that I’m ready just yet; my recent forced hiatus has put me a little behind where I’d like to be, production-wise. Yet when I started looking over my oeuvre, so to speak, I realized, for a great many of my stories, I didn’t necessarily remember if it had been collected or not. I usually did, but not always, and even then not always where. It occurred to me that this is the sort of thing I should know, that it was kind of and certainly at least potentially important. Even my own Bibliography was incomplete. Clearly I needed a better system than my faulty memory.

So, on a morning when I really should have been working on the trim in the mudroom, I was instead feeding story data into an Excel file. Every story collection I’ve done, whether print or ebook only, what stories are in each, and the publication year. All by way of making sure that, when I look at an individual story, if I need to I can quickly look up if, when, and where it’s already appeared. For instance, I’m already thinking of what story to put up for the next Storytime, but one I was considering as an original turned out to have appeared in one of the collections. It had completely slipped my mind. That’s the kind of thing that could lead to severe embarrassment, if not worse.

There are already some duplications, though they’re of the sort to be expected. Aside from their first magazine appearances, some of the Yamada Monogatari and Eli Motherbaugh stories had appeared in earlier general collections before being gathered into their respective character’s collections. I know to some of you out there this falls under the category of “High Class Worries,” but when you’ve published over a hundred stories, that’s a lot to keep track of even without considering reprints, and keeping track of everything is part of the job and I’d been neglecting it. This should get me back on track, but while I’m pulling this data together I may as well share some of it. Listed below are all my collections to date, together with the year, including major collections, special collections, and chapbooks.

The Ogre’s Wife: Fairytales for Grownups, Obscura Press, 2002

Worshipping Small Gods, Prime Books, 2007

On the Banks of the River of Heaven, Prime Books, 2010

Our Lady of 47 Ursae Majoris and Other Stories, Canemill Publishing, 2011

Ghost Trouble: The Casefiles of Eli Mothersbaugh, Canemill Publishing, 2011

The Devil Has His Due, Canemill Publishing, 2012

Yamada Monogatari: Demon Hunter, Prime Books, 2013

Two for Christmas, Canemill Publishing, 2013

The God of Small Troubles and Other Stories, Canemill Publishing, 2014

The Collected Tymon the Black, Canemill Publishing, 2017

 

The four done under Prime Books  imprint I consider my “major” collections, as in larger and more complete. Those listed under Canemill Publishing are the ones I take upon doing myself, for whatever reason. For instance, “Deal with the Devil” stories are pretty old-fashioned and there aren’t many markets for them. However, they’re fun to do and every now and then I wrote one anyway. So I put them together in The Devil Has His Due just to give them a home. Because I could. Two for Christmas, likewise for Christmas stories, though those are the only two I’ve ever done.

For this week’s Storytime I plan to have an original. Now with my story list up to date, I can be reasonably certain that it really is one.

 

 

 

 

 

New Story Time: “On the Banks of the River of Heaven”

3rd Story CollectionThis has long been a favorite of mine. It was originally published back in April 2008 in Realms of Fantasy magazine and was the title story of my third collection, On the Banks of the River of Heaven (Prime Books, 2010).

The story is based on the Japanese Star Festival (Tanabata) of July 7th, which in turn was based on an older Chinese legend. Once a year, the Divine Weaver and the Divine Herdsman (Vega and Altair)  would meet across the Milky Way (the River of Heaven) to renew their love. The legend goes that their intense affection for each other caused them to neglect their duties, the Weaver to make clothes for the gods, the Herdsman to keep the Celestial Ox out of the gods’ gardens. So they were separated and only allowed to meet once a year after that.

Naturally, in my version things were a little more complicated. But nothing that couldn’t be sorted out with good will and a little help from friends in unlikely places.

Story Time.

 

 

Edited to Add: Note and Disclaimer: The Story Time link will always point to the current story, whatever it happens to be. As soon as a new one goes up, the previous one goes away. There is no archive, I’m afraid, so get them while they’re here.

Dark Wizards Need Love Too

The beauty of a blog is that you can write whatever you want. The drawback for both me and the reader is the same. Too many days this is just me rambling on about whatever bright or shadowy butterfly has my attention at the moment. Yet, now and again, I can dispense some actual information. About me, of course, but after all this is my blog and—trust me on this–usually it’s better to let my Ego run free rather than my Id.

Ahem. First item of news: the series (still un-named) that began with “In Memory of Jianhong, Snake-Devil” continues later this month with “On the Road to the Hell of Hungry Ghosts” in the Ninth Anniversary Double Issue of Beneath Ceaseless Skies, which should be online toward the end of this month, so only a few weeks away. Pan Bao and the crew attempt a good deed, despite his better judgment. No telling what they’ll do next. Frankly, I can’t wait to find out myself. A podcast is also planned.

Now it’s time for the elephant in the room, or rather an explanation for the cover image above. A fan who had heard LeVar Burton’s podcast of “Empty Places” asked me why more of my work (and specifically those featuring Tymon the Black) wasn’t available on another platform, said platform I barely knew existed. So I checked it out and discovered that said platform currently wasn’t accepting new publisher accounts, so placing them there wasn’t possible for now. I also realized that, the two novels aside, the three shorter works starring Tymon had never been put together in one place for the time when it might be possible to make them available. So here they are, together for the first time in The Collected Tymon the Black: “A Time for Heroes,” the original novelette which later grew into The Long Look, “Empty Places,” (3rd episode of LeVar Burton Reads) and “The Devil of Details.” Two novelettes and a long short story, at about 25,000 words. I’ve made it available on the Kindle for now, though with luck it’ll be available Elsewhere later. At least if anyone is looking for Tymon the Black outside the novels, there’s a place to find him.