29 September 2014

On-Hold: A Review of The Best of Connie Willis

To a certain degree, I am what I am thanks to the local library. Being a Mountie's daughter, I was moved across country, at best every four years.  Our family migrations were extreme adventures involving complicated packing days with professional movers efficiently securing our belongings up into cardboard boxes all tagged with blue tracking numbers. Those registration stickers were gold, and many a move I was banished from the front lawn for peeling off a few and sticking them to my knees, shoes and elbows. It was the early 80s, stickers were a rare and highly coveted kid commodity. The stress of those experiences weighed solely down upon my parents shoulders. Mom managed the emotional well-being of her kids by teaching us to embrace the experiences. New bedrooms, schools, friends, places to play were to be wondered, and discussed. Growing-up this way taught me to always look positively forward, understanding that a home was less a house and more the people with whom you called family. 

We moved from the high tides of The Bay of Fundy to the Yukon one summer, camping across country in a hard-top tent trailer, visiting family along the way. My childhood was mingled with clam-digging to sledding down frozen hills in forty below weather with the Northern Lights dancing above. I spent my early life getting to know this country better than most and forever am grateful for the decisions my parents made. 

And with all these moves, came the consistency of the local library system. There was not a town our family lived that we were not card-carrying library members. Having that constant kept me grounded, able to leave childhood friends behind, walk into new classrooms, and find my way with new groups of soon-to-be friends. Libraries were my first introduction to independence. I have fond memories of every library I frequented from the large, artfully decorated to the one-room, book-lined variety located in the basement of the community hall.

Today, my library experience has waned with my local containing a rather sad collection of SF books.  I think you can guess where I am leading, right back to dancing with the devil, reading mysteries and forgoing my geeky ways.  Cruise through the nearest library and you will quickly discover that beyond the literature section, mysteries reign as the genre of choice with SF but a sad collection of tattered paperback fantasy series, sprinkled with Star Wars editions and Asimov offerings. Care to discover what all the fuss is about regarding Ancillary Justice or My Real Children? Best to meander over to a well-stocked bookstore, cash in hand as your chances of borrowing any recently published novel will put you into the year 2016.  There is a reason why I have been buying books over these past years, the procurement of recent SF through the library is maddening at best. I'm sorry but being the 40th hold to read Cibola Burn is not going to cut it, someone pass me my Visa.

Nevertheless, I am currently on a library-only rule for spatial and frugal reasons, and found myself finally reading Connie Willis's The Best of Connie Willis: Award Winning Stories. (It was my last book in the SF stack.) Short stories always turn me into Goldilocks; they are either too short or aggravatingly too long, pushing way past the boundary of necessary detail.  Aware that most of my favourite SF writers cut their publishing teeth with submissions of their short story works, I should embrace this creative outlet more thoroughly but I cannot fight my reading tendencies. Give me a 'break-a-toe if dropped' hard-cover novel over a slim, well-executed 50 page thriller any day.

My enthusiasm for Black Out/All Clear is evident through out Thank the Maker, and while Connie Willis may have written two of my fave's in recent years, her collection of stories is not my cup of tea. The problem with reviewing books is that honestly must be your guiding principle. Thus, when confronted with a piece of work from an author I adore, initially I want to minimize the lacklustre review, omitting the fact that I skimmed at best, may have even tossed the book to the other corner of the room before finally putting it aside. For the record, no book was tossed during the writing of this review, for book throwing read thisMy only reprieve in my guilt is that I have yet to read a short story whether it be by Margaret Atwood or Kage Baker that has filled me with reading contentment. Even though the collection left me wanting to read a novel, I admit that brilliance is bound within, just bound within a writing format that I have yet to embrace and in all likelihood never will. 

And now if you would be so kind, I have a stack of murder mysteries to puzzle through while I impatiently wait for my 'holds' to arrive.

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