8 September 2015

Park Bench: A Review of The Knight of Chains, The Deuce of Stars, Yoon Ha Lee

The world beyond my kitchen window is an explosion of summer's beauty. Peaches and pears fall over themselves on the counter behind me; trees boast their lushness, seemingly winking at passers-by as they offer a respite from September's inevitable bustle. While busy, the Ontarian Fall is a delayed spectacular affair. With the marketing world pushing pumpkin spice onto our sensibilities, firmly reminding us to put away our sunshine dreams, September continues to present summer's last fabulous aspects. 

This is the time to look up into the canopies, listen as birds flit overhead, marvel at the bounty that is our local gardens. Gorge on tomatoes, eat corn by the bucket, sip lemonade as you observe the world becoming just a little crisper, more colourful. I gush but I am consistently amazed by the boundaries our culture imposes on the natural world. The seasons are more a continuous song of life rather than the beginnings and endings that are simultaneously lamented and glorified. September's back to school, return to the serious business of being busy resonates little for me. Rather, this in-between stage presents an opportunity for reflection. September is life heightened to its peak of summer glory, tipping into a new phase bringing with it renewed reasons to just go outside.

Whatever way you choose to view this slip from summer into fall, seek out a bench, preferably tucked secretly amidst a cove of greenery and read. There is enough going on these months ahead to take away our inner reading-selves. And as my little world, with my little family inevitably rushes along, I have discovered the wonders of the SF short story. A well-written, tightly-bound short can have a profound effect on a reader. The inherent character of its length energizes imaginations more fully than most perfectly executed novels. An idea not fully realized is a tantalizing gift. Like a seed, the short story's concept continues to shift and shape long after the final paragraph is read. Without the space to explore an author can play, toying with plot-lines that if further developed might lay flat rather than shine as most do within this particular format.

I have been preoccupied with two collections: Space Opera by Rich Horton and Orson Scott Card's Intergalactic Medicine Show. Being a self-diagnosed space opera junky, the chances of me walking out of the local bookstore without Rich Horton's collection was an improbability. The man basically visualized me in his mind as his target audience, proceeding to pack the book with some of the best examples of space goodness. With authors like Kage Baker, Naomi Novik, James Patrick Kelly, Alastair Reynolds and Yoon Ha Lee part of the line up, the book glows from the wonders bound within. 

With all the space operatic madness to choose from no short story compared to the scope of pure imagination that is Yoon Ha Lee's The Knight of Chains, The Deuce of Stars . Lee's genius is his ability to move the printed word into a three-dimensional kaleidoscope of colours, formulating a poetic explosion that overpowers the reader with opulence. When a story begins with "The tower is a black spire upon a world whose only sun is a million starships wrecked into a mass grave.", a park bench worthy of such a sentence is required. 

But not all short stories need to smash your mind in with extravagant eloquence, Intergalactic Medicine Show, published stories from Card's on-line magazine have a more personal touch. With 4 shorts from the Ender's Game universe, the collection has an old friend over for dinner vibe. The new vantage points revealed in this well-defined world expands my appreciation for the dedication Orson Scott Card has committed to his original story-line. 

Short story collections, whether it be a composite of SF's current gifted writers or a book solely dedicated to one author all share their unique slant to life. Each present a glimpse into galaxies, planets, aliens, men and women all who entertain me as I sit on my local park bench observing the slow rotation of life.  

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