Reading short stories is fairly new to me. In fact, before this year I had never read a compilation of short stories before. I am finding that I actually enjoy them quite a bit. With a baby around, short stories are often the perfect length for me to read. I also enjoy seeing how an author can manage to captivate a reader in a short amount of time. However, because of the fact that reading these is so new to me, I'm still not completely sure how to review them, which probably shows and for that I apologize.
I had never read anything by Jeff Carlson before, and when he emailed me with an offer to review this book I couldn't turn him down. The idea of reading science fiction short stories hooked me for numerous reasons. First, I enjoy science fiction quite a bit and don't feel like I read nearly enough of it. Secondly, I enjoy the "science" part of science fiction and third, I couldn't wait to see how an author could pile in the necessary science and world building into a short story to make it believable and worth reading.
Carlson is an international best seller for his Plague Year Trilogy and, based on the writing in Long Eyes, he's an author I can't wait to read more from. The stories in Long Eyes are short, easy to read and many of them are incredibly poignant and also peppered with some great artwork. Carlson excels at not only writing an entertaining yarn, but also writing a story that will stick with readers long after they read it. An example is the story Monsters, which is an incredibly disturbing piece about a man infected with HIV in a movie theater. Monsters will probably be stuck with me for a long, long time.
Not only are his stories memorable, but they also will, more often than not, provoke thought from readers. The story Long Eyes is a great example of thought provoking work. The story focuses on a woman who discovers a race of beings on another planet and decides to keep them from being discovered by others so they have a shot at survival. The story itself, combined with Carlson's afterward where he explains his inspiration behind Long Eyes is actually quite thoughtful and profound when looked at as a whole.
One of the strengths of Long Eyes, which I didn't actually expect to be anything more than mildly annoying, are the afterwards he adds to each story which describes his inspiration, or motivation behind each story he wrote. These are often quite interesting tidbits, but they are also fascinating insights into the mind of a man who thinks much deeper than surface level. These afterwards add an amazing depth to each story and, often, will force a reader to sit back and absorb the story again from a different angle.
It's not all just science fiction and technological mumbo-jumbo. Caninus, a wild story about a vampire dog, was written (as Carlson says) during his "horror phase." In fact, Long Eyes is filled with stories that exercise other facets to this science fiction author's talent. For example, Damned When You Do may be, Carlson says, the only fantasy story he ever writes and while it does have "sf guts" (another term I'm stealing from him), its style is different enough to take note of.
Carlson spends a lot of the book toying with situations which could happen tomorrow, or in sometime in our planet's future. Planet of the Sealies is set on Earth, taking place in the future. Humanity has been wiped out by ecological disaster and another race is digging through what we have left behind to find something useful. This story is very well executed, but it is also thought provoking. What impression are we leaving on future generations with our common behaviors now? Garbage dumps tell a story, and Carlson uses that as inspiration and it works fabulously.
I won't talk about each story in this review (there are a total of 16 stories). Instead, I will just tell you that, in this review, I have touched the bare tip of a captivating iceburg. Carlson is an excellent writer with a fascinating head on his shoulders. Long Eyes is an exercise in thought. Carlson doesn't just write these to entertain, he writes them to explore concepts and ideas and that's half the draw of this compilation. While many (if not all) of these stories have been published in other compilations (and won awards, been on a short list for awards, been translated into numerous languages and etc.) or magazines, this is the first time they have all been put together in one book and it is well worth reading. Carlson is one hell of an author and this is one hell of a compilation fans of science fiction should take note of.
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