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A Reader of Fictions: Tables and Chairs - Andrew Bird

A Reader of Fictions

Book Reviews for Just About Every Kind of Book

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Tables and Chairs - Andrew Bird

After: Nineteen Stories of Apocalypse and Dystopia

Editors: Ellen Datlow & Terri Windling
Contributors: Genevieve Valentine, Carrie Ryan, N.K. Jemisin, Katherine Langrish, Carol Emshwiller, Beth Revis, Matthew Kressel, Susan Beth Pfeffer, Sarah Rees Brennan, Jeffrey Ford, Richard Bowes, Gregory Maguire, Steven Gould, Nalo Hopkinson, Jane Yolen, Carolyn Dunn, Caitlin R. Kiernan, Garth Nix, Cecil Castellucci
Pages: 384
Publisher: Hyperion Book CH
Publication Date: October 9, 2012
Source: Disney-Hyperion via NetGalley

Description from Amazon Goodreads:
If the melt-down, flood, plague, the third World War, new Ice Age, Rapture, alien invasion, clamp-down, meteor, or something else entirely hit today, what would tomorrow look like? Some of the biggest names in YA and adult literature answer that very question in this short story anthology, each story exploring the lives of teen protagonists raised in catastrophe's wake—whether set in the days after the change, or decades far in the future.

New York Times bestselling authors Gregory Maguire, Garth Nix, Susan Beth Pfeffer, Carrie Ryan, Beth Revis, and Jane Yolen are among the many popular and award-winning storytellers lending their talents to this original and spellbinding anthology.

Writing reviews for anthologies or short story collections is always difficult for me. Should I just talk about the book as a whole, of my general impressions? Should I review each story? Highlight some? Rating them is difficult as well, since the individual stories vary so greatly. What I've decided to do is give a general overview and then some 'awards' to particular stories.

As with any anthology that I've ever read, there were some stories I really loved, quite a few that I had no strong feelings about, and some that I loathed. That's just how it goes. The stories have a nice variety, none of them really plumbing the same ground. Some of the authors surprised me, both in good and bad ways. There wasn't much humor, but dystopian humor has always been somewhat rare.

One notable aspect of this anthology is the dearth of romance. Most of the dystopias/post-apocalyptic novels being cranked out these days have a major romance element, but that is almost entirely absent here. There are a few couples (mostly lesbian, interestingly enough) or implied romances, but the focus definitely goes to the world building in all cases.

Actually, the world building was one of my issues as well, perhaps because of the prompt. The authors were told to write of what the world is like AFTER some calamity or the switch from utopia to dystopia or whatever, not to write about the transition. As such, many authors did not bother to explain how things evolved into their particular After. The perfect example is a story I would have really liked, except that there was no reasoning behind it: "Blood Drive" by Jeffrey Ford. In "Blood Drive," gun control lost. Kids take guns to school; every single one. They have quick draw contests and all sorts of accidents when people forget to take the safety off. Unfortunately, without knowing HOW the world went from metal detectors in schools to prevent kids bringing weapons to encouraging it (even the teachers have weapons), I can't appreciate the story.

Overall, there were more stories I either didn't like or didn't care about than ones I did, which is why I'm just giving this a three. Some stories obviously would rate much higher with me, but altogether there were a number I had to suffer through. If you feel free to skip the ones that don't resonate with you, I think it's well worth reading After, because there are some amazing stories in here.

Best Concept:
"Faint Heart" by Sarah Rees Brennan - A fantasy world where a perfect woman has been created to be the queen. Men compete to the death to become her consort, thus eliminating the most troublesome aspects of society.
Honorable Mentions: "After the Cure" by Carrie Ryan,  "Rust with Wings" by Steven Gould

Best MC:
"The Valedictorian" by N. K. Jemisin - In a world where succeeding can lead to a scary future, Zinhle still tries her hardest and wants to be the best, not for others but for herself. She's clever and brave.
Honorable Mentions: "The Segment" by Genevieve Valentine, "Faint Heart" by Sarah Rees Brennan

Most Horrifying:
"Rust with Wings" by Steven Gould - In this story, there are bugs that eat metal. This is terrifying, because I hate bugs, also because they can eat a car in a matter of minutes. They may also kill you for the fillings in your teeth.
Honorable Mentions: "After the Cure" by Carrie Ryan, "Blood Drive" by Jeffrey Ryan

Most WTF Inducing:
"The Great Game at the End of the World" by Matthew Kressel - From what I gather, there was some sort of alien attack, in which bits of Earth were pulled into space. Somehow, people are still able to breathe. Most of the humans are now transparent and without personality (Kens and Barbies). A brother and sister decide to pass time with a baseball game against the creepy alien creatures. NOT KIDDING. It's like vampire baseball on acid.
(Dis)Honorable Mentions: "Reunion" by Susan Beth Pfeffer, "Blood Drive" by Jeffrey Ryan

Most Painful to Read:
"How Th'irth Wint Rong by Hapless Joey @ Homeskool.guv" by Gregory Maguire - Allow me to translate: How the Earth Went Wrong. You may know how I feel about dialect (note: not favorable), and the whole story is written in this way. It hurt my head.
(Dis)Honorable Mention: "Visiting Nelson" - Katherine Langrish (MORE dialect)

Most Forgettable:
"Before" by Carolyn Dunn - Immediately after reading each story, I made notes to myself about them. I couldn't remember what this was about RIGHT AFTER I FINISHED. Honestly, I think I forgot as I read.
(Dis)Honorable Mention: "Fake Plastic Trees" by Caitlin R. Kiernan

Story That Most Confused Me:
"Gray" by Jane Yolen - Here's the thing. Yolen's piece was beautiful and I understood it. What confused me was why it was here. In an anthology of short stories, Yolen's contribution is a poem. Of less than 2 pages. A longer poem I would get, but this seemed very out of place.

Author That Most Surprised Me:
Carrie Ryan - Those who know me well are aware of my distaste of Ryan's Forest of Hands and Teeth books. I read the first two and, though they weren't the worst books I've ever read, they rank among the books that most piss me off. I've also read a short story by her from Zombies vs. Unicorns, which I thought was similarly awful. This one, though, I liked. "After the Cure" did something entirely different from her prior world. I would like to see her do more stuff like this.

Author That Disappointed Me:
Beth Revis - I like Beth's Across the Universe series. In fact, I read and reviewed A Million Suns this month and I rated it 4 zombiecorns. She's a very talented writer, and I like the world she created. However, I was no pleased to see it here. The way I see it, an anthology like this is a great opportunity for an author to branch out and do something different, really highlight their writing skills, and writing a lackluster story about a prior Elder on Godspeed added nothing to my understanding of her series or to this anthology, at least for me.

Author I'd Never Heard of But Want More Of:
Genevieve Valentine - Valentine's story "The Segment" was not my favorite story, but I enjoyed it. Of all of the ones in this collection, I think it had the most humor to it. The topic was unique and this one had more social commentary on today than a lot of the others.

My Top Three:
"Faint Heart" by Sarah Rees Brennan
"The Valedictorian by N. K. Jemisin
"Rust with Wings" by Steven Gould

"I know we're gonna meet someday in the crumbled financial institutions of this land
There will be tables and chairs
Pony rides and dancing bears
There'll even be a band
'Cause listen after the fall there'll be no more countries
No currencies at all
We're gonna live on our wits

Remember: Every comment on a post during Dystopian August is an entry to win one of fourteen dystopian/post-apocalyptic novels IF you've filled out the form from this post.

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Anonymous Audrey (Bibliosaurus Text) said...

I love how you break these down into "best of" categories! And I didn't realize it was on NetGalley. My dad grabbed a copy of it at ALA, so naturally I stole it :-D

August 18, 2012 at 5:44 PM  
Blogger Lilian said...

I never know how to approach writing about an anthology either, and I think you did well by organizing it into this little awards ceremony thing.

"They may also kill you for the fillings in your teeth."
I guess there won't be any rappers with their grills anymore.

"A brother and sister decide to pass time with a baseball game against the creepy alien creatures."
O_O I am surprised aliens know how to play.

Ryan's Forest of Hands and Teeth is on my TBR, it seems like people either love it or hate it. I wonder what category I will fit into...

August 18, 2012 at 6:23 PM  
Blogger Bekka said...

Rust with Wings sounds horrifying. Horrifying. I can't even deal with that thought right now.

I'm not one for short story anthologies. I just don't like them, at least none that I've ever read. =/

August 18, 2012 at 6:50 PM  
Blogger Christy Maurer said...

I love The Forest of Hands and Teeth! I know what you mean though you either love it or hate it.

August 19, 2012 at 11:41 AM  
Blogger Christy Maurer said...

I'm glad you did this review. Seeing the cover would make me want to read it. Reading your review makes me kinda not want to take the time. Short stories sometimes annoy me because if I love it I want more and if I hate it I can't believe I wasted my time. Maybe I'll get it just to read the metal eating bug story though :)

August 19, 2012 at 11:43 AM  
Blogger Christina said...

Awww, thanks! I love that your dad went to ALA. My parents love books but they would not be THAT interested.

August 20, 2012 at 8:05 AM  
Blogger Christina said...

Yay! I'm glad people like my crazy ideas.

BAHAHAHA. What a loss.

Right? It was so freaking weird. I was like THE EFF IS THIS?

*shrug* The first book was kind of okay. The second one was what pissed me off no end, because it was pretty much the EXACT SAME BOOK.

August 20, 2012 at 8:06 AM  
Blogger Christina said...

It was.

Anthologies/short stories aren't really my thing either, for the reasons Christy mentioned below. I only read them if I really like the topic. Ones that I've enjoyed: Zombies vs. Unicorns and Brave New Worlds. Both were pretty good. Anthologies would be much better for me if I didn't feel compelled to read them in their entirety, since I can usually tell I'm going to hate a story a page in.

August 20, 2012 at 8:08 AM  
Blogger Christina said...

No harm in reading just a couple of stories!

August 20, 2012 at 8:08 AM  

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