Friday, May 06, 2016

Review

My new collection got a very nice review from Gardner Dozois in Locus:
One of the most criminally overlooked and neglected of living science fiction authors, Eleanor Arnason has been producing a wide variety of first-rate stuff for decades, from the space opera of her Lydia Duluth stories, to the space age fabulism of her Big Mama stories, to her quirky and eclectic fantasy stories set in Iceland (recently collected in Hidden Folk: Icelandic Fantasies). In SF, though, Arnason has done most of her best work in her long sequence of hwarhath stories, unusual in science fiction for being stories told by aliens (the humanoid, space-travelling hwarhath) about aliens, with human characters rarely appearing and humanity often not mentioned at all. The sequence started with the unjustly forgotten novel A Woman of the Iron People in 1991 (one of the best SF novels of the '90s, and winner of the first James Tiptree Memorial Award) and has continued since through to the present day in novellas, novelettes, and short stories that have at last been gathered together in a collection, Hwarhath Stories: Transgressive Tales by Aliens. This is anthropological science fiction at its best, with only Ursula K. Le Guin rivaling Arnason in cultural insight and in the sophistication, complexity, and evocativeness of her worldbuilding. The hwarhath serve as a distorted mirror in which we can clearly see our own follies, foibles, peculiarities, and the inequalities of our society; the hwarhath, meanwhile, see humans as a distorted mirror in which they can see the peculiarities and inequalities of their own society. Arnason does her best work here at novella length, and I consider ''The Potter of Bones'' and ''Dapple'' to be among the very best novellas of their respective years, and as having an honorable place amongst the best SF novellas ever written. ''The Hound of Merlin'', ''The Actors'', ''The Lovers'', ''The Garden'', and ''Holmes Sherlock'' are also very strong; in fact, there's really nothing here that isn't worth reading. Coming as it does from a small press, you may not see Hwarhath Stories: Transgressive Tales By Aliens included on many lists of the best collections of 2016 as the year comes to an end, but believe me, it's one of them. It may even turn out to be the best collection of the year.

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