23 March 2005 by Published in: entertainment 2 comments

So I went back and tried to dig up some more Bear stories. And I succeeded. I still think “One Eyed Jack and The Suicide King” and “This Tragic Glass” are the top of that heap, but I’ll go over the rest just to be thorough. Some of these are on her own site, and some of them are in online magazines. It would be interesting to know the order in which she wrote them. I’ll list them in the order of the copyright statement (and alphabetically underneath that) but of course that’s not a good indicator of when the pieces were written, as some that have been recently published may have been floating around in various submission piles for a while, and I’m pretty sure the copyright statements on her own site refer to when she threw them up there, not when they were written. This time fuzziness presents me with some uncertainty as to whether I dislike mostly her earlier stuff, or I dislike certain veins of her writing, or simply that some of her stories didn’t work for me. Oops, I guess that tells you before I even get good and started that I didn’t like everything I read.

  • The Banana Bread Poem” : Now I’ve done plenty of complaining about how much I hate my own poetry here. But see, now I have to face up to the fact that it’s not just my poems I hate. It’s everyone’s. There are people who get a pass in this category : Octavio Paz, Pablo Neruda, Ruben Dario, and…hmmm, I’m sure there’s English language poets (or for that matter, women poets) whom I give a pass to, but none come to mind at the moment. At any rate, by and large I not only hate my own poetry, I don’t think much of anyone else’s either. I don’t think it’s an axe I’m grinding, or a peeve, or a prejudice, but maybe it is. I can say I didn’t hate this poem, but I didn’t love it either. Meh. It had moments – glimmerings – but it was way, way, way, too long. The line “Food is love” was too obvious, and as an attempt for effect she repeated it a bunch of times which near had me screaming, “Stop! I get it.” Still, a gem or two there, like this :

    “Fifty years, and three generations
    spot these pages like the backs of her hands,
    like the rinds of outworn fruit.”
    Nice, huh? It’s dated 1996, so it may be among the oldest things she has publicly available. Why is it that everyone thinks they can write poems? Why is that where people start? Is that something that comes from elementary school? I don’t mind if people express themselves, but most poetry is just drivel. Emotional sneezes, pages of green snot and phrases covered in germs. You wouldn’t show me your hanky after you’d done that to it. Why your words? I understand the desire to expel that stuff and I definitely indulge in purging myself the same way. That doesn’t make it less ugh, though. Ok, sorry, that turned into a kind of side rant not completely related to the poem itself. The poem itself : Meh. A few moments, lots of blather. Moving on.
  • The Dying of The Light“: Right, so this was a poem also, but I liked it considerably less than I liked “The Banana Bread Poem”. I give it a wholly indifferent shrug. I’m somewhat intrigued by the fact that it was a collaboration (as I always am) but it reads like two poems interlaced instead of a unit constructed together, so…ehhh, I’m not impressed.
  • The Company of Four“: Now, we’re talking. Back to stories, yay. Her notes indicate that this is one of her older pieces. I liked it. She made mention of it being written in present tense, and usually I’m not at all bothered by that, but since she mentioned it I kept kind of focusing on that and at the end I was wondering, like she did, why she had written in present tense. What did she think that was accomplishing? How did that help? I suppose it was trying to draw on the sense of never-endingness, of cycle, and of immediacy that the story was trying to speak to. I don’t think she needed it. Which made me reflect on my own stuff. I did a lot of present tense writing once upon a time. Not as much now, but I did it because I thought I was bringing a sort of immediacy to the work when I used present tense. I did so with deliberation, and it bugged the crap out of me that one of my writing professors always complained about my use of present tense. He complained about all kinds of things in my writing, primarily because I didn’t (and don’t) write like Hemingway, whom I hate, and he loved. So I disregarded out of hand most of what he told me, but it occurs to me that he may have been right about this present tense thing. I’m glad I can see that now. Right, this isn’t at all supposed to be about me, so let me get back to the story. It was good and it was engaging. If it had not been hers, in fact, I probably would have liked it better than I did but I already had the advantage of having read some of her really great stuff, so this suffered from being less polished and more beginnerly. It was no comparison to “The Tragic Glass” and “One Eyed Jack” which I loved, but the seeds are there. It is the same hand, though less practiced. She’s particularly good at plot, and that shows here. I liked her handling of names and the mystery of naming in this one as well. That’s well-covered ground and hard to tread with originality and interest, but she manages. There were elves, and I usually hate that, but I didn’t mind so much in this case. If you can win me over like that in a subject I usually reject out of hand then you’re doing something right.
  • The Devil You Don’t“: This was a solid story. The landscape was vivid and convincing, as were most of the characters. There was good tension. Some of the main character’s motivations are not as evident as I would have liked. The narrator arms herself early on in the story and dresses up in men’s clothes, but you’re not sure with what purpose in mind (though you’re in her mind, so it’s annoying that you aren’t shown the motivation). Perhaps Bear was aiming for extra tension but the uncertainty confuses, especially when nothing much happens as a result. I liked the way she weaved familiarity with threat – is the new arrival someone she knows or just someone whose motivations she recognizes? If it’s someone she knows, has he come to punish her or relieve her of the guilt she carries, and are these the same thing? Is he on her side? And what side would that be? All that interplay was superbly executed. The voice of the narrator was especially strong, and she gave her lead character some really great lines. Some of Bear’s sentences are a little heavy-handed : “He frowned–no, sneered at the world with lips that betrayed a certain sensuality, arrogance, and old pain.” and “His spurs made a little sound as he walked, reminding me of the sound made by a rattlesnake, or dried leaves blowing across stone.” Still, even the overwritten sentences are lyrical to some degree. I was pleased when one of the other pieces starred the same character as this one. In fact, this story and “Ice” work better if read together than either one does on its own, although there’s some repetition that becomes unnecessary, but I suppose that can’t be helped. There’s also a lovely contrast of landscapes between the two stories that adds a dimension to the character that otherwise isn’t explicit.
  • Ice“: Another great story. I’ll have to admit to some scarcity of knowledge of Norse myth that interfered with what I could take in on this one. I know who Loki is and all that, but I was a little lost on the hierarchy of heaven’s warriors. I gather that the protagonist is some kind of holy footsoldier, and not a full on valkyrie, but not much beyond that. I also wasn’t sure on the mechanics of the Light/not Light business, but I was willing to take what I was told at face value and roll with it. I’m generally a reasonably good suspender of disbelief that way. I like the way this story was just one person’s view of a huge cataclysmic event, and I really liked the author’s choices on the circumstances which allowed the narrator to survive. Great opening line. I’ve been looking at that a lot, great opening lines, because I so rarely have them.
  • The Chains That You Refuse“: This wasn’t one I liked. It was alright, I don’t mean to imply that it was dreadful or anything, but I didn’t like the ending. It came off a little too rainbowy for me. There were, perhaps, things I didn’t catch about the story, but I don’t have the interest level to give it a second reading. I’m not the most astute of readers and things sometimes slip past me or go over my head, but neither am I particularly slow. I figure I must have missed something because if I didn’t there’s nothing much there. While it’s true that authors should not have to dumb down for the sake of readers, it’s also true that if you want to reach a wide audience you have to speak to that wide audience and a substantial number of us are going to peg right on average for comprehension skills. It wasn’t a problem with the use of second person either. The story was just a little too, I don’t know, melodramatic, I guess. I wouldn’t recommend it.
  • Old Leatherwings“: This was probably the best of the lot. I think it’s just behind the favorites I reviewed earlier. Unlike “Chains” this one had a fantastic ending. Just great. And it seemed to have humor alongside its dose of drama, which in my opinion makes it more realistic. I loved all the characters in it. I loved the fairy tale twist, and the setting right of the things gone wrong for too long. It was eloquently written too, wonderful phrases like the wry “Maybe my hogs will butcher and smoke their own selves come fall.” and “A white tree thrust between the tumbled granite blocks of his rude shelter, an accusing finger pointed at the sky.” It was a delightful read and I can easily recommend it.

So that, in summary, is what I think of various and sundry of Elizabeth Bear‘s works. I checked my local bookstore for a used copy of Hammered but no luck, alas.

iTunes says I was listening to Satellite by BT when I posted this. I have it rated 4 stars.


elizabeth bear
Thu 24th Mar 2005 at 1:25 am

*g* nevermind. Ignore last rock.

That’s what I get for following the link rather than checking the most recent page.

Anyway, again, thank you. You are very kind.

elizabeth bear
Thu 24th Mar 2005 at 1:29 am

Oh! Foolish me. (This is what happens when you hit "post" too soon.)


Is my current fiction journal, chock-full of grotty refugees from the slushpile.

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