‘Cat Pictures Please,’ the titular story, won a Hugo and Locus, and was nominated for a Nebula, which rather implies Kritzer’s short stories are something to look out for. In ‘Cat Pictures,” I enjoyed the combination of clever concept, sly humor, and human failing, all written in a very accessible style. It lead me to track down this compilation, and while it took me quite a while to work my way through, I’d say it’s worth the effort. Kritzer has a talent at taking a semi-traditional narrative to unexpected places. What was even more interesting was how well the twists and turns were convincing and organic within the story. Character voices are a strength.
Ace of Spades: war story with a solid lesson about risk-taking. “I’m a journalist,” she said. She was also American, but that wasn’t a helpful thing to advertise. Even in areas officially held by the U.S., you never knew who preferred the other side. And like many of the pacified towns in Guangdong Province, Foshan right now wasn’t held so much as caged.” 4 ♦
The Golem: A golem is created by two women during the run-up to World War II. Great atmosphere, but missed her chance at using full potential of the golem’s predictions and the unknown. “She lay on the earth from which she’d been made, breathing in the scent of the new century–mud and sour garbage and gasoline fumes.” 4♦
Wind: feels a little overwrought. ‘Air’/‘Earth’ imbalances in the soul and an ex-best friend. An unexpected visitor drops by a woman’s small family home and gets a peek into her current, but limited life. Very 2nd gen feminist feeling. 3 ♦
In the Witch’s Garden: A nice take on The Snow Queen and Hans Christian Andersen. Well written. “I heard the girl before I saw her: dry, hopeless sobs from a child unused to having anyone pay attention to her tears.” 3 1/2♦
What Happened at Blessing Creek: A challenging piece. Her afterword added some interesting and illuminating perspective, but did it accomplish her goal? I think so.
Cleanout: A trio of sisters have to clean their hoarding parents’ home, and confront their unknown background. It was … alright. Conceptually interesting. “When we asked our parents where they’d come from, they always told us they came from Bon. You will not find Bon on a map–at least, I could never find it on a map. Not a map of the former Soviet republics, anyway.”
Artifice: In a group of friends, one of the members brings in a robot-servant as her new ‘date.’ They find accepting her adjustments to his personality challenging. Interesting and uncomfortable issues about identity, programming, awareness. 4♦
Perfection: An interesting look into a futuristic society with gene-manipulation techniques that have resulted in a relatively uniform, perfect appearance. You know how all celebrities and models kind of look alike? Yeah, like that. It felt like the moral was using a hammer, but I really enjoyed the world-building and the idea of the refugee/immigrant walled conclave. 4♦
The Good Son: a take, sort-of, on Tam Lin, only modernized and with human frailty. A fae wants a mortal woman and creates a semblance of a family so he can romance her. Really a lovely story, although I didn’t like the narrative breaks. 4♦
Scrap Dragon: a fairy tale about a princess who seeks to outwit a dragon. Pleasant and semi-unexpected. Reminded me of The Enchanted Forest Chronicles by Patricia Wrede. 3♦
Comrade Grandmother: interesting bit about a Russian woman fighting for her country and her husband and the bargain she makes with a witch. “I’ve come to ask for your help, Comrade Baba Yaga,” Nadezhda said. “I’ve come to ask you to save Mother Russia.” 3 1/2 ♦
Isabella’s Garden: a bit creepy but interesting. Ultimately under-performed but still good.
Bits: A modern sex-shop tries to cater to inter-species alien-human couples. A bit silly.
Honest Man: A classic start–an honest person encounters a trickster–that goes to unusual places. I rather liked the last half, and its unexpected progression. “More the look of a fox that had approached the henhouse, and found it locked.” 4 1/2 ♦
The Wall: A young woman is visited by her-from-the-future who seems to have an agenda. Interesting look at significant events. “It was February of 1989, and I was a freshman in college.” 3 ♦
So Much Cooking: the most unique take on the apocalypse yet. “This is a food blog, not a disease blog, but of course the rumors all over about the bird flu are making me nervous.” 4 ♦