© 2003-2006 David Moles
3 o'clock, April 26, 2006
So, a while back a friend of mine wanted to know if there was a way he could get ahold of my stuff without having to try to track down these out-of-print zines and whatnot, and I had some fun putting together a little “Unauthorized Complete Works” for him in InDesign. It came to a bit over 60,000 words; throw in the Irrational Histories (memo to self: write some more of those at some point) and maybe a hitherto-unpublished novelette or two, and that’s enough for a book.
But it occurred to me as I was doing it that just because I could put together enough words for a book didn’t mean that it would be a good idea to actually do that. I think about the kind of things I was thinking about when Susan and I were arranging the Twenty Epics TOC — pace, weight, ambience — and it just doesn't feel like there’s enough variety yet in what I’ve written.
Then there was this Crooked Timber piece about Wikipedia, prejudice against, one example of which was an aside in John Clute’s overall, highly positive review of Dora Goss’ In the Forest of Forgetting. (I quote slightly more of it than CT did, because I’m more interested in what Clute has to say about fiction than it what he has to say about Wikipedia.)
The first problem [that we need to address “before we can return to praise”] is not Goss’ alone. It is something that may derive from the tendency of mutants to emit blog gas, for the net culture they live in has no internal or external censors, no captaining of the unsorted untested wikipedian utterances of the gawping soul, no place for the buck to stop. So mutants tend to publish too much.
Now, whether Clute’s right or not (and I think there is an argument to be made that not all of us are at our best in the single-author collection mode, and also that selecting the best from a larger body of work may have advantages over including the entirety of a smaller body of work, whether or not one wants, like Clute, to blame ‘the net culture’), all this got me thinking: what makes a good single-author collection?
Clearly it helps to be brilliant. But if you look at, say, Stranger Things Happen, it’s not just that Kelly’s written a bunch of really excellent stories; she also does a lot of different, interesting things with voice and tone, and I think that makes a difference.
It doesn’t help, in trying to figure this out, that I’m not really a fan of short fiction, as a form, and I haven’t read hardly any of the recent collections that everyone says are so brilliant. But I used to read a lot of them, back in the dizzay (I think I read everything Larry Niven published in the 1970s), and there have been a few over the years that have made the list of favorite books (Stranger Things Happen, Globalhead, Burning Chrome come straight to mind) as well as a few that I keep around because enough of the stories in them are absolutely indispensible (generally retrospectives, like The Best Short Stories of JG Ballard or The Collected Stories of Greg Bear).
If you’re only going to read one story at a time, then mere brilliance is enough. But what does it take to make a collection that you can read cover to cover?