[Book Review] Recreating the world, one story at a time

Shoggoths in Bloom by Elizabeth Bear

My quest to read something by Elizabeth Bear started a little over a year ago, and it’s been riddled with false starts. First, I ended up grabbing Trading in Danger (by Elizabeth Moon). Then Dust was nowhere to be found. Then I got All the Windwracked Stars (isn’t that a stunning cover?) but couldn’t find the time to read it. Seeing Shoggoth’s in Bloom up for grab was serendipity, and I went into this collection to get a sense of what Elizabeth Bear can do – in small, bite-size pieces.

I got that, and more. This collection brings together 19 short stories by Elizabeth Bear, including two Hugo winners, “Tideline” and “Shoggoths in Bloom,” plus one never-before-published piece original to the collection, “The Death of Terrestrial Radio.” With one exception, the stories average around a few-to-twenty pages and cover a truly mind-boggling range of genres and styles. We get an urban fantasy with a ritual gone wrong, historic fiction written through letters between John Adams’ wife and Thomas Jefferson about running for office during a time of suffrage, a lovely elegy in prose about a dragons and a museum curator, a folktale about a blacksmith’s commission, and a story about the slow death of the fishing industry. Each story is powerful, heart-rending, and memorable in its own way.

The collection is exciting (policing in a high-world of genetic engineering, homicide and androids, a dragon landing by the Washington Monument…), brutally, tenderly human (cancer, divorce, overcoming phobia, personal sacrifice…) and intriguingly speculative (What if you can do plastic surgery on your personality? What are the limits of living in a virtual world? What lines would you cross for peace?). The longest piece, “In the House of Aryaman, a Lonely Signal Burns” combines a murder mystery whodunnit with a cyberpunk elegance and speculative futurism, while “Sonny Liston Takes The Fall” is a kaleidoscope ode to a boxer and the racehorse drive to win.

While the foreword by Scott Lynch, author of The Lies of Locke Lamora, tells you that the stories are all connected by a message of sacrifice and personal battle, there is no clear, overt thread tying the twenty dissimilar pieces together. Each is a stand alone, each asks “what if?”, and every single piece is an entire, brilliantly developed, self-contained world.

As a sure sign of quality, in 336 pages, this short story collection has set a bonfire under me to get my hands on books in my once-favorite genres – urban fantasy, cyberpunk, post-apocalyptic. And books by Elizabeth Bear are firmly on my library waitlist. Shoggoths in Bloom left me satisfied – and famished for seconds.

More please.

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Complimentary copy courtesy of Prime Books.

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