Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Book Review: Up and Coming

Up and Coming: Stories by the 2016 Campbell-Eligible Authors
Bad Menagerie (publisher)
Science fiction, anthology

The John W. Campbell award recognizes newly-published SF/fantasy/etc writers. Up and Coming has 1.1 million words of eligible work in it. I presume that it therefore gives some reasonable overview of the state of the field today, at least as regards stuff trawled from the minor leagues.

And what, I hear you asking, is that state? In brief, and to borrow a witticism attributed to Samuel Johnson: This anthology contains much that is tolerable and imaginative. However, the parts that are tolerable are not imaginative, and the parts that are imaginative are not tolerable.

I didn't read all 1.1 million words. At least 10% of them are simply unreadable. A considerably larger fraction, say 30%, are authors doing things that don't interest me; I'm not qualified to comment on those. For the remainder, here are some impressions.

  • Depressing is evidently the new black.
  • Succeeding at depressing is still better than failing at funny.
  • Proofreading is, apparently, just something that happens to other people. PROTIP, representative of many: "grizzly" is not the same as "grisly".
  • No conflict, no story. Certain authors who ought to know better have also forgotten this.
If you're a really gifted writer, you can ignore all these strictures (well, except for the proofreading). Most people are not that gifted. If you believe you are, I urge you to consider the statistics.

Out of the 1.1 million words, I'd single out these as worthy of a second look:

  • "Seven Things Cadet Blanchard Learned From the Trade Summit Incident", by Annalee Flower Horne, is somewhat predictable but amusing.
  • "Haunted", by Sarah Gailey, is an unusual perspective on the haunted-house story.
  • "Rememorations", by Paul B. Kohler, is quite competent.

If you're not a true lover of the genre, don't read this. If you are ... um. Let's say that if you start in on a story and it doesn't grab you, don't bother to stick with it in the hope that it will get better. Alternatively, you could read some better work from a guy who isn't even published yet.


  1. I'm reading this as well, and haven't finished the 1.1 millions words, either. I suspect I won't, but that's ok. I find myself doing what I dislike about reading in general; I read the short ones first, and skip it if it doesn't catch my interest on the first page. There's a lot of content out there, and you have to pick and choose.

    I have read all of the stories you mentioned.

    I enjoyed Cadet Blanchard. My note to myself reads, "story not great, but humor was... you don't have to have a surprise ending, just a humorous one."

    Re: Haunted, I enjoyed the perspective, but the story didn't hook me. I didn't finish it.

    Re: Rememorations, I just read this yesterday. I thought it was going to be a different story at the beginning. The ending was clever.

    A couple from my notes:

    Jane: was one I liked the most. It was not new, but had a endearing character.

    Spatchcock: was not new either, but a cute telling of a tale we've heard before.

    Boomer Hunter: was an interesting anti-hero story.

    I'm still only about a third of the way through, so I expect to see a couple more I will enjoy.

    1. Interesting that you're reading it as well! You can, incidentally, feel good about the level of your writing ability by comparison.

      I didn't finish "Jane". Zombies have passed the point of boredom for me.

      "Spatchcock": yes, "cute" is the word.

      "Boomer Hunter": the voice was good, the idea not without merit. I wouldn't want to read a novel about the character, though.

      A couple of the novel excerpts weren't terrible, but it's hard to know how the completed product might read. In general, I think your strategy of reading the short stuff and skipping is a sound one.

  2. Agree on Zombies. The reason I liked it was that there was very little time spent on the apocalypse, and most of the time was spent on the character. The trope was a vehicle for exposing the person. I checked out the author's website. Turns out she is a professional writer for TV. It shows (no pun intended).

  3. She also has a novelette that's explicitly one of her TV episodes ("Bookburners, Episode 5: The Market Arcanum"). Mildly interesting setting, but very conventional overall.