Thursday, January 29, 2015

In the Arms of the Octopodes

edited by David Joseph Clarke
I complain every time I review an anthology about how hard it is to really give a fair rating to a collection of stories, especially when they're all by different authors. Obviously, Suction Cup Dreams is not an exception.

This is a book full of stories, twelve to be exact, about octopodes. Pusses. Pi. Whatever. As soon as I heard (read, actually, it was over email) that pitch, I knew I had to read it. Mostly because my sister is really into them. Or, I thought she was, but now I'm suddenly wondering if it's squids she likes.

Anyway, the book opens with not one, but two prologuey things explaining what to expect and why. I understand that the goal was to have an anthology about octopodes, not necessarily sticking to a specific genre. Still, I feel like two prologues is two too many. Especially when one of them is to defend their decision to go with whatever pluralism of octopus the author decided on. I mean, I get that octopus is a strange word with its fake-out not Latin origin. Still, you're a strong independent book that don't need to justify nothin' to no one. There is some interesting information in there and gives some good perspective on the book. I just... I don't really like prologues in general. And I feel like the book should be able to stand on it's own without apologetics or explanations.

Which this book does. For the most part.

Here are my favorites:

"A Late Season Snow" by T.E. Grau is beautiful, incorporating the theme in a very interesting way. It sets the stage for the rest of the book very well, giving both a sense of foreboding and beauty. Sometimes, though, the prose gets a bit in the way of the story, obfuscating things with pretty words.

"Obey the Octopus", Joe Jablonski, is such a cool idea, but the story didn't trust the reader to pick up on what was happening. Get it? See what's happening? Do you get it? Yeah, I get it. And it's awesome. But calm down. Let it breathe.

Truly creepy and fantastic is "A Stranger Returns from an Unexpected Trip to the South China Sea" by Henry W. Ulrich. I pictured the whole thing like an episode of Tales From the Darkside or something. It was a little slow to start, but just brilliant when it got going.

Then there we get into some stories that are good, but a bit bloated. Some that are way beyond me. I feel like I don't get them and I'm not sure if it's because the stuff is strange and made up or if I'm just not hip to the science fiction of the ocean. Camille Alexa's "Daughters of Tethys" seems like it's gearing up to be a great erotica piece, but kind of ends just when things look like they're about to get good. I want to read the rest of it.

The book closes with "Venus of the Waves" by Karen Munro. I really, truly, honestly cannot express how much I love this story. At first, I found the science to be questionable and nonsensical. But by the end of the story, I was so caught up in the characters and emotions that I didn't even care. It's heartbreaking and so, so incredibly sad. If you feel like you want to cry, this is the story for you, man. It's just... man.

So, it kind of shakes out like this. The stories that I love, I really, really love. The others, I kind of have trouble remembering, for several of them I know it's because I didn't get them. They weren't bad. Some of them had some really cool ideas. It's possible that the alien nature of octopodes just isn't for me, which explains why I loved the stories that pointed that out so much more than the ones written as if they're normal.

So, I rated this a three. But this was really hard. You should read it, if for no other reason than the stories I've mentioned. But the rating is for the whole book, not individual stories.

*Received a free review copy

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