I've read some fine short fiction lately. My winter edition of Weird Tales arrived, and it's an excellent read. Tim Pratt and Kathe Koja have written compelling stories, but my favorite in this issue is Ben Thomas's "The Man With the Myriad Scars." Thomas, the lead editor of The Willows, has put the desired style of that magazine (the classic weird tale) to good work in this piece.
It succeeds on a couple levels, both as an homage to Kafka's "A Hunger Artist" and as an allegory on gluttony and consumption. Thomas's narrator, an art professor obsessed with a grotesque performance artist, is well drawn--alternately transfixed and repulsed by the things he's seen. The character effectively captures the duality of why we're attracted to the dark and bizarre.
Thomas then elevates the narrative by giving the artist himself a forum to discuss his craft. There is some chilling stuff in the second act of this tale, not the least of which is the trio of tall spectres who "were not anything like men; they were like towers composed of spiders, of anemones and worms, of millions of tiny crawling things" (90).
I won't spoil the third act, but I will say that I really liked this story--compelling content and strong writing.
I motored through Subterranean: Tales of Dark Fantasy last week. It's a good collection, with another fine piece by Champion Joe ("It Washed Up"). The best story in this batch was written by a writer whose work I hadn't encountered before in Mike Resnick. His Hugo-nominated novelette "Alastair Baffle's Emporium of Wonders" is a great story--tightly written, with compelling characters and a healthy dose of moral caution.
Go to the website to read the piece.
It reminds me of the 1962 Twilight Zone episode "The Trade-Ins" for its lesson: our nature is also our best compass.
And finally, if you're looking for something new to try on the ol' i-pod, give Vienna Teng a shot. As a huge fan of pianists such as Marc Cohn and Bruce Hornsby, I've found Teng's musicianship top notch, her music consistent and beautiful.