Thursday, July 26, 2018

"So Little and So Light," by Sarah A. Hoyt


Greetings, friends and welcome to this utterly recycled blog post!

Circumstances have kept me away from reading, reviewing, and blogging for an astounding amount of time. Not involved in those circumstances was  the DELIGHTFUL few days I spent with my gift-from-God, happily-ever-after trophy wife Vanessa, the elegant, foxy, praying black grandmother of Woodstock, GA, at Neptune Beach in Jacksonville, FL. 
Looks like I may be back in the swing of things, though, as I have finally cleaned out almost all of the reviews I owed (one exception! Celia Hayes' "Adelverien Trilogy"), and I'm churning through a new list.

After starting on that new list, I saw that Sarah A. Hoyt had this new collection of short stories, and I rescheduled everything to read & review it before anyone else could. READING it fast was pretty easy; There were TWO stories that made me stop and process, but the rest of them went down like a smoothie. REVIEWING, on the other hand, took more time. As I have pointed out before, it's very difficult for me to write reviews of short story collections. I require myself to give justice to the author's work, so I can't just review the book as a whole; I have to review each story. However, many short stories have a punch, which can be revealed in one sentence, if you aren't careful. In fact, I can recall some introductions, inserted by editors, which completely revealed the punchline of the story. I recall Isaac Asimov complaining about John Campbell doing that to some of his work. So, I have to be careful in what I say. Which often means that I wind up reading the stories at least three times before my review goes out.

It's a burden I am GREATLY willing to bear, so please don't hear this as a complaint. I LOVE my job! I get to spend my day reading the greatest authors in America and influence them in profound ways; I am DEFINITELY changing the way that literature will be taught at every level for the next century. And I get PAID to do it!
Well, actually... I don't get paid. Ummm. I actually pay for the privilege.
And the influence-the-authors part? Not so much.
Having an impact on the way literature will be taught? No, I made that up.
I DO get to read some pretty great authors, though, and that's good enough for me.

And USUALLY, my reviews, if not succinct, do represent the message and the story the author meant to give to us. At least, that's what they have told me. However, this review went WAY past not-succinct, to the point of being an essay on life, the universe, and everything. I couldn't stop myself. I had to EXPLAIN things.
And there were quite a few stories that needed to be reviewed, and SOME of them demanded of me that I wax lyrical; or, if not lyrical, then wax on.
It's a weakness.
However, after reading a comment from a reader about how frappen long the review is, I decided it was time to turn the weakness into an asset, and I just copied the review, and turned it into a blog post. I added the PRELIMINARY COMMENTS so that no one would feel short-changed, at paying two prices for the same material. Sure, I know these are provided FREE, except in the MOST valuable coin of all, which is the time you spend, reading. But, what follows is merely the Amazon reviews. Anything I change will be so noted. I do plan on inserting some links to other material, which Amazon really doesn't like in reviews.


In the past, I have had some mild struggles with the 5-star system used in reviewing Amazon products. Much of that has revolved around the fact that the star ratings are described as being ENTIRELY subjective, from the 1-star "I Hated It" to the 5-star "I Loved It."

I get it. I really do. I just ordered school supplies for my two middle-schoolers yesterday, and when the pencils arrive on time, they will get a 5-star review; they don't NEED anything else said. A 5-star system is perfectly adequate, even superfluous, for the majority of Amazon products.

In order to express anything about the artistic content, opening up of genres, life-transforming insights, the reviewer MUST write a review. That's how I justified giving "Snow In Her Eyes," an excellent, well-executed, appropriately intricate supernatural mystery, written by a favorite author, a 1-star review a year or so ago. In the course of the review, I explained that while it was a top-quality work, with well-written characters, and a compelling storyline, it violated one of my basic rules about things I read and watch. You should look it up.

Needlessly pedantic of me, you say? Guilty as charged. I have no defense, except that I HATED that excellent bit of writing. And so, I assigned it a single star, and then explained why, and even wrote a blog post (Papa Pat Rambles, 8/4/17) to expand on my reasons. But I maintain it is a limitation of the rating system.

The five stars I assign here are another limitation of the rating system. I need stars to tell you about how the first story took my breath away, how it almost made me hope to be placed inside THAT reality; how one story gave me so much to think about as ONE possibility for the way civilization as we know it could end; how beautiful the cover is. Butterfly wings on a cat? I once had a cat named Butterfly. My current Feline-In-Residence has recently shown signs that perhaps she is not long from earning her own wings. Our existence itself is expressed in the title: so little, and so light.

Sigh. Some things cannot be described, they must be experienced. This book is one of them. Nevertheless, here are my signposts to brilliance. And as I must do whenever I review story collections, I try VERY hard to communicate the essence of each story, without spoilers.

Wait Until The War Is Over. Eurydice's father is lost in the grip of Alzheimer's Disease. She didn't even know how bad things were, until her mother died; then, she had to abandon a career job and a potential mate to be a caretaker. But her father's dementia takes a strange form; he believes they are fighting against an alien invasion. She can't stay, but she can't leave. My commentary: When I read this, I thought that this story was so PERSONAL to me, that it likely would not have mass appeal. As it happens, my beloved mother, who lead me to discover the love of books and the love of learning, and who knew ALL of the answers in every subject as I struggled to drag my attention deficit disorder through school memorization, has been gripped by the same disease, and I was drawn into this story to the point of wondering if I could be transported there by closing my eyes, crossing my fingers, and saying 'there's no place like home.' I would be interested to know if this story has a similar impact on an adult child who does NOT have a parent in similar circumstances.

Only The Lonely. In a far-distant future, dating is difficult. It's REALLY difficult if there is a chance that a first date might result in something other than the usual choices of romance, temporary diversion, or utter boredom: something along the lines of oblivion.

Lost. They say that old grannies used to scare their children with stories about how the fairies might come along and steal them from their beds, leaving something other-than-human in exchange. Well, I have two sisters, and I can testify that there are times when I would not have been able to affirm that we shared ANY sort of common parentage. They are both angels, though. And, in this story, we discover a different sort of sibling alienation and affirmation.

Neptune's Orphans. Set in the universe of the Good Men, three products of genetic experimentation have to trust to their enemies to protect them from their friends. No way, THAT'S gonna work out. Only chance they have, though.

After the Sabines. I had to stop for a bit after devouring this story. There is SO much here, so vividly portrayed, that I'm a bit, just a tiny bit, absolutely flummoxed by the fact that Hoyt manages to compress it all into these few pages. The title points us to the incident celebrated lasciviously in Renaissance art as the 'Rape of the Sabines.' It actually describes an event in Roman history/myth in which the Roman men took Sabine wives, although there seems to be considerable disagreement as to whether this was an act of force (as was depicted in sculpture and painting), or enthusiastic negotiating, somewhat against the will of the grizzled old village elders. Next, Hoyt very accurately describes the population bomb that the Chinese created for themselves with their 'One Child' policy. As it happens, they have DOOMED their culture, and there is no fix for it; UNLESS they attempt something along the lines of this story. Finally, Hoyt has stated elsewhere that she entered the United States as a young, nubile, brilliant Portuguese woman, promptly acquiring the man of her dreams by her exotic pronunciation of that most romantic of terms, "Moose and Squirrel." As a person who has personally experienced a radical shift in cultures due to a marriage, she is uniquely suited to write this story. You have LOTS of different emotional options to choose from as you read this one, from a rage great enough to advocate a nuclear war, all the way to hope for the future. Don't stint yourself; choose more than one. You can always swap out for something different later.

The Serpent's Tail. Within a very few paragraphs, I discovered that this was an adaptation of the story of Little Red Riding Hood and the Big Bad Wolf. Then I discovered it wasn't. Then I discovered I really didn't know WHAT sort of morality tale this was, and finally concluded that it might not be one. It's intriguing a story as you will find, though.

Spinning Away. At one point, the most trusted man in America was Walter Cronkite, I believe with good reason. He stayed at the helm of the CBS news desk through the absolute worst times the United States has experienced since the Civil War, and reported on what he saw, and what he thought it meant. In the last five or six years of his run, investigative journalism into the Watergate Crisis created a new image for news media. That was followed by the worst of schlock journalism, and today, we have fake news. In this story, Hoyt portrays an alternative next step in the evolution of the media representative: professional reporters who hide their identity, but maintain a massive influence nonetheless, with an audience consisting of "about ninety percent of the adult population on Earth." Laina is one of those journalists, and people are trying to kill her.

The Private Wound. Hoyt has spent a LOT of time in researching and writing about history, and can spot anachronisms in a person writing about Shakespeare from two continents away. This is one of her strengths; she can stick a small change into the actual events, and predict what is likely to result. She does this by understanding her characters, and the forces that affected them. We don't really know if she has archaeo-telepathy or not,but she might; at any rate, she describes events as interpreted by someone, even if that ISN'T the actual reigning monarch. As far as I'm concerned, though, I accept it, because she IS after all, an authentic authority of such things, whereas I'm just a guy who knows how to read and google. This story gives us an alternative for Elizabeth I, the Virgin Queen of England and Ireland from 1558-1603.

Super Lamb Banana. The Beatles, in the form of John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Ring Starr, only existed as a group from 1962-1970. However, their influence on music and perhaps society can still be identified today, and some of their music is much easier to retrieve, for those of us of a certain age, from the brain, than it is from the Internet (mostly due to licensing issues, but have an earworm: "you say you want a revolution, well, you know..."). This story posits John Lennon in a variety of alternative existences, in roles from street bum to happy grandfather.

To Learn To Forget. In one of the earliest stories I read involving humans receiving treatment to give more-or-less eternal life, "Invariant," by John R. Pierce (Astounding, 1944, but I know I read in is some collection), the author presents the argument that the price for eternal life is amnesia. Here, Hoyt suggests an alternative, and likely more terrifying, consequence of the technology.

Things Remembered. What will be the role of the human investigator when CSI techniques are pervasive, and include such things as robot lizards that lift fingerprints and automatically look for a match?

The Bombs Bursting In Air. Another story set in the Good Men universe, this describes an investigator who is expecting destruction, and experiences personal challenges to her faith instead. It's not a strictly cerebral bit, and I think you would have to know the story of the Good Men to appreciate the thinking part of it; however, stuff gets blown up, which is intensely satisfying in itself.

On a Far Distant Shore. Also set in the universe of the Good Men, this one will rip your heart. Raise to believe in the faith of the Usaians, she became a beancounter for a Good Man. But there is just something about a bit of colored cloth that resonates, even in the heart of the disenchanted.

So Little and So Light. This is a time-traveler story, and includes the the common theme that you can/can't disrupt the timestream, so don't try/you should try. Included are some VERY interesting scenes of possible critical turning points. Ummm... I REALLY can't tell you what is at the heart of the story, because it would be a spoiler.

Devour this book, as I did. Hang on to it, because you are going to want to go back and savor the flavors over time, and to store the memories in your heart, where you can reach them, again and again.

Peace be on your house.

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