"Sparks and Shadows" is a collection of poems, short stories, and essays by GUD contributor Lucy Snyder ('Sublety', Issue 2). Snyder has a unique voice and her work is almost instantly recognisable. Dive into this collection and you begin to feel like you're swimming around inside her head. It's not necessarily comfortable in there, but it's certainly interesting.
It's rare to encounter a writer who so loves words and the changes that can be rung and the tricks that can be played. Rare and precious. But because of Snyder's versatility, it's difficult to give an overview of this collection. Every piece is different, and every piece demands attention. So I'm just going to pick out a few to comment on, and you'll have to buy a copy if you want to know the strangeness and wonder of the rest.
In the short story 'A Preference for Silence', we meet Veronica, who has "never lost her tea in zero gee", but for whom the predilection of the title becomes more and more pressing while she and companion Melvin keep watch on a sleepship travelling through space. It's always the little things that wear you down, and even out in the deep black, peace isn't so easily found. Snyder presents the story with confidence, explaining only that which you need to know, and leaving the rest to silence.
The hilarious short story 'Boxlunch' starts with a slightly risky hunt for a condom and ends with a race-against-time through mortar attacks in order to save a recorded ('boxlunched') personality from data decay. This story started off by reminding me of "Appropriate Love" by Greg Egan in which a woman must incubate her dead husband's brain, but it soon went off in an entirely different direction. Egan's story was more disturbing; this is funnier.
> "I know you'll fly to me;
> babies can't resist the shiny, pretty things,"
So speaks the narrator of 'Dark Matter', the "death we cannot see", or, given our endless curiosity, elude. The poems in the ebook version tend to have their last stanza dropped onto a second page, which can give a false impression of where the poem ends. Here, I thought it ended nicely before I even noticed the last stanza--maybe it's one stanza the poem could have done without?
'Through Thy Bounty' presents a chef forced by alien invaders to cook the relatives of the resistance of which she (or he? the narrative doesn't specify) was once a part. The chef's only salvation is a telepathic link with her mother, the organiser of the fight against the Jagaren. Urged by her mother to stay alive, the chef cooks meal after meal, day after day, butchering men, women, and children alike with a dreadful, self-willed calmness. Disgusted by her mother's plan to sacrifice herself trying to rescue her "helpless, useless child", the narrator belatedly discovers there's more to it than that. Although heavy with backstory, this macabre tale is gripping. The reader is forced to balance sympathy for and dislike of the narrator in about equal measure.
In a more light-hearted vein, we have "The Fish and the Bicycle", a poem that explores the incompatibility between the eponymous creations.
> "Consider the physics:
> how could she pedal
> with fragile fanning fins,
> sit with slippery tail,
> steer with gasping mouth?"
In its subtle way, the poem is a commentary on the saying from which it derives its concept. A fish may be unable safely to ride a bicycle, but, Snyder says, that doesn't mean she doesn't want to. The deadly attraction can't be denied.
With the short essay 'Camp Songs', Snyder takes an idea about indoctrination via Girl Scout songs and runs with it--some might say too far. It's probably best to enjoy the ride, both here and with the essays that follow. Like 'Why I Can't Stay Out of My Husband's Pants'. No, not in THAT way--go wash your brain out! "And, oh, the pockets! Deep, capacious pockets! I could keep all my hopes and dreams in pockets like those." But she can't just go out and buy men's pants. This is Ohio, after all. Fortunately, her husband can solve the problem, if he can only pay attention to it, rather than her, for long enough. This is more of a rant than an essay, but it's touching, all the same. As for 'The Dickification of the American Female', I honestly can't tell you whether it's a rant, a story, two interviews, or an essay. I know for certain it's not a poem. It starts innocently enough by letting you think that "dickification" only refers to famed SF author Philip K. Dick, whom Cassandra (whose story this is) apparently discovered much younger than I did--lucky her! But then it's time for Randi's story, which goes into "Tiny Tango" territory (anyone else know that "undrag" story?) until an almost complete dickification has been achieved. Very strange stuff. Finally, 'Menstruation for Men' is the essay so many women have wanted to write, but only Snyder has. A shame that men will probably wince and skip it.
The discomforting poem 'The Jarred Heart' plays with two meanings of "jarred"--the narrator's heart is literally in a jar, and she (or he? again, we don't know, and we're forced to deal with that not-knowing), and her love for the enchanter who "wooed me and won me // fed me lies sweeter than the opium wine" has been jarred by the discovery of treachery, and poison. But the narrator's not going to put up with this situation for long. Lots of play on words here; it's a delight.
'...Next on Channel 77' gives a literal bent to the idea that our deceased relatives are looking over us in Heaven. Tom's Aunt Fran comes back as a news announcer who's determined no harm will come to him, or to the two sisters he hasn't seen in years. While running hither and thither to do her bidding, Tom rediscovers connections to his family that he (and they) thought were gone forever. There's perhaps one too many emergencies in this story; it started to lose credibility towards the end. Better pacing might have helped, but this is ultimately a feelgood story with not much more to offer.
Dark, funny, and romantic by turns, "Sparks and Shadows" is a must read. Go! Buy! Read!
[[review by Debbie Moorhouse for GUD Magazine]]