Despite the overwhelmingly great group of contirbutors: Alexie, Chabon, Ellison, Gaiman, Leonard and Moorcock, this collection struck me as extremely indulgent and very “wanky.” Yes, wanky. There’s a stigma that McSweeny’s carries, (one of pomp and pretentiousness) and while I feel that this stigma is mostly undeserved, it is totally deserved here. You would have thought that this book would have been exempt based on its very nature (genre fiction) but it so isn’t.
Chabon—as much as I do like the guy—as editor is just disastrous. He claims in his forward that he aimed to help propel or resurrect or make important again the short story, especially as genre fiction. Whenever that’s your goal, its very nature dictates that you’re going to be a little self-important and if not, at least congratulatory.
The sad truth of this is that with all these great contributors, none of them are at their best here, They shine elsewhere and fall flat here. I can’t help but think that’s because they’ve been set up to fail, and that also they have the same mindset as Chabon, that short fiction is dead. It’s not, not really. Perhaps in their literary circles, yes, but there are so many better genre and short fiction offerings both in print and on the web.
If I had to find a standout piece it would probably be Elmore Leonard’s “How Carlos Webster Changed His Name to Carl and Became a Famous Oklahoma Lawman” but it’s marginally one. Not that any of these pieces are bad per se, just middle of the road which is ultimately a little disappointing.
Overall, as I said, it’s a rather lackluster collection of short fiction that suffers because it aims to correct a wrong that doesn’t exist, that is the death of short fiction. In this attitude, it mourns something that the authors feel is lost, as opposed to celebrating it. I also can’t help but think that this would be better suited edited by someone like Steven Millhauser, who actually has wonderful collections of his own genre short fiction.