This debut short story collection by Bogi Takács contains twenty-three stories (what a wealth!). Most of the stories included here have previous appeared in various other journals and anthologies. I know some people complain about “double-dipping”, but in my mind, this is precisely what short story collections are about: Bringing together the oeuvre of an author that had been previously disparately scattered, often inaccessibly a few years after publication, into a single accessible source.
If I were to identify an overarching thread or theme that runs through the stories, it is — sadly — not octopuses but rather a paradoxical lack of care for gender entwined with a deep, abiding care for gender. Many of the stories are in 1st person POV, and we can go an entire story without learning the narrator’s name or gender or anything else; but in others, trans and nonbinary characters are strongly represented, in a wonderfully positive and affirming light. I really appreciated how Takács was able to use the medium of fiction as a means to explore both the importance of gender but also how very unimportant it can be.
I also appreciated very much how many of the SF stories were based in actual science, complete with footnotes at the end of the story for further research or to pieces that formed Takács’s inspiration. The very best of SF fiction is, in my opinion, indistinguishable from fact, and I wish more authors would cite their sources in the way that Takács does!
As is usual, we’ll review each of the stories individually, and link the reviews here when published:
- “This Shall Serve as a Demarcation”
- “Some Remarks on the Reproductive Strategy of the Common Octopus”
- “A Superordinate Set of Principles”
- “Forestspirit, Forestspirit”
- “Given Sufficient Desperation”
- “Changing Body Templates”
- “For Your Optimal Hookboarding Experience”
- “Increasing Police Visibility”
- “Good People in a Small Space”
- “Recordings of a More Personal Nature”
- “This Secular Technology”
- “Three Partitions”
- “The Size of a Barleycorn, Encased in Lead”
- “To Rebalance the Body”
- “The Oracle of DARPA”
- “Toward the Luminous Towers”
- “Wind-Lashed Vehicles of Bone”
- “The Need for Overwhelming Sensation”
- “Spirit Forms of the Sea”
- “All Talk of Common Sense”
- “Standing on the Floodbanks”
Detailed content notes for the stories are available — but at the end of the collection, which puts the onus on the reader to seek out the warnings to doublecheck that each story will not be problematic. (As opposed to when the notes are either collected and presented before the stories, or when each story is accompanied by its own note.) Some of the warnings cut across stories: There are quite a lot that are labelled with ‘body horror’. I will label each story review with the content warnings from the book.
Though I’ve been a follower of Takács on twitter for awhile now, this was my first exposure to their fiction. It’s also the first time I’ve actually reached out to request an ARC of a book, and doing so all I could think — and all I could think while reading and reviewing the stories in the anthology — was I hope I do them justice. I sometimes marvel at the fact that I get to live in an age when we have #ownvoices books representing so many different experiences. We are privileged to have these authors and their stories, and I’m privileged to read them. You should read them too!