Time to check in with a few small-press books. This is where where a lot of people get their start, and it’s
also where the books can live quite happily apart from the concerns of multinational conglomerates.
The first book on the list is Joey Comeau’s It’s Too Late to Say I’m
Sorry, from Loose Teeth Press. Comeau is
known as the writer for A Softer World,
a long-running webcomic. This collection puts together 14 stories for
Most of the stories are short shorts, sometimes called flash
fiction. I liked these items, but they were a little too brief to make
an impression on me (call me a sucker for long-form narrative). A few
stories are of genre interest, two of them science fiction, and two horror, and
coincidentally, those are the longer stories in the bunch.
“Historians and Degenerates” (available from its original home at
Strange Horizons) is a
weird dystopia where the character’s wife writes a rather detailed book
about their sex life. “The Machine” (also from Strange Horizons) brings
us uncomfortably close to the lives of some bored workers who are in
charge of the perfect surveillance apparatus. They are waiting for the
miracle to come, and the story earns its Cohen reference.
Since I’m generally a fan of SF and much less so of horror, I was a
little surprised that I found the two horror items in It’s Too Late to
Say I’m Sorry much more memorable and effective. “Dry Foot Underwater”
is probably the best story in the book, and it’s a well-written story
about grief, ghosts, and ducks. The ducks are not what they seem! Trust me,
it works. “The Birthday Girl” is much more visceral, but it’s more of
an old-school horror story, complete with gruesome details and family
secrets and a lovely (i.e. shocking) twist at the end.
The title comes from the closing story, “Cry Me a River,” about an
old man who is awaiting the end of the world aboard a space station (at
least, that was my interpretation of the setting).
Moving on, I’ll take a look at The Pains, a book by John Damien
Sundman, published by Wet Machine/Rosalita, and featuring some full-colour
illustrations by Cheeseburger Brown. The book is printed on glossy
paper, giving it an unusually luxurious feel for a small-press edition.
The Pains is a cross between a dystopia and an alternate history. As
near as I can tell, the Freemerican society in the book is like A
Handmaid’s Tale as if run by Dick Cheney, and the alternate history
aspect comes from the nature of the dominant religion. Fred Christ was
hung via noose, so the main religious symbol is a noose, not a cross,
and so forth. These elements are handled fairly well, but what is
Sundman up to? What’s he doing with this material?
There are two characters: A Freduit named Norman Lux and a scientist named Xristi Friedman. Norman is the one suffering from “the pains” of the title, while Xristi is studying neurology, and somehow ends up as the curator of a collection of frozen heads, one of which may even be Fred’s. There’s some Orwellian material, the kind of grinding personal humiliation that happens to thinking individuals in a totalitarian society. I confess I wasn’t expecting the religious material, which was the more interesting of the two halves of the narrative.
At the end, there’s an epiphany, related to finally hooking up the head of Fred Christ, but then the writing goes meta, kind of “Lady and the Tiger”-style where we’re asked as the audience what we’re going to do with our new self-awareness. I’m not sure if the book earned this moment though.
So, two interesting experiments, maybe not completely successful on all counts, but the exact kind of material I’m looking for, outside of the big commercial publishers.
I’ve also looked at two other recent Canadian small-press titles here.