Saturday, September 15, 2012

Rounding up the beasties

kw: book reviews, science fiction, animal fiction, short stories, collections

It is really hard to review one of Mike Resnick's anthologies. I love the ideas he embodies in the stories, but to discuss the idea inevitably reveals too much about the story, and his surprise endings are half the fun…even if you can sometimes see the ending coming by halfway through.

Resnick's Menagerie gathers the best of Mike's animal stories and a few essays, including a hilarious tragicomic recounting of him and his dogs participating in a dog show while he has a sprained ankle. I had read a few of the stories before, such as "The Elephants on Neptune" and "Stalking the Vampire". When I compare the range of these two stories, and consider also "Post Time in Pink" and "The Boy Who Cried 'Dragon'", I marvel at the range of the author's interests and expertise.

I think it safe to mention at least a couple of the stories, and I'd feel remiss if I didn't try. "Barnaby in Exile" centers on an extra smart chimpanzee, who can sign (ASL I suppose), and communicates on the level of a human adolescent. It is told from Barnaby's viewpoint, as much as Mike is able to enter a chimp's mind. As a sweet tragedy, it ranks with Asimov's "The Ugly Little Boy", which famously made Robyn Asimov cry and say, "You didn't tell me it was going to be so Saaa-aad!".

In "Travels With My Cats" we learn how powerfully writing can turn a life, even a life that has descended into default staleness. As one whose life is built around my reading, I was affected by this story the most of them all. By reading, we really do commune with the author. I have a colleague who learned ancient Greek solely for the purpose of reading the plays of Aeschylus and Thucydides in the original language. Maybe one day he'll find these gents on his porch swing of an evening.

This book deserves a permanent place in the bookshelf of anyone who likes animals, and good short fiction, and the kind of humor that catches you unaware, about half an hour after you've read a story.

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