the Little Red Reviewer

Clockwork Phoenix, volume 3, edited by Mike Allen

Posted on: August 13, 2012

Clockwork Phoenix (anthology) Volume 3, edited by Mike Allen

published in 2010

where I got it: gift from a friend (and she got it autographed for me!!)

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This is Mike Allen’s third volume of beautiful and strange short fiction. In previous volumes, he showcased new works by authors such as Mary Robinette Kowal, Saladin Ahmed, Catherynne M. Valente,  and Tanith Lee. And volume three continues in this vein, offering an intriguing collection of short fiction by well known authors such as John C. Wright, Cat Rambo, Gemma Files and Marie Brennan, along with works by lesser known folks that I am thrilled to have gotten to know a little better.  The theme to these anthologies is “tales of beauty and strangeness”, and Allen has certainly chosen works that match that description.  Thanks to a successful Kickstarter campaign, we can look forward to a fourth volume of beauty and strangeness, the surreal and the fantastic.

Anthologies tend to run hot and cold for me. It’s like buying an album (did I just date myself?). You buy the album for one song, and hope the rest of it doesn’t suck. I’m the same way with anthologies. Out of the fifteen  short stories, maybe 3 of them were just okay for me. And the rest? The rest were pure winners.

In no particular order, here are my thoughts on a handful of my favorite short stories in the collection:

Murder in Metachronopolis, by John C. Wright – one of the longer works, and purposely presented in an unusual way. Jake Frontino has been brought to the city outside of time, Metachronopolis, the city of the Masters of Time, to work for them as a Private Investigator. They’ve sent him through time on missions to stop terrible things before they happen – to kill the mothers of dictators, to foil marriages and stop meetings from taking place. The Masters of Time supposedly have no enemies, but Jake has met those enemies, been party to their plans for a coup. The story is written in numbered portions, so the reader immediately knows we are not getting the story in chronological order, we are not getting “the truth” in the right order. And you know what I did the moment I finished this story? I read it again, flipping the pages back and forth so that with the help of the section numbers I could read it in chronological order, in the order that things happened to Jake. And it was a completely different story. I love it when that happens, when I can experience the same story in a completely new light.
The Gospel of Nachash by Marie Brennan – This is a retelling of the story of the Garden of Eden. I’m a sucker for any kind of old testament mythology, so this tale was right up my alley. Among its other twists, is the story of the Expulsion is told from the serpent’s point of view.  The serpent, Nachash, was also a creation of God, was also in the garden for a specific reason. Nachash and God’s Daughter watch Adam and Chava’s lives after the garden, and they witness the birth of Chava’s two sons. How will this tiny mortal family populate the earth, with no other women? God’s Daughter has a plan, and Nachash is at the center of it. But that’s not the twist, oh no, Brennan’s got an ever better trick up her sleeve.

Dragons of America, by S.J. Hirons – Taking place in an unknown foriegn country where dragons nest and breed, the residents are understandably frustrated by the American military coming in and claiming the dragon nesting areas.  For love of a woman, young Anselm is determined to steal a dragon egg. Anselm’s father was obsessed with the dragons, filling notebooks upon notebooks with maps and drawings and notes about the dragons, their names, their courting rituals, everything Anselm needs to safely get close to their nesting caves.  However, there are things in those notebooks that can’t possibly be true,  such as names and places and histories that make absolutely no sense. This powerful story defied my expectations and was a shining example of the works I had yet to read.

Tomorrow is Saint Valentine’s Day by Tori Truslow – The kind of story I’d expect to see in a collection of epically strange stuff edited by Jeff Vandermeer, and I mean that as the highest possible compliment.  This almost Jules Verne-esque peice is a wondrous and strange tale about a trip to the Moon on an Ice Train. The premise is so off the wall that you can’t help but smile and think of the black and white films of old, when going to outer space seemed as simple as finding a fast enough train. in this version, the moon is where the mer-people live when they are not in their oceanic form. The story is written as a portion of a biography of one of the naturalists who survived a train crash on the moon, one Elijah Wynn.  He spends time with a Merfolk family and over the course of many years falls in love with a mer-woman. the “author” of the Wynn biography is trying to understand, through surviving letters and poetry and other correspondences, what exactly happened to Wynn. Was he able to live happily ever after with his Mer-woman? Did the environment of the Moon finally get to his brain, causing mass hallucinations?

Braiding the Ghosts, by C.S.E. Cooney – When young Nin’s mother dies, she is sent to live with her grandmother Reshka, who is a witch, of sorts. Reshka has bound dozens of ghosts to her person, and forces the silent ghosts to keep up with the housework in her crumbling home. Sometimes the ghosts are stupid, sometimes they are forgetful, and sometimes they are spiteful. When the ghosts make mistakes, Reshka knows exactly how to punish them into submission. These things and more, will she teach her granddaughter.  Nin shows interest and talent in the art of binding ghosts, but it will take much more practice before she can handle the pain and the commitment of it. An equal mix of tragedy, romanticism and hope, I did not want this story to end, and when I did reach the final paragraph I found myself craving the next chapter in Nin’s life.

The Clockwork Phoenix website offers free samples of The Gospel of Nachash, Braiding the Ghosts, and three other short stories in the collection, along with information about earlier volumes and the upcoming Kickstarter funded Volume 4. If you enjoy exploring short fiction of authors  known and new, this is a series you should keep your eye out for. Mike Allen has an eye for gems, and it’s nice to know some anthologies aren’t like buying an album.

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11 Responses to "Clockwork Phoenix, volume 3, edited by Mike Allen"

I’ve only recently started getting into anthologies, but this one looks like a winner.

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I used to have the toughest time finding good anthologies, but I’ve been getting really lucky lately. There’s a whole series of these, so you can look for certain authors you like, which is really cool.

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I’ve been having really good luck with it as well. I’m reading one now about singularity, and I’m a fan. Then again, I don’t know that I could dislike an anthology about the Robot Apocalypse. :P

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I love it when an anthology surprises and has that many winners! And very cool that you got an autographed copy, I’m thrilled for you!

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Now that I’ve figured out how to actually read an anthology (hey,you don’t have to read it starting at page one! you can read the stories in any order you want! who’da thunk it?), I’m enjoying them a ton more.

my new thing is having authors (and now editors!) signing anthologies. hope no authors are offended by that?

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I’ve read the first two books, and this is a high-quality series of anthologies. I need to get this latest one because there are a couple stories I particularly want to read. Thanks for this review, which serves as a reminder to me!

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which were your favorite stories from the earlier volumes? I see there are some Valente’s, and i just adore her!!

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My mistake, I was thinking of Mike Allen’s previous anthologies, the Mythic series. One of my favorites from those volumes was by Ekaterina Sedia, “Simargl and the Rowan Tree.” That was a delightful read, I thought.

I’ve read “In the Night Garden” and “The Grass-Cutting Sword,” but I haven’t read the last few books by Valente. I’m currently in the process of reading “Silently and Very Fast,” though. What I have read by her has impressed me, but I haven’t found anything that I really love. Her skill with words is astonishing, isn’t it?

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[...] also a new review of the book out from the Little Red Reviewer, who has nice things to say about my story, and the anthology as a [...]

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I just happened to jump back here for chance reasons (clicking on one of your tags), but just wanted to say that you picked the two stories that I liked best in the anthology: Braiding the Ghosts and Murder in Metachronopolis. High fives!

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