Monday, January 12, 2009

Overdue Book Review

I've been meaning to write this up ever since I finished reading it. Life got in the way, as usual.

Anyway, my dear friend Laura Goodin recently got her first story published in a book called Canterbury 2100. As far as I know, the book isn't yet available in the U.S., but Laura was kind enough to send me a copy for Christmas (along with two packs of Tim Tams!!!). So the least I can do is tell you about it.

The premise of the book as a whole is sort of an update on Chaucer's Canterbury Tales: a bunch of people making a pilgrimage by train to Canterbury in a post-apocalyptic future (in oh, about the year 2100). The train stops, the passengers pass the time by telling stories.

In this case, each tale is written by a different author, and the whole thing is strung together by editor Dirk Flinthart. He manages to make it all pretty cohesive, which is impressive.

Now, here I have to admit that I have never read Chaucer's stories (though I do own a copy, at the behest of another writer friend who wrote her thesis on Chaucer, and I still plan to read it), so I can't tell you whether Flinthart did a great job of fitting this tale into the mould of the original. But for me, the overall flow worked pretty well, especially considering that there are eighteen different writers involved.

As you might expect from a collaborative effort of this sort, the quality is a bit uneven. The good news is that nothing is bad enough to be unreadable, and most are really pretty good. If I have a general complaint, it is that too many of the tales are written like short stories (as opposed to episodes in a larger tale): they try to have a little twist at the end, and most are too predictable.

I should mention Laura's contribution, "The Miner's Tale," in particular. And not only because she's my friend. Her story manages to avoid the pitfalls I've mentioned above. I resisted the urge to read it first, and instead read it in the flow of the book. Because the story and its characters don't really rely on anything particularly special about the ficton, the story just works. It's a good story about good people trying to do right in a difficult situation. Very human, very nicely written.

Some of the other tales get a bit too tied up in magic and/or religion and/or technology that doesn't quite fit the overall picture. My favorite stories are those like Laura's (and the Doctor's and Hunter's Tales) that are stories about human nature and how the people react to the situation forced on them, rather than being about the situation itself.

All in all, I enjoyed the book, and look forward to reading Laura's next effort. And it made me want to go read my Chaucer. Not right away, but it is back in the queue.

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