Clockwork Phoenix – Mike Allen

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Clockwork Phoenix #1

An anthology of speculative fiction edited by Mike Allen.

I’ve been seeing these anthologies for a while now, and been intrigued. [Full disclosure: I submitted several stories to later editions, and was soundly rejected.] So, when I saw them all for sale, I took a chance and bought them all. Win some, lose some.

I expected to like these stories. There are lots of big names here – some I’ve read, some I haven’t. I wanted to like them. The feeling I got from what I’d heard was promising. Only … I didn’t like them. There’s a striking sameness to them – the stories feel stilted and formal, they don’t finish clearly, and they all lean toward the grotesque. There are a surprising number of characters cutting  open here. There are several stories in the “if there’s fucking, it must be literary” group and the related “gritty equals meaningful” group.

In his editorial note, Mike Allen says he’s tired both of the ‘good story well told’ and of stories that don’t feel complete, and sought a middle ground. I’m sorry to say he missed, and leaned much further toward the latter than the former. As I read further and further, I grew more and more disheartened, and more eager to find at least one story I really liked, and not just in relative terms. I’m sorry to say I failed, and it’s with some dread that I think about the remaining four anthologies – paid for, and thus to be read at some point.

In the meantime, here are the stories I found most interesting:

  • Bell, Book, and Candle by Leah Bobet – seemingly archetypal characters resist playing their traditional roles
  • Root and Vein by Erin Hoffman – a moody story about a dryad who gives away her heart.
  • The City of Blind Delight by Catherynne M. Valente – a train brings a man to an unusual city
  • The Tailor of Time by Deborah Biancotti – the Tailor of Time tries to extend a day.

The anthology has a distinctive, consistent voice, but it’s not one I cared much for. It’s not just that the stories are grotesque; that can be interesting. It’s that very few of them felt as if they told a clear story. Some I really had to struggle to get through. I sometimes like an ornate style, but many of these were overwritten. If you know that you like several of these authors, by all means give it a try. But if you’re new to them, and just looking for a satisfying read, I can’t recommend this collection.

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