Author Archives: Kelly


Tuesday October 3, 2017, 7:00 pm
Uptown Church
1219 West 31st Street South, Minneapolis

Join us in welcoming a writer the New York Times dubs “one of America’s most important novelists” to the Twin Cities! Nicole Krauss will be reading from and speaking about her most recent novel, Forest Dark, a riveting story of parallel transformations and self-discoveries.

Copies of Forest Dark and other books by Nicole Krauss will be available for purchase at the event, which includes a book signing. We hope to see you there!

This event requires a ticket to attend. Advance tickets are only $5 each. Click link below to purchase tickets via Paypal.

About Nicole Krauss

Nicole Krauss started writing poetry when she was a teenager, and has since published four critically acclaimed novels and several short stories. Her fiction has been published in Harper’s, The New Yorker, Esquire, and Granta’s Best American Novelists Under 40. In 2010, Krauss was named as one of The New Yorker’s “20 under 40” writers to watch. Her debut novel, Man Walks Into a Room (Doubleday, 2002), a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, was followed by The History of Love (Norton, 2005), a finalist for the Orange Prize for Fiction and winner of the 2008 William Saroyan International Prize for Writing, and Great House (Norton, 2010), which coalesces rather appropriately around a writing desk, and received the 2011 Anisfield-Wolf Book Award for fiction. Krauss currently resides in Brooklyn. Learn more at

If you are an individual with disabilities, please let us know if you require any special accommodations to enjoy this event — write us at info [at] raintaxi [dot] com.

What people are saying about Nicole Krauss:

On Forest Dark: A Novel

“Krauss’s elegant, provocative, and mesmerizing novel is her best yet. Rich in profound insights and emotional resonance, it follows two characters on their paths to self-realization… Nicole’s conversations with Friedman and Epstein’s with Klausner about God and the creation of the world are bracingly intellectual and metaphysical. Vivid, intelligent, and often humorous, this novel is a fascinating tour de force.”
Publisher’s Weekly, starred review

“Krauss, as ever, writes beautifully about complex themes, and she has a keen eye for the way Israel’s culture, slower but more alert to violence, requires its American characters to reboot their perceptions.”
Kirkus Reviews

On Great House

Great House is a smart, serious, sharply written novel of great care and yearning. And it is so not despite or even because of Nicole Krauss's non-literary blessings, but because, simply, she can write. That fact will be irritating to some, but can't we just be happy about the appearance of a good book and try to resist the temptation to turn it off the box?”
— Patrick Ness, The Guardian

“Krauss has taken great risks in dispensing with the whimsy and humor that she summoned for her tragic vision in “The History of Love.” Here she gives us her tragic vision pure. It is a high-wire performance, only the wire has been replaced by an exposed nerve, and you hold your breath, and she does not fall.”
—Rebecca Newberger Goldstein, The New York Times

On The History of Love: A Novel

“No one must rob you of the chance to experience Nicole Krauss's new novel in all its beautiful confusion. . . Though it's a relatively short book (some pages contain only a sentence or two), The History of Love involves several narrators and moves back and forth through the 20th century and around the world. But that's just for starters: It contains a lost, stolen, destroyed, found, translated and retranslated book called "The History of Love," characters named for other characters, cases of plagiarism and mistaken identity, and several crucial coincidences and chance meetings that are all maddeningly scrambled in an elliptical novel that shouldn't work but does.”
—Ron Charles, The Washington Post

On Man Walks Into a Room

“Krauss’ prose is casually dazzling, as are the ideas she explores through Samson. Robbed (or freed) of identity, he’s a man bereft of preferences and pet peeves, stripped of gestures and habits. Who, then, does that make him? For starters, a thoroughly riveting character.”
Entertainment Weekly


Saturday September 16, 2017
Location and Time TBA

Join us in welcoming acclaimed poet Adrian Matejka to the Twin Cities, and prepare yourself for the kaleidoscopic wonder of his newest collection, Map to the Stars. You won’t want to miss this experience of discovery and community with one of the most talented poets writing today! Copies of Map to the Stars and other books by Adrian Matejka will be available for purchase at the event, which includes a book signing. We hope to see you there!

Part of Twin Cities Lit Crawl—for more info on other Lit Crawl events, see here.

About Adrian Matejka:

Adrian Matejka, German-born but now a resident of Indiana, has published four critically acclaimed collections of poetry. The Devil’s Garden (Alice James Books, 2003), a jazz-infused exploration of identity and heritage and winner of the New York / New England Award, was followed by Mixology (Penguin, 2009), selected for the National Poetry Series for its “profound and powerful cocktail of personal history, hip hop elegy, and inventive language.” His 2013 collection The Big Smoke (Penguin), an examination of the legend and history of 20th-century prizefighter Jack Johnson, was a finalist for both the Pulitzer Prize in Poetry and the National Book Award in Poetry. In March of this year, Matejka published his most recent collection, Map to the Stars (Penguin), which “navigates the tensions between race, geography, and poverty in America during the Reagan Era.” Among Matejka’s other honors are a Pushcart Prize and fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the Lannan Foundation, and United States Artists. He teaches in the MFA program at Indiana University in Bloomington and is currently working on a new collection of poems, Hearing Damage, and a graphic novel. Learn more at

If you are an individual with disabilities, please let us know if you require any special accommodations to enjoy this event—write us at info [at] raintaxi [dot] com.

What people are saying about Adrian Matejka:

On Map to the Stars:

"Mr. Matejka can write. And Map to the Stars is probably Matejka’s most intimate portrayal of himself yet. The references often intone popular culture, albeit of the eighties and nineties, elongating into complicated metaphorical image-systems. Matejka has built a beautiful book that is organized in vignettes, focused on staring into the sky with Adidas firmly grounded on terra firma."
—David Tomas Martinez, Harriet Blog, The Poetry Foundation

"In his stellar fourth collection, Matejka evokes an Indianapolis boyhood in which economic and educational privations starkly contrast with the inspiring expanses of outer space. Newly identified planets, space shuttle launches, Star Trek, and Voyager probes encountered via radio, TV, and newspaper here become poignant emblems of escape."
Publisher's Weekly, starred review

On The Big Smoke:

"With the lean, long jab and agile step of a boxer, Adrian Matejka delivers this knockout dramatization of the larger-than-life life of heavyweight champion Jack Johnson. In dexterous interpolating voices, and in forms ranging from enveloping sonnets to prose letters and interviews, Johnson emerges as a scrappy, hard-edged hero—troubled by his own demons but determined to win the “fight of the century,” a fight that underscored the bitter realities of racism in America. These poems don’t pull no punches."
National Book Awards Committee, 2013

On Mixology:

"'I got me two songs instead/of eyes - all swollen and blacked/out like the day after a lost fight.' I read a line like that and know this poet is a street-talking surrealist, someone down-home and intergalactic. He weaves the likes of Fela Kuti and Wassily Kandinsky, Allen Iverson and Bob Kaufman, into poems of meditation and mischief. Here the pathos and charm of good old-fashioned storytelling is wedded to the associative freedoms of music and collage. Heady, funky, motley: this Adrian Matejka is truly a poet of the new century."
—Terrance Hayes, author of 2010 National Book Award winner Lighthead

On The Devil’s Garden:

“Adrian Matejka plays the language like a horn, with a cool inventiveness and bravura phrasing, yet his poems are as notable for their humanity as their flourishes and riffs at the borders of expression. His singular gift is to write outside the usual habits of communication and yet to deliver again and again the inside story, the testament of a life.”
—Rodney Jones, author of 1999 Pulitzer Prize nominee Elegy for the Southern Drawl

More info here.

Sean Smuda

Deep State (archival pigment print, 20" x 24", 2017)

Sean Smuda is an artist, curator, photographer, and writer. He works in a variety of mediums including collage, video, and performance. Recent projects have taken place in Antarctica, Iraq, Wall Street and the MN State Capitol. In 2011 he was appointed Cultural Liaison to Tours, France by the Minneapolis/Tours Sister City Association. His work is in the permanent collection of the Walker Art Center. You can see more of his work at


Peter Boyle
Vagabond Press ($29.95)

by John Bradley

“The mask maker had died / but the room kept weaving masks, / a galaxy of approaching worlds,” writes Ricardo Xavier Bousoño, in “I Do Not Trust That Word ‘Oxygen,’” one of the poems “translated” by Peter Boyle in Ghostspeaking. In this bold and ambitious book, Boyle creates eleven fictive poets (from Latin America, France, and Quebec) and their work, which he has “translated” for the reader.

The practice of “weaving masks” is an old one. One of the most accomplished at this literary practice was Fernando Pessoa (1888-1935), the Portuguese poet who created scores of personas. The persona poem shows no sign of disappearing. In The Imaginary Poets, edited by Alan Michael Parker (Tupelo Press, 2005), twenty-two writers create a poet and that persona’s poetry. A Face to Meet the Faces: An Anthology of Contemporary Persona Poetry, edited by Stacey Lynn Brown and Oliver de la Paz (University of Akron Press, 2012), a volume of 437 pages, shows the continued appeal of the practice. More recently, Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s Shards: Fragments of Verses (New Directions, 2016), called a translation of the fourteenth century Latin poet Lorenzo Chiera, turns out to be a persona project. Ferlinghetti admitted in an interview (in The New York Times) that the poems are not translations, but his creations. And now we have Ghostspeaking, 368 pages of persona poetry.

That phrase of Ricardo Xavier Bousoño’s—“a galaxy of approaching worlds”—best describes Boyle’s undertaking. For each of the poets we encounter in Ghostspeaking, Boyle provides not only the poetry, but a biography (and sometimes an “interview”). For example with Bousoño, we learn of his fleeing Argentina in 1976 to avoid the right-wing death squads. With this biographical material, Boyle quickly creates a tension between the life of the poet and his or her work, much in the way a novelist establishes a character. Though the details of the poet’s biography may be only subtly detected in the poems, it shapes the voice, tone, and vision of the poet. Here is Bousoño, who calls himself in the interview here “an apolitical poet” while in hiding in Argentina: “They have instructed me to climb into my coffin / and not get out: / an everyday request.” For an “apolitical poet,” his poetry vividly demonstrates the effect of living under a regime of political terror.

The eleven poets here vary greatly in voice and style. Elena Navronskaya, for example, offers prose poems with a fantastical bent: “There were people under the floorboards who were growing wolves’ teeth and learning to fly in the dark caverns that stretch beneath our country.” Lazlo Thalassa writes in numbered sections, each section opening with enigmatic italicized lines set off in parentheses: “(Cloud of unknowing hovers over a frog-pond. A pelican with a stethoscope probes the pulse of the water.)” Antonieta Villanueva writes in short autobiographical prose pieces from her memoir called I Am Not Going to Write My Memoirs. The Montaigne Poet, an anonymous writer whose work comes from a book called The New Essays of Montaigne, seems influenced by Franz Kafka: “He has just fallen off a horse as I have just fallen from a height when a balustrade gave way.” Ernesto Ray creates “spells”: “A star-shaped object rising up / out of the water—five / wavering arms, five / spokes of a chariot wheel . . . ” Maria Zafarelli Strega, whose works were found on notecards, gives us aphoristic prose: “It will not be easy to be born under the earth. I have heard plants tell me that.” Many of the poets write both verse and prose, but the voices of the personas are always consistent.

Identity in Ghostpeaking is both fixed and fluid, a paradox worthy of Jorge Luis Borges. Some of the biographies mix the fictive with the factual; Gaston Bousquin, for example, visits Olga Orozco and writes a poem about the encounter. Some of the fictive poets know one another; Federico Silva, we learn in a bio note, lived with Antioneta Villanueva. Some of the poets have hidden identities; Lazlo Thalassa, we learn, is really Miguel Todorov. At times a fictive poet will don another mask; Maria Zafarelli Strega takes on the name Isabel Avellaneda Moncloa. And identities are so fluid that a poet might transform into other personas within a poem. In “Halloween at Friday Harbor,” Gaston Bosquin writes: “I am the canoe bundled with my bones / out of which trees bloom. / I am dizziness at the centre of light / and a cold breeze that has caressed / all early darkness.

Boyle clearly enjoys this confabulation of personas. In a “Brief Footnote” on Lazlo Thalassa, Boyle discusses “the need to write under another name”:

I remember, several years back, a friend sent me a link to a blog where a young woman had just published one of my poems and one of her friends had posted: “I’ve always loved Peter Boyle. Everybody Loves Raymond is my favorite programme. I never knew he wrote poetry.” I wanted to write and say I am not Peter Boyle the American actor, but was I sure? . . . Perhaps in some way I was him, lingering on under his name, slowly acquiring his face now he was gone.

Boyle’s sense of humor and his love of layered identity serve him well.

To further the intensity of reading this book as a kind of novel, Boyle often brings back poets we have met earlier, updating their biographies and offering further work. At the end of the book, for example, we read the latest poems by Ricardo Xavier Bousoño, entitled “Threads” due to their long, narrow structure. In these poems, quite different from his earlier “translations,” we see a man still struggling with his past. He cannot forget what the military junta did to his fellow citizens, as can be seen in this excerpt:

each of us
burned into
faces of those
we loved
loaded on
planes tossed
into the white
and frozen

Ghostspeaking succeeds in creating memorable poetry that has the added dimension of memorable characters. This is no small accomplishment. It will leave many readers wondering how Boyle was able to create such a diverse cast of personas, such a “galaxy of approaching worlds.” Much more than literary technique makes the poems in this book so effective. In a footnote, we hear one of the fictive poets argue that experimentation for the sake of experimentation fails to provide “the stuff that really matters—the horror, the beauty, the delicacy, the silence.” That’s exactly what Boyle brings us in these “translations”—the stuff that really matters.

Click here to purchase this book at your local independent bookstore
Rain Taxi Online Edition Spring 2017 | © Rain Taxi, Inc. 2017

This Poem Is a House

Ken Sparling
Coach House Books ($15.95)

by Marissa McHugh

There are elements of magical realism throughout Ken Sparling’s This Poem Is a House, a novel in verse by a highly regarded Canadian writer. The two main characters, a boy and a girl who do not have first names, see things that are not seen in everyday life, such as the spots of a ladybug turning into a bird. The girl is a loving girlfriend, and eventually wife, to the boy; the boy is an eccentric poet whose style of writing Sparling captures perfectly:

Because every speck of wind
coming down the hill that morning
was a different speck of wind,

yet they all came down the hill together
like they were going to a party
and not each to its own destiny.

The wind is here personified as individuals each going in a fixed direction. There are hardly any harsh sounding words in this part of the poem. Wind is so ordinary, and yet it is made to sound gorgeous and aimless in these lines.

As the boy and girl continue to fall in love, conflict follows when the boy’s father passes away. The boy seems to work through his pain by rearranging furniture in the house in odd places, such as putting the dresser in the living room. The girl tries to help him through his pain by being there for him.

In magical realism, there are often shifts in time, as is in the following excerpt:

The boy’s dad died in October.
Christmas dinner that year was baloney
and honey.

Notice how the poem goes from October to Christmas without so much as a pause, and from the sad to the mundane with equal abandon. To the boy and the girl, baloney and honey might seem special since they eat mostly toast the rest of time.

Besides distortions of time, some of the passages take on dreamlike qualities. One part speaks of Jell-O seahorses riding “the waves of the bed,” taking readers to a whimsical place. Yet the book also has parts that relate to everyday life. The boy talks about leaving notes around the house to help him navigate through life: “It was like the boy set his life down / one day and then forgotten where / he put it.”

Overall, magical realism is handled well in This Poem Is a House. There are distortions of time amid a modern-day setting, and readers are taken on a magical ride with surreal elements placed in a somewhat realistic world. This Poem Is a House is the perfect read for those who enjoy the quirky and whimsical.

Click here to purchase this book at your local independent bookstore
Rain Taxi Online Edition Spring 2017 | © Rain Taxi, Inc. 2017

The Moravian Night

Peter Handke
Translated by Krishna Wilson
Farrar, Straus and Giroux ($27)

by John Toren

Reading a new novel by Peter Handke is like taking a month-long walk in the woods. You know it's going to be hard, you know long stretches are going to be dull, but you also know there will be some surprises along the way, and you have faith (based on prior experience) that when it's all over, you'll be able to put your feet up on the ottoman, pop open a beer, and say, "There's no other trail quite like that. I'm glad I took it."

The themes of The Moravian Night resemble those of Handke's earlier novels, though they're less emphatically addressed—uneasiness about Austria, questionable but essential Balkan roots, the need for solitude tussling with the need to be seen and recognized, and the desire for peace, both personal and global. As usual, a vaguely identified "woman" figures in the narrative, passionately desired at one moment and vilified the next, yet never clearly seen.

In the novel's opening pages, friends are gathering on a houseboat tethered in the reeds on the bank of the meandering Morava River in Serbia to listen to the nameless protagonist (identified in the text as "the former writer”) tell his tale. The thread of the narrative is a "tour" undertaken by the narrator to various places in Europe, a seemingly random itinerary that might or might not have a hidden logic. It includes a long journey by bus to a graveyard presumably desecrated during the Balkan wars, an anti-noise conference in Spain, and a cross-country hike along some abandoned rail lines on the outskirts of an unnamed Austrian city. One of the most absurdly amusing sections consists of a lengthy description of an international Jew’s harp convention that “the former writer” happened upon, seemingly by chance.

Yet in comparison to earlier works such as Repetition (1986) and Across (1983), not to mention the crisp, early novella Short Letter, Long Farewell (1972), Handke's prose has become more expansive and his narrative frame more complex, as if the act of writing had actually been supplanted by the less exacting (but perhaps more truthful?) act of story-telling. The narrator sometimes chooses a word, then thinks of a different one. He hesitates, qualifies, discards his previous remark, and the result is an equivocal impression. But at other times he lets loose with a long string of concrete descriptions, and readers who can appreciate these florid litanies of sensation are in for a treat.

Among the strangest and almost hallucinogenic of these passages occurs near the end of the book, when "the former writer" reaches the town where he was born . . . and doesn't recognize it:

Day had long since arrived, and a bat zigzagged across his field of vision, teasing him. Or had it been a swallow, announcing a thunderstorm by swooping close to the ground in the sudden burst of mugginess? No, the swallows were flying around as if nothing were wrong, very high in the air, while already it was thundering and lightning: the swallows were teasing him, too. A camel ambled past, belonging to a traveling circus? No. But probably the lion did, which he heard growl just once? Or had that been a person, behind one of the closed window shutters? A cat jumped up on him, and, believe it or not, the cat crowed. A viper whipped across the road, actually a dead branch. A brake squealed, and he leaped to one side, but it was his shoes squealing. Likewise the hail of stones that made him duck came from the stones he had collected during his journey, jostling one another in his coat pocket.

Handke recognizes how old-fashioned his attachment to the immediacy of experience is. Among the small group of friends listening on the boat, one is identified as "the interrogator" who frequently challenges the more fanciful details of his narrative, asking for clarification. But a less amiable challenge is presented by a character the narrator meets on the road, a journalist who, in the most obsequious way possible, represents everything that Handke hates. The two reconnect later and the journalist says:

Let it go, my friend. I know who you are. I write, too, not only newspaper articles but also books, even novels from time to time, à mes heures, as the French so beautifully put it. I’ve been following you and your literature for a long time. Your aesthetic literature, your aesthetic books have had their day. Poetic language is dead, it no longer exists, or only as imitation, as posturing. Didn’t you yourself proclaim that you weren’t worthy of your noble profession? So why would you reproach the rest of us for our lack of dignity? We've had enough of you writers and your dignity.

Peter Handke asks a lot of the reader in The Moravian Night. It's hard to imagine that anyone not already familiar with the author's themes—with his personal history—would get deeply engrossed in this latest offering. On the other hand, its poetic prose and its romantic (no other word suffices) approach to experience calls such vaunted figures as Cervantes and Sir Phillip Sidney to mind.

Near the end of the book, having returned to his home town and grappled with the issues presented by his stay-at-home brother and deceased mother, the narrator delivers a panegyric to the "karst country" of Central Europe, part political, part geological. It's reminiscent of Ford Madox Ford's Great Trade Route—a colossal fantasy rooted in values far deeper and more attractive than anything the politicians of our own day could comprehend. A troublesome misogyny can occasionally be felt beneath the imagery, but by the time we reach the houseboat to hear the former writer's strange, dreamlike tales, he and his female companion seem to have worked things out.

Click here to purchase this book at your local independent bookstore
Rain Taxi Online Edition Spring 2017 | © Rain Taxi, Inc. 2017

Linthead Stomp

Tim Earley
Horse Less Press ($15)

by Kent Weigle

Tim Earley’s Linthead Stomp is a book that writhes and seethes like a briar of barbed wire. The title evokes the idea of the old south, impoverished and limping along, proud of the hard life. But the book is no friend of the past. It rails against the pigheaded ways of small town Appalachia, its shortsighted religion and ignorance, yet it elegizes dead friends and family while capturing the beauty of a dying realm. It is a record of events found on the blank pages of a family Bible. The reader must prepare themselves for an arduous and unforgiving journey.

Earley’s use of mountain speech mixed with pop-culture language creates a long poem of many modes. The melange of language is apparent from the beginning: “AC ON/WINDOWS UP that’s the way we like to,” is a reference to a controversial song by the ’90s rap group, 2 Live Crew. This injection of pop culture is backed by the use of abbreviated Internet lingo—amirite, yr—contrasted with strikingly beautiful and distraught lines:

Lady deer lady meadow lady spring. Domestic sphere SPRUCED like no one has lived here like no one lives. Pappy more machine than tool. Tag. Game. Fill river with corpse light. I crossed out the fishes with rapture wishes.

The identity crisis within this book rushes the reader along in its tsunami with a strung-out and seemingly clairvoyant speaker who will tell lucid stories from his world then vomit volumes of mystical prose. While the book lacks a traditional overall narrative, small tales and longer accounts repeatedly break through to the surface. Here’s what reads like an obscene rhyme you’d find kids singing at recess:

Let me tell you about Awnie Zucker.

She named her son Motherfucker.

He started dropping goddamns by the age of six

And told his teacher to suck his dick.

Awnie toted him to Lake Patsy and chained his leg

To a concrete block and threw him in.

He was too mean to drown.

But the turtles ended up eating him after awhile.

Sections like this are what pass for breaks in Linthead Stomp; their sardonic tone gives the reader a small respite from the large blocks of prose found elsewhere. Half of the fun is surviving the onslaught and the other is experiencing Earley’s ability to break language down into its most primitive state. Some portions bypass the conscious mind and head straight for the atavistic reptile brain: “I insist on vassalage for I am an idea of whiteness ratified by spiritus animus-cherry bombs vitamixi battery-powered probal violences orgasm a scoch of feeling in the throat.” Strings of charged words allow the speaker to channel a rawness that would be hampered and civilized by syntax. Earley doesn’t just use words for their literal meaning, but also for the psychological impact. The effect is visceral, as the reader feels beaten and bloodied along with the language:

Radical thee paternost. strange vertical. stomach a lit match. gentry straight up metaphor for portcullis. gingival opium cavity oracular. The suture of migration occur in three stages language deflowered into kitty snack generator start missing its dread beat every other time guttural straggled amyth the deceased leech into wells and you only retain DECEASE instead of rotgutpuceberm . . .

These sections feel like indoctrination programs that are there to re-educate the reader, with or without their consent. In other passages, Earley weaves the telling of a story with ritualistic callbacks. One section has the speaker recounting the death of a mentally ill cousin after admission to a hospital:

I will part thy brain with a pious word I will do an exceptional job of dilating the bucolic of nothingness. She drove the three hours down, picked him up, and took him to the mental hospital in Morganton. I will parlay rumors of depravity into the shadow of my advantage. He resisted admission. Pissant poems reliquary of blood. He was held down and beaten by orderlies and placed into an isolation room.

The story ends with the death of the cousin and the lack of willingness on part of the authorities to investigate; when Earley injects the speaker’s commentary, the violence and neglect it interacts with transcends the basic revolt the reader experiences. The speaker is only telling a story and interpreting it, much like a pastor interprets and comments on scripture—the story becomes a myth.

Unabashedly blending contemporary and experimental poetry, Linthead Stomp doesn’t care one lick for the reader’s well-being. It’s wonderfully full of life, like a road-side carcass that’s belligerent enough to forget that it died. This book purposefully holds itself aloof until the end:

I do not speak for my people.

I do not speak for people.

While the language is caustic, it’s heartfelt. Earley doesn’t hold back and is completely comfortable in his craft. In this world, the reader suffers along with the speaker because there are no walls or windows to shield them.

Click here to purchase this book at your local independent bookstore
Rain Taxi Online Edition Spring 2017 | © Rain Taxi, Inc. 2017

The Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy 2016

edited by Karen Joy Fowler
series edited by John Joseph Adams
Mariner ($14.95)

by Ryder W. Miller

Relatively new to the “Best American” anthologies, The Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy 2016 fills a gap of sorts in this distinguished series. This year’s guest editor is Karen Joy Fowler, who has written both genre fiction and work that has escaped the designation of “genre,” such as The Jane Austen Book Club. Her wonderful introduction to this anthology shows that she is living in the science fictional present, where all sorts of fantastical and inspiring stories wind up in the news. The book’s foreword, by series editor John Joseph Adams, is also fascinating, as he ventures definitions of science fiction and fantasy—genres where debates about definitions abound. In short, he suggests that Science Fiction asks “what if” and Fantasy is where the “impossible happens.” Fantasy can have magic wielders, for example; science, though, might make the impossible a reality someday.

For this series, the guest editor picks twenty stories, ten fantasy and ten science fiction, from a group of eighty (half and half also) selected by Adams and colleagues. The sixty stories not selected for inclusion are listed in a Notable Stories section at the end of the book. The sources of these stories are wide ranging, with work from some major non-genre magazines selected.

This anthology showcases some of the best writing in the field from 2015. Readers of speculative fiction will recognize some of the authors included in this volume—such as Kelly Link, Sofia Samatar, and Ted Chiang—but the anthology is diverse and includes some uncommon names as well. There are not many entries which require a great deal of world building, for space reasons no doubt; likewise, there are few technical stories for which the reader would need to understand jargon. Overall, the stories are highly accessible, with interesting ideas privileged over adventure.

Perhaps most notably, there is not a great deal of escapism here. Some say that people read genre fiction to escape reality, but this volume suggests that one might be escaping from reality by not reading. Some of these futures might be upon us someday soon. Some seem like they are already here. The stories are topical, dealing with modern warfare, technological innovation, and contemporary social issues. Not everything is for everybody, as can be expected with any anthology, but those who don’t want to venture too far into fantastical places might enjoy the wide-ranging exposure to genre writing this volume offers. One wants more when it is over—and fortunately, places to look for it are recommended.

Click here to purchase this book at your local independent bookstore
Rain Taxi Online Edition Spring 2017 | © Rain Taxi, Inc. 2017