Elizabeth Hand’s Fire [Book Review]

PM Press, 2017.

https://secure.pmpress.org/index.php?l=product_detail&p=822

Elizabeth Hand’s Fire competes with Marge Piercy’s My Life, My Body as the best Outspoken Authors title from PM Press. Caveat: I’ve read about half of them, so I’m allowed to change my mind. However, from everything I can tell, Bisson is hitting a solid stride in his editing and collaboration with the diverse authors in this series. While every single title I have read has ranged from solid to excellent, they just seem to keep getting better. As a reader, this is a wonderful situation. I can’t say that I envy Bisson as he keeps selecting more authors.

Where Hand, and Piercy especially, differ from prior volumes is that they offer more pieces to the reader. With Shirley and KSR, there are several pieces, but they don’t seem to be either as numerous or provide a sense of spectrum from the writer’s work as these later volumes do. Then again, while I like novellas just fine, I’ll opt first for a short non-fiction essay, review, or reflection. Why are the interviews now in the middle, instead of at the end, of the books? They work best at the end.

The opening story, “The Saffron Gatherers,” includes lovely bibliophilic details that will make any collector sigh — or at least feel awe. Reads much like aging professional writers or creatives going about life and addressing awkward relationships with some resolve on the horizon. Then apocalypse or catastrophe hits. Unsettling. Least favorite piece in the volume; glad I read the book from the back to the front.

Title piece, “Fire,” is impressive first person — probably apt to call it a soliloquy — in the midst of another kind of epic disaster. Easy to read. Believable voice. Yes! Happy to read more like this.

“Beyond Belief: On Becoming a Writer” is very enjoyable. Informative, too, and pairs well with Piercy’s advice on become a writer. If you’ve always wanted to be a writer but never did, Hand can help you understand what you may have missed. Or not.

Bisson’s interview is, par for course, excellent. Read this first.

Last two pieces, “The Woman Men Didn’t See” and “Tom Disch” are both excellent, informative pieces of writing. Engaging to read an SF writer reviewing, explaining, presenting another epic SF writer. Complexities, challenges deftly handled. Text retains attention. Excellent modeling for discussing personalities, authors, or artists and their work. Disch piece was supportive, depressing, and enjoyable. Not hyperbolic or condemning but fostering understanding of Disch as author and human being.

Even handed, well-balanced. Inspired me to seek out more of Hand’s critical and reviewing work. After that, I hope to track down more of her short stories.

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