Review of “The Lady of Situations”, Stephen Dedman, SF Site 2011

Original here. Another of my SF Site reviews of Ticonderoga Publications books after this and this.  As with “Ghost Seas”, I recall greatly enjoying the book at the time, yet have forgotten most about it. So my enthusiasm here is a sort of archival one, as well as one redolent of the pleasure of getting books for free, a pleasure which to some degree deforms a reviewer’s art. Phrases likely “hugely accomplished” hint at this….

lady of sit

The Lady of Situations is a hugely accomplished short story collection from one of Australia’s premier science fiction writers. Originally published in 2009, this beautifully produced edition from Ticonderoga Press, illustrates the range of his work.

The stories remind me of the story collections of other authors published by Ticonderoga and reviewed by myself on this site, Lewis Shiner’s Love in Vain and Steven Utley’s Ghost Seas. There is the same range and sense of controlled exuberance. There is the same disregard for easy genre categorisations. For instance, the title story is pretty much a mainstream literary piece about a lady with an eidetic memory, while the immediately following “Ever Seen By Waking Eyes” is a vampiric twist on Lewis Carroll’s much-analysed and much-debated interest in young girls. Two very different “genres,” yet both have the same tone and emotional impact, and share a concern with the horrific realities of child sexual abuse.

“The Lady of Situations” is a good example of Dedman’s story telling technique. Essentially it is a narrative told by a character within a fictional framing vignette. This kind of technique reminds me of the Marlow of Conrad’s Heart of Darkness and Lord Jim, and allows the writer in an unforced, even rather traditionalistic way, to allow a character to show their revealing elisions and hesitancies, with a group of listeners whose reactions and preoccupations reflect on and deepen the story itself. It is a technique which can have radical narrative implications; done badly it can just seem arbitrary and pointless, done well it profoundly alters our reading. “The Lady of Situations” will reward study by writers themselves as rich example of the type.

Dedman’s spins on the alternate history format — “Amendment,” with Lee Harvey Oswald working at a Texan sci-fi convention, and “The Godfather Paradox,” which brings together Alan Turing, the Mafia, and time travel — are particularly well done. Too many alternate history stories simply have a twist on history as we know it, and that’s all. The secret of any story is that through embodied action, some kind of reaction — usually emotionally, but it can be intellectual or even visceral — is evoked in the reader that is stronger than the explicit content of the words themselves.

The book has a witty introduction-in-dialogue by Sean Williams and Mark Radium, which manages to say many acute things about Dedman’s prose along with various gross out jokes. There are various themes and tropes that recur, and Williams and Radium identify many — but the real strength of Dedman’s work is a power far beyond didacticism. Dedman’s stories have an evocative life beyond what is simply written. His style — engaging, lucid, never obscure but nevertheless allusive and richly evocative — is perfectly suited to a range of themes, genre tropes and structures. All these stories insinuate themselves into your consciousness slyly and irrevocably. Someone once wrote that the cinema of Stanley Kubrick “is not about things, it is things,” and something similar could be said about The Lady of Situations.

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