Nothing new here. Tired characters, tired story, tired narration. Once upon a time this book had a cherished place on my bookshelf - it is now on the giveaway pile.
As did many of the other reviewers, I bought this for the presence of one story - "Virgins" by Diana Gabaldon. Unlike some of the other reviewers, I knew what I was getting into. I'd like to address two points they have made. I'm going to try doing this without spoilers, but be warned: I may slip and spoil.
First, there were gender issue complaints, either that the women weren't really dangerous, or that there were too many stories from a man's point of view. I disagree on both counts. I don't think inherently dangerous women are necessarily aware of it. I would imagine, for example, that both of the women in "I Know How to Pick 'Em" thought of herself, not as dangerous, but rather as needy. It is only the narrator that saw the danger in the woman that picks him up, and only the reader that sees the danger in inherent in the narrator's mother. The same is true of "Wrestling Jesus." Only the narrator knows where the true danger lies.
In these two stories, as in several others, the danger seems to be similar to the stance I heard described in North Africa. Boys would tell me, "Women are dangerous." When I asked them to explain, they would only repeat themselves, and perhaps add that I should be well aware of why women were to be feared and avoided. Listening to them I got the feeling that as an American, and a teacher, there were far more dangers about me that made the threat of my gender insignificant. As I lived there, for over seven years, I further came to understand that it was less related to the lure of sex, and more to the power that women had over sons, husbands, and brothers. It was less that they could hold others sexually in thrall, and more that they were not influenced by desire in the same way men were, making them more on top of a situation because of the lack of distraction. The dangerousness of many of the women in these stories is this sort of danger. They are intimidating, although they don't mean to be. They put themselves in danger both unwittingly and on purpose. But it is their logical, systematic approach to the tribulations of their lives that make them dangerous.
Certainly there are some women who were truly dangerous and aware of it, but even they would say they were acting out of necessity and not because of some internal sense of daring-do. In the first story, "Some Desperado," the narrator is just trying to survive, and survive she does. She is ruthless, and certainly dangerous to the men she confronts. But the bottom line is that she does nothing to them that they wouldn't do to her first. Is this truly dangerous? I suppose in the sense that a stove is dangerous, yes, but not in the same way a wolverine is something to be avoided.
This brings me to the second point. There is, among other reviewers, a certain amount of whining about the fact that these are short stories. I will be the first to admit that I buy the longer audiobooks because I like getting lost in a long story. But I buy short story collections on purpose. Often a story is long enough to last me in the car there-and-back. I get a nice sense of continuity and closure there.
The thing I like best about these anthologies, is that I get to sample a variety of writers and readers. Stana Katic, for example, was a fabulous surprise as a reader. I love her on "Castle" but as a reader she has terrific range doing the different characters. The only reader I did not love (and this surprised me) was Johnathan Frakes. Even though he was too slow when doing the "narrator" voice, I enjoyed his change in tone during dialogue.
I use this as an opportunity to revisit authors I have read before, Gabaldon (of course) as well as Landsdale, Butcher, Snodgrass, and Stirling are old favorites. It is also a chance to fine new writers to explore. I was particularly impressed by the three stories with older women as the protagonist and will read more by Lindholm, Kress, and Sanderson because of those offerings. I also found myself quite enjoying "Raisa Stepanova" by Carrie Vaughn. While other of the historic stories seemed to be more of a litany of events, I found myself immersed in the trials of they young fighter pilot. She was certainly dangerous to the enemy, and frequently put herself in danger, but she seemed like many of the young women flying today, passionate about her job, loyal to her family, and patriotic to a fault.
I would heartily recommend this book to anyone. I think I benefited from listening to it. As a print-book reader I would have been tempted to skip some of the stories that have turned out to be gems. As an audio-book reader there was no such temptation. This is the third of George R. R. Martin's anthologies I have gotten. I will get the next one in a heartbeat.
I had originally encountered Melinda Snodgrass in another of GRRMartin's anthologies. For me these are perfect. The stories last long enough for my commute to and from work. They are a great way to sample new authors, and Martin has a way of picking new ones. His introductions frame his selection process and are pieces I have used in school to introduce high school students to ways of thinking about literature.
I started with Outlander several years ago, rejoiced with the availability of Drums of Autumn and Dragonfly in Amber. I sadly stalled when Fiery Cross was unavailable. I tried to listen to CDs borrowed from the library, but gave it up when changing CDs became tedious. When I was forced to actually read the books, Gabaldon's story IS compelling, I heard Davina Porter's voice in my head. Thank you so much for bringing this and A Breath of Snow and Ashes into the Audible fold. I look forward to many happy hours of listening. Starting the series over again is no trouble at all. In fact it is one of the very few series I've wanted to re-listen to. Thanks.
Davina Porter, as always, brings the time and characters to vivid life. Diana Gabaldon told us there would clearly be another sequel, and she didn't lie. The characters are still marvelous, with new texture being added with each book at the same time loose ends seem to be finished off. I am someone who reads the books myself and then listens, still rapt, to Porter's dulcet tones. These books offer the best of several worlds and modes. Hoping the two intervening books finally make it to Audible sooner than later - Susan Dewey
A great book that is both well written and well read. The characters could easily be people I've met - and Owen - he is unforgettable.
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