Monday 15 July 2013

Conservation of Shadows

(July 2013)

              The numbers marched higher. When they broke ten million, she plunged out of the command spindle and into the room she had claimed for her own. She pounded the wall until her fists bled. Triumph tasted like salt and venom. It wasn’t supposed to be so easy. In the worst dreams, a wolf roved the tapestries, eating shadows – eating souls. And the void with its tinsel of worlds was nothing but one vast shadow.

I’ve been doing pretty well with the short story collections so far this year. There’s not been a dud among them, and some have been very special indeed. Pleasingly, Conservation of Shadows effortlessly continues that winning streak.

Yoon Ha Lee is a Korean-American writer. These short stories span the SFF spectrum but are all infused with a distinctly East Asian flavour. Folded paper and origami charms are a recurring theme, and the longest story in the collection, Iseul’s Lexicon, is loosely based on a Japanese invasion of Korea. One or all of them, take your pick.

There’s variation in quality and appeal, of course. All the stories hold their own, but while those towards the fantastical end of the spectrum are best described as ‘interesting’ or ‘diverting’, some of the SF is truly stunning. Which is why I’m not convinced that Ghostweight, the opening story and source of the above quote, should have been first up. It’s astounding: poignant, chilling, brittle, and shatteringly brilliant.

It would, honestly, be asking for the impossible to maintain that level across an entire collection, and I can understand why you’d want to open with a bang, but it’s hard not to feel slightly disappointed when the rest of the stories are merely very good because, well, you end up using phrases like ‘merely very good’.

Lord, I can be an unpleasantly picky bastard sometimes, can’t I? Ghostweight is still available to read online, and I highly, highly recommend it. A lot of the other stories are also still floating around the internet and they too are well worth a bit of effort in tracking down and enjoying. There are a couple of stories that share the same world, and in the author notes she explains that these were aborted stubs for a projected novel. Here’s hoping that we get something on that score in the near future.


  1. Well off topic:

    It's an over long article, but you go quoted in the middle of it. A lot of bad company, but Cucek is good.

    1. Kamo: Tempted to read Ghostweight after my specter-filled motorcycle trip is finished.

      Ant: Uh...after reading the article and then starting to read the comments, I feel a little ill. Time for coffee.

    2. No. No. Not the comments. For the love of god man, have you learned nothing?