The Best of Connie Willis: Award-Winning Stories by Connie Willis
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Connie Willis is a writer of ideas. In longer novel form, I think this is a good thing; I enjoyed Blackout/All Clear quite a bit. I still haven't made it to her earlier works like To Say Nothing of the Dog or The Doomsday Book - both books that others say are her best work. When this collection of stories was listed in NetGalley, I jumped at the chance, to try to get to know this Grand Master a little better.
Back to this ideas issue. Connie Willis often zooms in on a thought she has (What if we found a way to turn off the menstrual cycle? This becomes Even the Queen) or personal obsessions (A love affair with the London Underground becomes The Winds of Marble Arch, an interest in H.L. Mencken becomes Inside Job) and fleshes it out into a story. The problem for the reader occurs when he or she does not share this same obsession. Honestly, I don't understand the obsession with H.L. Mencken, so that was an automatic turn-off for me. I did enjoy Even the Queen though, with its continuation of concepts in the Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood (kind of the opposite scenario).
The other stories range from quantum physics to post-apocalyptic letters to aliens that respond to Christmas carols. All ideas that are explored in the length of a short story. Each story comes with an afterword written by the author, explaining where the idea comes from and why the story is significant in her eyes, great stuff for fans of her work.
So what is missing, and why am I only giving this three stars? (Three stars for me means decent but not really for me.) I suppose I expect more from a short story. I want beautiful, expressive language. I want depth of character and emotion. Ideas alone just don't cut it, and that's all I really find here. For a lot of readers, that will be more than enough.