Thursday, April 11, 2013

"Errantry" by Elizabeth Hand

I chose Errantry from a list of top sci-fi short stories, though I wouldn't quite classify the book's stories as science-fiction. Some fall into the quirky/weird/"what the hell was that?" category into which I'd place Haruki Murakami, others have a fairy tale retelling feel (much like The Snow Child), and still others have a creepy horror edge. So an interesting collection.

Those stories in the first category can be a bit tricky. There's something perversely appealing about a story without a clear point that nonetheless feels affecting or meaningful in some way, like Hand's "Hungerford Bridge," where one friend takes another friend to see a mysterious creature called the emerald foliot--with strange conditions attached after the viewing. But other stories were less successful in this regard and just seemed random, like "Cruel Up North" and especially "Summerteenth."

I'd argue that Hand's strength are the pseudo-fairy tales, which have a fairy-tale feel and characters in a modern setting. Of those, "The Far Shore" is wistful and "Winter's Wife" and "Uncle Lou" have excellent characterization and character relationships. I might also throw "The Return of the Fire Witch" into this category, though it has a light and humorous tone that most of the other stories lack.

"Near Zennor" and "Errantry" both fit into the last category, though I much preferred "Near Zennor," which expertly captures the horror mood. In it, a bereaved husband explores an area his wife visited as a child, encountering strange things she may also have encountered.

Of all the pieces, the first story, "The Maiden Flight of McCauley's Bellerophon," was my favorite. It most closely falls into the sci-fi genre, though it has pieces of all three categories. There are great characters, flights (no pun intended...) of fancy, a looming atmosphere, and questions that aren't answered but are given the barest suggestions of conclusions.


  1. Ah, this sounds like something I should check out. I am wary of longer (read: adult) science fiction tomes because if I pick badly, I'm stuck for SO LONG in that world. But short stories are manageable, and the different categories would probably keep me on my toes. Plus, fairy tales of any kind? Major bonus.

  2. I've really been enjoying short story collections recently, I think because of the small packaging. But Errantry is definitely good if you want a range of different types... though if you read it and have any idea about what Summerteenth is about, let me know! :)