Friday, October 1, 2010

Leviathan Wept and Other Stories - Daniel Abraham

Daniel Abraham must be a busy man. He's currently writing under several pseudonyms in several (sub) genres of speculative fiction and his output is impressive. Vicious Grace, an urban fantasy novel is scheduled to be released in November under the name M.L.N. Hanover, with another book in the same series expected in 2011. In June 2011 his first science fiction novel is expected, a collaboration with Ty Franck under yet another pen name: James S. A. Corey. He also has a new epic fantasy series in the works for Orbit under his own name. I haven't been able to find a publication date (unless you wish to trust Amazon) for the first part in this series, The Dragon's Path, but the announcement of the book deal was made last year so I would not be surprised if that book surfaced in 2011 as well. I'm a great fan of Abraham's Long Price Quartet, which unfortunately didn't do as well as publisher Tor hoped. That's a real shame, it is one of the better fantasy series of the first decade of this century. I currently only have a review for the final part in the series, The Price of Spring, available on Random Comments but I intend to change that sometime soon.

Abraham also has quite a few short stories to his name but until now they had not been collected. Subterranean Press has released nine of his short stories in a very handsome hardcover edition. I own a number of their books and I have to hand it to them, they know how to make a book visually stunning. Unfortunately they omitted adding the publication history of the stories so I am not entirely sure if this collection contains any new work. Looks like all of them are reprints except A Hunter in Arin-Quin. Leviathan Wept and Other Stories is a bit of a strange collection. It clearly shows the various styles and sub genres that Abraham writes in but the strongest stories are all in the first part of the collection. Not that there isn't more than enough to enjoy in the later part of the book but I couldn't shake the feeling it would have worked better if they changed a couple of stories around. I'm going to mention a few I particularly enjoyed.

The collection opens with The Cambist and Lord Iron, a story takes the form of a faerie tale in which the Cambist (money-changer) has the face three challenges by the dangerous and notorious Lord Iron. He is to value the unusual commodities in strange currency. Once for his job, twice for his life and finally for his soul. Publilius Syrus' well known maxim "Everything is worth what is purchaser will pay for it" proves useful but certainly not the answer to all of these challenges. Stories like these is why I find myself reading more and more short fiction. It's unusual, has a strong central theme and has the potential to make the reader think about how we value certain aspects of our lives. The form Abraham uses to tell his tale contrasts nicely with some of the questions it raises. This story is available under a creative commons licence here.

Flat Diane is the second story in this collection and probably one of his better known short works. It got Abraham a Nebula Award nomination. I guess this is a horror story about a father and a daughter trying to deal with the departure of the mother from the family. One of the things tries to cheer Diane up is create a paper outline of her and to send it around to friends and family with instructions to have their picture taken with it. Soon signs that Dianne knows things that only Flat Dianne can know begin to show up. This becomes a real problem when Flat Diane falls into the wrong hands. It's a very creepy story. The fear in Diane is very well done but the suspicion the father faces when people start thinking he is doing horrible things to his daughter himself really elevates it about the rest of the collection. If I had to pick one, this story would be my favourite.

Self-help books, a phenomenon that is not quite as big on our side of the Atlantic but not entirely unknown. In The Support Technician Tango random advice from a mysterious book that apparently belongs to no one wreaks havoc on in a lawyer's office. When everyone from the system administrator to the lawyer himself starts to follow these bits of advice misunderstandings, reset priorities, suspicion and unrequited love plunge the office in chaos. At times slightly satirical, sometimes touching and lacking a clear speculative element, this story is not something most readers would expect Abraham to produce. What I thought interesting about it, is the importance a lot of the characters seem to give to superficial things and above all appearance to measure their success in life. What's even more interesting is the way they clean up the mess without anybody getting hurt.

The final story I want to mention is A Hunter in Arin-Quin which gives Flat Diane a run for it's money when it comes to the emotional power of the story. At the beginning of the story we meet a woman in a state of exhaustion and panic. Her trade is slaying monsters but all her hard earned knowledge and experience seems to vanish when one of the monsters she usually hunts turns the tables on her and abducts her daughter. Completely unprepared of a long hunt though winter weather she tries to catch up with the monster. Abraham weaves a second story line into the tale composed of flashbacks of the training she received by her father and how it ultimately lead her to the mess she is in. A Hunter in Arin-Quin set in a secondary world with distinct Asian influences. I very much liked it for the setting but also of the way Abraham uses non-verbal communication in this story. It's different from what he does in the Long Price Quartet but no less effective.

The collection also includes the stories The Best Monkey, Leviathan Wept, Exclusion, As Sweet and The Curandero and the Swede all of which have their moments. I think I need to read that final story again sometime. Not entirely sure what to make of that one yet. All in all Leviathan Wept and Other Stories is a varied collection of excellent short fiction. The breadth of Abraham's writing is showcased here. What each and every one of these stories have in common is the attention to the characters. Abraham uses very different characters in these stories, men or women, old or young, all of them are very well drawn in the limited space a short story offers. Like his novels the characterization is exceptional. So far I have only read Abraham's fantasy. From this collection it is quite clear he is capable of much more. I'm going to have to keep an eye out for that some of his other books. I guess his science fiction début Leviathan Wakes has just placed itself on the to read list for next year.

Book Details
Title: Leviathan Wakes and Other Stories
Author: Daniel Abraham
Publisher: Subterranean Press
Pages: 277
Year: 2010
Language: English
Format: Hardcover
ISBN: 978-1-59606-265-8
First published: 2010


  1. I love The Curandero and the Swede, but my first encounter with it was hearing Daniel read it at Worldcon in Denver '08. Hearing the author read his own work was just amazing, and I really hope to read more of The 1001 American Nights.

  2. After I finished it I had the feeling I missed the point of the story. I liked the storytelling mode in which it was told though. I guess would make a good piece for a reading, unfortunately there's rarely an opportunity to attend one in these parts.

  3. I enjoyed this collection as well. Like you, I probably need to re-read the final story.

    Regarding The Dragon's Path, Abraham mentioned on Westeros that it seems that Orbit is indeed pushing for April 2011, though I don't think there's anything official yet.

  4. That's the date I found on Amazon but since I couldn't find it confirmed I decided not to mention it in the review. Amazon is notoriously unreliable when it comes to release dates. Very much looking forward to reading that book whenever it appears though.