Thursday, May 5, 2011

Dark Mondays by Kage Baker

Kage Baker is a writer I'm very familiar with.  I've come across her works in themed collections, best of anthologies, and just about anywhere quality short fiction is to be found.  Dark Mondays is a 2006 collection in which I was hoping to find the charming, seemingly effortless short stories that made her a name I remember.  While there are high points, more often than the not, the collection is listlessly bobbing in a sea of uninteresting events.
My first contention with the collection is that the title story is in fact not in my edition of the book.  It only came in the limited edition with cost $49.99; shame on me for not reading the fine print and while this is more of a gripe with the publisher, Night Shade Books, than the author my displeasure may have colored my thinking on the stories that were present.  
Dark Mondays is a collection of very well written of short stories, only most of them weren't special enough in any way as to standout.  "So This Guy Walks into a Lighthouse" is a great title that only yields a mildly interesting story about a man looking forward to the solitude of a lighthouse position only to be overrun by very peculiar visitors. 
Few of the stories contained enough thematic material or anything that could be called plot that was worth developing and a weak premise rarely makes for interesting reading, regardless of the characters created in the story.  The one hundred page long "The Maid on the Shore" proves this point better than any other.  There is a great and diverse cast of pirates--two women dressed as men, a priest with psychotic breaks, gay pirates, a stereotypical 'good-guy' who has merely fallen in with the wrong crowd, and a phantasmic young woman who may or may not be real--that Baker seemingly does nothing with but make march and sail.  It turns out their objective was to sack a great city in Panama, but this didn't register with me until the very end, it hardly felt climatic or worth the time it took to get there, and by the time it happened, I didn't care.  With such a cast I'd hoped that Baker could do more.
Perhaps it's not coincidence that the stories that brought Baker to my attention were one where she focuses on smaller cast and the events of individuals as opposed to large groups; such as the 'Ruby Incomparable' from Wizards and 'Are you Afflicted with Dragons?' from The Dragon Book both edited by Jack Dann and Gardner Dozois.  The only real standouts for me in Dark Mondays (and let me tell you how much I dislike referring to the name of this collection by a story that wasn't even included…) were 'The Two old Women' and 'Oh, False Young Man!'  Both are about older women trying to reconcile something in their past.  The former deals with a woman who lost her husband at sea and finds a way to conjure him back.  Despite the unnatural manner of his actions and the pleadings of her family she has a very hard time giving her husband up a second time knowing they will be forever parted.  'Oh, False young man!' is a revenge story gone horribly wrong where a scientist--a very bitter, scorned lover--plots revenge with the aide of her best creation: a fully functioning human AI.  She intends to marry her 'son' to the daughter of her once lover.  Things don't work out and there are many lessons learned.  While all these stories share treads of being more intimate and personal that is not necessarily the key to success for Baker.  
'Portrait, With Flames' and "Katherine's Story' share similar elements as the better stories in the collection but with little to no action happening of any kind it is hard to push events along and harder still to keep turning pages.  
While the good stories are good, neither are worth seeking out the collection solely on their account.  All in all there are some very creative and wonderful ideas, only a few of them develop into something special.  All the writing is well done and it certainly feels like Kage Baker; only not the really amazing Kage Baker that I'd previously come across in so many anthologies and collections.  It's all well written and generally I'd consider Dark Mondays good reading.  It's just not very interesting reading.  

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