Oakland, Californiaâ€™s PM Press is noted for its line of slim-but-substantial â€œOutspoken Authorsâ€ paperbacks. Coastal Maine writer Elizabeth Hand certainly fits the bill, as proved by â€œFire.,â€ a collection of stories, essays and an interview.
Hand, the author of the Cass Neary series of punk-influenced crime novels and a winner of the World Fantasy Award and science fictionâ€™s Nebula, doesnâ€™t shy away from addressing lifeâ€™s dangers, tragedies and absurdities in her fiction. Her reviews and literary criticism for The Washington Post, The New York Times, the Magazine of Science Fiction and Fantasy and other publications are similarly sharp-eyed.
Apocalypse, dystopia and natural disaster have always loomed large in Handâ€™s imagination, fueling, for example, her novels â€œGlimmeringâ€ and â€œWaking the Moon.â€ The selections in this latest collection reflect that tendency.
In â€œThe Saffron Gatherers,â€ a woman travels to San Francisco to meet with her lover, only to be captivated by an ancient fresco prophetic in ways she cannot guess. Time, cause, effect and missed connections collide in the moving and mind-bending â€œKronia.â€
Written especially for this collection and based on her work as a participant in a climate change think tank, â€œFire.â€ envisions one stand-up comicâ€™s reaction to a conflagration of global proportions.
In her essay â€œBeyond Belief: On Becoming a Writer,â€ Hand traces her commitment to storytelling, starting with seeing the George Pal film production of â€œThe Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimmâ€ when she was 5 years old. From there, it was on to â€œThe Hobbit,â€ the rest of Tolkien and other, more obscure fantasists. She began writing her own stories and pursuing an interest in theater at Catholic University in Washington, D.C.
Things turned dark for a while; â€œBad Stuff,â€ as she puts it, happened, including underemployment, serious illness and a kidnapping and rape. But Hand was able to persevere in her journey to becoming a writer with a singular vision.
She writes, â€œDespite living in a real world that increasingly resembles that of one of my early dystopian novels, I consider myself a very lucky person.â€
â€œFlying Squirrels in the Attic,â€ the Q&A between Hand and series editor Terry Bisson, is wide-ranging, touching upon her experiences as a teacher of writing, living in Maine, writing â€œStar Warsâ€ juvenile novelizations about bounty hunter Boba Fett, and reading the fiction of Sarah Orne Jewett.
Itâ€™s a fun and freewheeling conversation, and Hand reveals herself as both self-effacing and confident in her talents.
Two insightful profiles of supremely talented but darkly fated authors round out the book.
â€œThe Woman Men Didnâ€™t Seeâ€ focuses on Alice Sheldon, the CIA analyst who wrote groundbreaking, feminist science fiction under the pseudonym James Tiptree Jr.
â€œTom Dischâ€ remembers the author of â€œCamp Concentrationâ€ and â€œThe Genocidesâ€ in the aftermath of his suicide. Hand illuminates their life stories with compassion and grace.
Other writers in PMâ€™s â€œOutspoken Authorsâ€ series include Hugo and Nebula award winner Kim Stanley Robinson, Man Booker Prize finalist Karen Joy Fowler and Ursula K. Le Guin, recipient of the National Book Foundation Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters.
Elizabeth Hand is a welcome addition to the roster, and this slender volume is an easy introduction to, or quick reminder of, her special brand of narrative magic.
Berkeley writer Michael Berry is a Portsmouth, New Hampshire, native who has contributed to Salon, the San Francisco Chronicle, New Hampshire Magazine, the Los Angeles Review of Books and many other publications. He can be contacted at: