i finished reading this collection the other day, and, being largely pleased by it, figured i'd put up the cover and recommendation for you all to check it out. it presents itself as a collection of the surreal and decadent, which it is, though i sometimes felt that stories which were meant to fall into the decadent side were a bit uninteresting, and, in the case of brendan connell's 'dr. black in rome' utterly boring. (the twelve page scene of characters eating dinner and talking in pseudo intellectual dialogue was just a total miss for me. if you've got to have a scene like that, at least have the characters distinguishable from each other by their dialogue, and make it a little less self indulgent. (so perhaps the story was too decadent for me, huh? well, maybe. but you know, different things for different people.))
anyhow, i don't want to focus on the stories i didn't like, because there were stories i really did. stepan chapman's 'a guide to the zoo' is deliciously funny, though it does require the reader to know a few ins and outs about writers. my favourite was the gunter grass inspired horned warthog. curiously, this knowledge of literature is also required for a second story called 'maldoror abroad', written by kj bishop. i suspect it works quite well if you've read Maldoror by lautreamont. as i haven't, i felt like i was missing something, but it is finely written, and i suspect that if you're a fan of the book, the story is like candy.
jeffrey ford's 'the beautiful gelreesh' is my pick of the collection, but which i will say very little because discussing the relatively short piece will ruin it. i have no such worries about ursula pflug's coming of age through drugs story 'python', which is probably my second favourite in the collection. it has more meat on it than ford's, but there's just something unnamable about 'the beautiful gelreesh' that really worked for me.
also of interest is christina flook's 'the catgirl manifesto: an introduction', which has nothing to do about the comic book heroine, and all about a fake female sexual movement, and which sounds nicely off a few subjects. jay lake's 'a hero for the dark towns' is also worth a mention, even if i didn't think that it was very decadent or surreal or anything that the anthology proposes to offer, but it's a well written piece, and that's always good.
lastly, there are two stories by rhys hughes in the collection. i've never read anything by hughes before, but i've heard his praise sung, and so i was curious. i can say that one story, 'the toes of the sun', about a man who insulted the sun, is fantastic. it rates up there with ursula pflug's piece for me, and the end, was just lovely. the second piece, 'eternal horizon', about a musician thrown overboard and in love with a goddess... well, i guess i simply didn't like it as much. one was great, and one i could have taken or left, but that's not so bad, is it now?
there are a couple of small stories like that that i haven't mentioned, which didn't make any impression on me, but the collection is, mostly, full of good stories. certainly there are no badly written stories, as the collection (or perhaps editor vandermeer) favours a style over substance. which, considering its promise of surreal and decadent writing, is really no surprise.
anyhow, if you're sitting around, wondering if you'd like to buy a collection of fiction, and you're unsure what, then i say check out the album zutique. it's a fine little book that offers fine stories.