Friday, July 4, 2014

Book review: The Exploded Heart by John Shirley

The Exploded Heart by John Shirley

309 pages Eyeball books (Out of Print)

Every time I review a book by John Shirley I have to kinda preface it. John Shirley is my favorite living author. It is impossible for me to list all the works that I consider classics in the novel category from Science Fiction like City come a Walkin to horror like Wetbones. As accomplished of novelist as he is John is equally as strong if not stronger of a short fiction author. With more than half a dozen collections of his fiction in print and stories in anthologies appearances all over the place the collections are easy to find. That said it took me almost 10 years of looking before I found a copy of this collection at Powell’s books in Portland.

The Exploded Heart is a punk rock themed collection of science fiction works written over the first 30 years of John’s career. Many are very old school stories even some that are from John’s workshop stories at the early 70’s Clarion workshop. The book also contains fragments of unfinished novels and stories that feature characters that ended up in Shirley’s Song Called Youth trilogy. Some of my favorites include “The Prince.” and the title story which is a fragment of a unfinished novel.

As for as story collections go this is not the place to start with Shirley short fiction. In my opinion Living Shadows is the best collection with a wide range of stories in it. Black Butterflies won both the Bram Stoker award and International horror Guild award for best collection. That is not to say that Exploded heart is not an important read, but less for the fiction and more for the autobiographical notes that appear before the stories. It will have you wishing for Shirley autobiography that feature hilarious stories of the young artist who proclaimed being allergic to work, told stories of starting fights while performing with his old band to stories of annoying Harlan Ellison at Clarion. Easily the best part of the book. It is the reason you should want to read this collection.

The stories show the sensibility and political understanding as it evolves. The highlight of the fiction is a story about a near future where department stores hire people to be mannequins inside stores. This story is great example how Shirley uses sci-fi and bizarro elements to express a poltical point of view, explore classism and still tell compelling story no matter what your political feelings are.

After you have read Living Shadows and Black Butterflies it is time to check out the Exploded Heart.

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