There are two kinds of "favourite books," I always say. There are the ones that you recognize as original in concept, extremely well written, and strong in theme. Then there are the ones that say something personal to you so that you identify with the protagonist, live in that society, laugh at the jokes and thrill at the adventure, but also realize that the style may not be so good or the theme so strong. I ain't half the SF geek I was when I was younger - you know, before I discovered characterisation and inner life - but I still appreciate a good novel of ideas. So often, it comes down to a tug-of-war of definitions and false differences of opinion. The mundane literary establishment tends to demean SF. Yet, the works of Cormac McCarthy, Jonathan Lethem, Michael Chabon, Doris Lessing, Margaret Atwood and Kurt Vonnegut are just as much SF, using the same devices to advance the same thought experiments and commentary on society as many other SF writers can do. Quite honestly, many of the SF writers do at least as good a job of tackling the thorny issues as the more literary writers, and write extremely well. On the other hand, there are certainly books written to be enjoyed and consumed, without quite such a hefty intellectual burden. These have their place (in SF and, frankly, in mundane fiction) as well. SF and mundane literature are not and need not be exclusive domains. It’s stupid that different literary realms will try to claim a book like “The Road” for themselves. “It’s highfalutin literature!” “No, it’s SF!” “It’s mine!” “No, it’s mine, you idiot!” As a reader, I want both gorgeous prose and a strong plot. And that’s where Jeffrey Ford comes in. He’s one of those writers that is both comfortable in the SF and literary domains. Jonathan Lethem is another case in point. Reading a short-story collection by Jeffrey Ford is like taking a master class in how to write, and "Crackpot Palace: Stories" is the author's most masterful yet. Not only do the stories range widely across popular genres, from noir to horror to high fantasy to literary, but each exhibits expert understanding and control of the elements that breathe life into these forms. I became invested in the characters, absorbed in their internal and external mysteries, enveloped by their locales, and enthralled with the themes they explore. Ford's prose is as precise and nuanced as ever, and he bends his style to serve each tale differently. The casual everyday idiom and lightly profane voice perfectly fit the hilarious suburban satire "Sit the Dead," while a rural directness and earnestness in the narrative language help to shape both "Down Atsion Road". Most of the stories don't neatly fit into a single genre but instead straddle two or more categories confidently, and this provides part of their freshness. Everyone is a treat, and the whole collection is an expansive and satisfying feast. His characters are unique and so vividly described you can easily see them. You should remember “Robot General”, “Jimmy Tooth”, and “Father Walter” well after having finished this short-story collection. Ford has a unique imagination and a calm, assured way of writing that is intoxicatingly seductive. I loved almost all of these stories even the crazy ones.
SF = Speculative Fiction.