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Unwelcome Bodies, by Jennifer Pelland Book Review | SFReader.com
Unwelcome Bodies, by Jennifer Pelland Genre: Mixed Genre Anthology Publisher: Apex Published: 2008 Review Posted: 1/21/2009 Reviewer Rating:
Reader Rating: Not Rated
Unwelcome Bodies, by Jennifer Pelland
Book Review by Nick DeMarino
Have you read this book?
"It's too early in my career! What were they thinking?" And so Jennifer Pelland reveals her initial insecurity in the acknowledgments of Unwelcome Bodies, her first collection of short stories. Reservations aside, her hybrid approach to science fiction and horror is fresh and imaginative, reflecting a new wave of speculation.
I first came across Pelland's work while catching up on Psuedopod, a weekly horror podcast that featured "Immortal Sin" months ago. Her twist on religious devotion and one man's obsession with mortality prompted me to track down the written version. Two and half minutes on the Internet and a few business days later, Unwelcome Bodies was sitting in a stack of unread books on my shelf. I had no idea what she had in store for me.
When younger authors write around a particular topic, stories tend to blur, often repeating character types and relationships. Defying that inclination, Pelland explores a single theme from disparate, unexpected angles. All of the stories in Unwelcome Bodies deal with cognition and perception of the human body. She tackles fear, self-loathing, aging, self-discovery, and submission over eleven memorable tales. Any body can relate to at least one of those.
Standout pieces include "Big Sister/Little Sister," a delightfully morbid take on sibling rivalry and revenge, "Captive Girl," a 2007 Nebula nominee about service and submission, and "Firebird" a story about personal myths. The inclusion of "The Call" is surprising as the second person, all-question style mutes the images of the piece—it feels more like a writing exercise than a story. In contrast "Songs of Lament" uses a dual-narration gimmick to great effect.
Pelland's strength as a writer is her ability to immerse the reader in a unique, insular world in each story through vivid details that, much like fine brush work in the foreground of a painting, suggest the completeness of the larger setting. Her style is matter-of-fact and conversational, letting the narrator expose character as plot advances.
The plight of the protagonist in "Captive Girls" is a wonderful example of this:
"It's never easy. But these are the rules.
"She grabs her canes and limps over to the walker. It's a terrifying contraption—one that she'd never seen with her own eyes for all the year she spent in it. Dull metal, faded padding, straps and buckles, and that rail circling the entire thing, trapping the occupant inside
"Trapping her inside."
Pelland employs one common science fiction and horror cliché in half of the stories: the post-apocalyptic scenario. She manages to keep it fresh by using unapologetic narrators immersed in the logic of the times, and in the case of "The Last Stand of the Elephant Man," a narrator displaced from body as well as world. And there is something to be said for Pelland's other use of a common device: sex, and plenty of it, is always entertaining.
It would be interesting to see what Pelland could do in a novella or novel-length format. Expect great things from her in the future.
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