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  • kjoannerixon

Balloon Man

In the age of digital publishing, the question of what, exactly, is a book, is an interesting one. I don't intend to be too picky here about word counts or publishers; I've found in the last year or so that I really enjoy reading novellas, and some self-published, crowdfunded, and small publishing house-backed novellas are just stellar. I probably won't be posting about short stories here, although... maybe, if they're really good. Naomi Kritzer's "The Thing About Ghost Stories" stuck in my head for days; maybe I should write a post about it.

In any case, this post is about Shiv Ramdas' novelette, Balloon Man, for which I don't have cover art. You can read it at GigaNotoSaurus for free, either in a browser or as an ebook (EPUB or MOBI), and I should probably disclose that I know Shiv. We met when he came to Seattle for Clarion West in 2016, and have run into each other a bunch of times since. The Seattle SFF scene is not that big; one time he and I hung out on the pot-smoke-wreathed balcony at a mutual friend's birthday party and argued about the nature of the universe.

So that might be influencing my opinion when I say that this story is delightful and well worth a read. The writing is vivid and bright, and although there is some jumping around in time between the present to the mythic past, it's quite well organized, so the flow of the plot is easy to follow. I'm not always a fan of omniscient narration, especially not when it breaks the fourth wall, but I think it works in this story (and there really isn't much fourth wall breaking).

I really, really liked the contradicting nature of the story's universe: "whatever is true, the opposite is also true," but also, even the gods are held to norms of behavior and can rescue their honor by helping others with tasks with clear rules. Everything you encounter might be a trick, and the gods can condemn you forever simply for distracting them from their responsibilities, but you can save yourself from the trick, and from disaster, by careful work. Victory might be nearly overwhelmingly difficult, but it's possible. I've been feeling lately like maybe it isn't, so.

Chen Chen posted a short thread on twitter recently, about happy poetry and how it gets taken less seriously. He said, "i don’t believe that sadness is inherently more complicated than joy. nor that “complicated” is always a great value, for literature or for life." I think that's true for poetry, and also for fiction. I write a lot of things that are miserable and complicated, and that has value too! But you know, happy endings have a lot of artistic value, and life value. And so probably you should read Balloon Man.


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