I admire Kathleen Ann Goonan’s writing, but after two books I’m not sure her work is a perfect fit for me. Angels and You Dogs (2012) is a classy, ambitious collection of literary SF stories, and physically the book is gorgeous, a nicely produced hardcover from PS Publishing. The stories within are also beautifully crafted, full of interesting ideas and polished prose, but in my opinion narrative energy and satisfying structure often takes a back seat to atmosphere, concept, and language. I came away respecting the book, without entirely enjoying it.
The two stories I found most entertaining, from a pure storytelling standpoint, open and close the collection. The title story, “Angels and You Dogs,” is amusing fantasy with a breezy, conversational style involving communication with the dead, in a finely realized Florida setting. Closing the volume is “The Bridge,” an entertaining and idea-rich futuristic noir full of neat skiffy concepts. These are two of the lighter, more conventional pieces in the collection, but I found them the most fun and engaging.
Elsewhere in the collection is meatier, perhaps more ambitious fare, and while much of the material felt slow to start, it’s also understandably acclaimed. “Solitaire” is a evocative, nostalgic character study about a young boy who meets a very peculiar playmate; the time, place, and mood here is finely evoked. “Susannah’s Snowbears” is an intriguing and lyrical tale about a world rendered conformist by science, and a married couple who labor to live outside of it. Other stories, like “Klein Time,” “Sundiver Day,” and “Memory Dog,” dazzle with their heavy SF concepts and eloquent prose. Even the more enjoyable of these stories, however, read long to me – meandering to their point of attack in the early stages, and ultimately feeling longer than their word counts. Goonan is a skilled and deliberate stylist with ideas to burn, but ultimately I found myself working too hard to discern the shape of piece from all the well crafted but somewhat distancing components. There’s plenty of style and substance in this one to resonate with the right reader, but unfortunately that doesn’t always seem to be me.