The ED SF Project

The Ellen Datlow/SCI FICTION Project, that is. We're showing the love for five and a half years of great short fiction, and we need your help! We've got over 300 stories to cover, so if you're a person who loves short speculative fiction, we want you. Go here to read the list and add your voice.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

"Hell Notes" by M.K. Hobson: An Appreciation by Eugie Foster

One of the defining characteristics of SCI FICTION has always been the variety of consistently high quality fiction that it publishes--a testament both to the extraordinary caliber of writers that have graced its webpages, as well as the keen, discerning, and eclectic editorial eye of Ellen Datlow. The stories published in the Originals section of SCI FICTION are all brand new reading adventures, never before seen by fan or fowl. On any given week, it was possible to find a postmodern fantasy, or a gritty fright fest, or a futuristic alien-and-ray-guns saga, or even a postmodern gritty ray-gun parable: virtually anything from within the realm of "speculative fiction."

Discovering these fresh, weekly offerings has been an unfailingly satisfying experience for me, whether the tale is thoughtful, tearful, inspiring, poignant, or funny. However, I've been particularly fond of the funny stories. Comedy can be so many things--intelligent, witty, charming, painful, whimsical, foolish, guilty--and by its nature, it is never ostentatious . . . when done well. And that's the rub; good funny is difficult to write and hence rare. I don't get to laugh as often as I'd like to (then again, perhaps I've got a reluctant sense of humor). My recalcitrant funny bone aside, humor is subjective. So when I find something as broadly appealing as M.K. Hobson's "Hell Notes" that can make me giggle with unabashed glee, I know I've found a gem.

In this story, a marketing consultant wanders into a shoddy Chinese buffet for lunch, gorges himself on the most exquisite twice-cooked pork he's ever eaten, gets mistaken as a walking undead by the lovely chef, and discovers that the path to his heart really is through his stomach. With lines like "The pork was of melting tenderness in a perfectly balanced garlic sauce, with impetuous slices of water chestnut and insouciant threads of onion" to tempt the palate, and "Dishes three, four, and five held, respectively: chunks of clove-spiked raw liver drenched in a bloody sauce; lacy webs of pearl-colored tripe fanned out like exotic sea flora; and a phlegmy stew of cancerous tubers" to repel it, this is a supremely enjoyable blend of droll wit and understated horror. But "Hell Notes" is more than just a gratifying giggle. This story has a bit of everything--danger, romance, incomparable Chinese food, ghosts, the afterlife, and even a dash of philosophy to provide depth--in a context both unusual and striking. Hobson's descriptions are evocative and visceral, her punch lines are agile and witty, and her sense of whimsy and the absurd is nothing short of genius. It's funny horror! You just gotta love funny horror.

My thanks to M.K. Hobson for writing this delightful tale, and to Ellen Datlow and the Sci Fi Channel for bringing it and hundreds of other marvelous stories to the public, free of charge.

Link to story.


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