Summer Book Club Review: Mash Up

Welcome to VGBlogger’s Summer Book Club! All summer long, we will be providing weekly book reviews across a wide range of geek favorite categories, including art, comics/graphic novels, fantasy, gaming, and sci-fi, and welcoming you to join in on book discussions in the comments. So whether you’re heading out for a road trip, going on vacation, lounging beach/poolside on a nice sunny day, relaxing inside away from the summer heat, or simply searching for a good read to fill your free time, follow our Summer Book Club for our top picks of what you should be reading during these hot summertime doldrums. Please enjoy!

MashUp

“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.”

“Call me Ishmael.”

“Whether I shall turn out to be the hero of my own life, or whether that station will be held by anybody else, these pages must show.”

“A spectre is haunting Europe — the spectre of communism.”

“It was a dark and stormy night.”

“Dorothy lived in the midst of the great Kansas prairies, with Uncle Henry, who was a farmer, and Aunt Em, who was the farmer’s wife.”

“First God made heaven and earth.”

“When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.”

These lines, which should be immediately recognizable to most readers (I hope), are completely unrelated when read individually. But together they serve as the starting point for Mash Up, an anthology of short stories inspired by the famous first lines from fiction and non-fiction literary classics like Moby Dick, David Copperfield, Pride and Prejudice, Macbeth, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, and even the Holy Bible, Declaration of Independence, and Communist Manifesto.

Mash Up, an idea conceived all the way back in 2007, is the work of editor Gardner Dozois and the collective efforts of thirteen prominent science-fiction writers, including John Scalzi, Tad Williams, Elizabeth Bear, Mike Resnick, Nancy Kress, Daryl Gregory, Jack Campbell, Paul Di Filippo, Robert Charles Wilson, Allen M. Steele, Lavie Tidhar, Mary Robinette Kowal, and James Patrick Kelly. Each story is prefaced by an introductory page in which the author describes his or her chosen “favorite first line” as well as other sources of inspiration to provide context for what you are about to read over the ensuing pages.

Some of the stories, all of which average around 30 pages in length, use familiar story beats and characters from the sources, while others take their iconic first lines and veer off in an entirely different direction. The subjects, characterizations, settings, literary devices, and writing styles vary, but every story is unified thematically by incorporating at least some element of science-fiction or fantasticism.

The opening line to Pride and Prejudice becomes the starting point for The Evening Line, the story of an undesirable plunger who vehemently does not want a wife but suddenly finds himself targeted by suitors en masse after he comes into a bunch of money. No Decent Patrimony, inspired by Edward II‘s opening line, spins off on a tale about a man whose filthy-rich father, the venture capitalist behind an anti-aging process, is killed in what appears to be some sort of assassination or terrorist incident. The Communist Manifesto‘s opener lends its menacing tone to the aptly titled The Red Menace, a sort of alternate history sci-fi twist on World War II, where Stalin leads his communist revolution from Mir against the Axis powers of Earth, consisting of Hitler’s Nazis backed by the United States and Great Britain. The David Copperfield-inspired Begone tells of a man dealing with the aftermath of a hellish divorce and the pain of being replaced as father and husband by someone else. Then there’s Karen Coxswain, or, Death as She is Truly Lived, a funny, vulgar, and raunchy short that takes Huckleberry Finn on a wild ride to hell as the titular Karen Coxswain captains the Ship of Shadows as a ferryman on the River Styx.

My favorite story of the bunch has to be The Big Whale, a hard-boiled noir detective take on Moby Dick, in which Ishmael is a harpoon-wielding gumshoe who, along with his partner Queequeg, is hired by Mrs. Ahab to investigate an affair between Captain Ahab and Moby Dick, who she believes is another woman because of her peg-legged husband’s obvious obsession. Lady Astronaut of Mars is another standout, borrowing from The Wonderful Wizard of Oz to establish the character of Dorothy, a nurse for an aging female astronaut living on a Mars colony. It’s a touching, dramatic, and beautifully characterized story about the lady astronaut’s inner turmoil, dreaming of the stars and one day being able to go on another mission despite her age while simultaneously facing the pain of a dying loved one.

On a lighter note, I also thoroughly enjoyed Every Fuzzy Beast on Earth, Every Pink Fowl of the Air‘s whimsical take on the story of creation. A little girl named Sophia one day enters the Garden, claiming to be the daughter of God Himself, and proceeding to disrupt the work of archangels Gabriel and Metatron by changing things she deems to be yucky or boring. She turns the trees upside down so that the green leaves are showing and not the icky roots. She gives bunnies their cute, fluffy tails. She gives birds the ability to use their wings for flight. And she gives flamingos their distinctive pink plumage. It’s really fun and charming.

As is the case with any compilation across any form of media, some stories in this book are outclassed by others, but not a one left me feeling flat or wanting to skip ahead. I found Mash Up to be highly addictive and creatively inspiring. Once I started a story, I couldn’t stop until I finished it. And then once I finished one story, I immediately wanted to go on to the following story to see where the next author took his or her chosen line. As someone who’s never had the imagination or aptitude for creative writing, it’s truly fascinating to see how a group of authors can use a single line of text as the jump-off point to create such diverse and interesting characters, worlds, and themes.

Buy From: Mash Up is available now at MSRP $14.95 from Titan Books and Amazon.com.

Disclosure: A review copy of Mash Up was provided to VGBlogger.com by Titan Books.

About the Author

Matt Litten is the full-time editor and owner of VGBlogger.com. He is responsible for maintaining the day to day operation of the site, editing all staff content before it is published, and contributing regular news, reviews, previews and other articles. Matt landed his first gig in the video game review business writing for the now-defunct website BonusStage.com. After the sad and untimely close of BonusStage, the former staff went on to found VGBlogger.com. After a short stint as US Site Manager for AceGamez, Matt assumed full ownership over VGBlogger, and to this day he is dedicated to making it one of the top video game blogs in all the blogosphere. Matt is a fair-minded reviewer and lover of games of all platforms and types, big or small, hyped or niche, big-budget or indie. But that doesn't mean he will let poor games slide without a good thrashing when necessary!