The Cambridge Geek

Passing Strange - Ellen Klages

The next Nebula novella I'm reading is the offering from Ellen Klages, a story set in 1940s San Francisco, exploring the lives of queer women in a time period that is not terribly tolerant of them.

The historical fiction is given a framing story (pun intended) by the life of Helen, who, at a grand old age, is the last survivor of a group of women determined to look after a hidden painting. This is the last, unknown work of Haskel, a pulp artist from the 1940s, who mysteriously vanished in that period.

The painting finally sold, the plot now jumps back to the 40s, and tells the story of Helen in that time, along with the life of Haskel and their circle of friends.

Just to get my biggest annoyance out of the way first, this feels a lot more like magical realism than what I would think of as standard SF/F. There are a couple of minor magical tricks and one rather major plot-relevant one, but you could pull them out pretty damn easily and replace them with a bus.

Luckily, even if you do pull them out, you're left with a compelling story of love and hate and what people need to do to survive both. The setting flourishes with tiny details, and has a vividity that I've not read in much else recently. Each of the characters has a story of their own, of which we only see a fraction, but you can imagine jumping sideways from the main plot and ending up in an entirely new story, already scripted.

It's one I rushed through, but that was because I was dragged into their lives, rather than any panic of getting through it quickly. An interesting perspective, and one I don't normally see.

Score 4

Tagged: Book Magical Realism Romance Novella Print