Patterns, by Pat Cadigan
One of my favorite memories of ArmadilloCon is meeting Pat Cadigan and Ellen Datlow. I think of them as "Pat Cadigan AND Ellen Datlow" because they were seemingly inseperable and so much fun together.
At the time, I didn't read much of Cadigan's books. Back then I read hard science fiction almost exclusively, and just from meeting her, I knew that whatever it was she wrote it was most definitely not hard science fiction!
So I started this short story collection almost blind, with absolutely no expectations. The title story didn't quite work for me, and the second story I thought was somewhat forgettable. Then I got to Vengeance Is Yours, which was a game changer for me. The basic idea that people can buy revenge from retail companies was just delightful. And Cadigan's characterization is top-notch. I really wanted to learn more about the protagonist and the world she lived in.
The next story in the collection is The Day The Martels Got The Cable. This little gem probably packed a bigger punch when it was written, but I still enjoyed its subtle (or it blatant?) feminism. It also sums up one of Cadigan's connections to science fiction, the interplay between technology and consciousness.
Cadigan introduces Roadside Rescue as her meanest story ever. I absolutely loved it, and I can't for the life of me understand why she thinks it is so mean. Yes the protagonist is used, yes the alien is perverted, yes the world is uncomfortable at best. But mean? Nah.
The next few stories were OK, but then came My Brother's Keeper. It was reading this that I reliazed Cadigan was not a science fiction writer. Cadigan is a writer, writer. Take out the gratuituous vampires, and this story could have appeared in an academic press, alongside Raymond Carver (and way more to read than Carver). Two is another of her stories that transcends its genre. She mentions that she would like to go back to the protagonist and explore her in a full-length novel. I would read that in a heartbeat!
I should mention that some of her stories are deeply disturbing. It Was The Heat is a great little gem that deals with issues of isolation and the difficulty of fitting in, especially for women in what was a man's world. The setting is the French Quarter of New Orleans, and the story is mostly centered in the real world, but with a disturbing visit from Loas, a sort of Haitian voodoo deity. I loved the story, though I honestly don't know what to make of it.
And the final story is just a classic, The Power And The Passion. It starts with a simple premise, what sort of people are vampire hunters? Cadigan's answer is disturbing enough, but the twist that gives her protagonist a secret weapon against vampires is absolutely insane, as is the suggestion that a fallen sister gave the protagonist this weapon precisely because she wanted to make sure he would never be turned into a vampire, because God help us all if he were ever turned.
The truth is that Patterns is precisely the type of book that I would have never read outside of the reading group, because it stays well clear of my usual preferred tropes. But I am so happy that I got to read it. Many of the stories were disturbing, but they all had excellent characters and left me with plenty of ideas to contemplate.