The odd thing was that I thought reading Saberhagen would be painful, then picked up a short story collection of his anyway. I thought the stories might be garishly grotesque or grimly technical, mechnical devices that ground the reader through an interstellar mill until you were a fit flour to be baked back into human form by the intensity of your reaction.
What I found in the book is far better than I deserved. These are entertaining stories and they give you at times that snap at the wrist of great fiction, the kind that reawakens you to the memory that you used to read for pleasure, rather than just to get through that tremendous stack by the bedside.
It is clear to me that being a writer is something that I couldn't have learned from all the lectures that my former writing group gave or from all the books on creating interesting first lines, etc. Not that those things weren't helpful. Rather, they encouraged in a vague way the things that are crystal clear in a good story. Catch the reader's attention and keep it long enough to tell the story. Remember that you're writing for humans and we know the difference between artificial and real decisions.
This last is the most persuasive and sticky thing from the book so far. In a story about an alien world that bent my brain a bit trying to imagine it, there was a man who did something...stupid? rude?...and then repeated that action, separating himself from his actions with potent lies conjured out of nostalgia.
Reading that chain events I felt the slight sickness that comes when I recognize the dark gravity of my personality tugging at me. This is something that I have done.
Characters human enough to induce guilt are well-tuned. You might not have the same reaction to that character's actions, but I think he was written well enough that you would at least recognize the reality of his impulses.
Library day is rarely this successful and I'm looking forward to seeing whether the entire collection and the rest of the books are this good.