The first short story in the anthology, you can tell right away that Fish Merchant is one of Buckell’s earlier works. There are times were the narrative doesn’t flow very well, and the story in general lacks some of the fleshed out feeling of what you’ll read later on.
Set in China, it follows the day of Li Hao-Chang, a common and somewhat poverty-stricken fish merchant. In a chance encounter in the market with a black man named Pepper, Li’s life is changed forever. This story bring up themes of national isolation and what happens when world changing events occur in a country that has a policy of news blockades.
It also brings up the idea of what consequences there would be if normal average people were suddenly involved in events beyond their understanding or control. It’s not always grand adventure and glory and honor at the end. This story was very sad for me to read, in that I know China’s government really does hold these policies, but the end of the short is so very hopeful that I feel like someday things will be all right.
I was impressed that one of Buckell’s first stories was set in a country and culture so very different from ours, and with characters of color as the main antagonist and protagonist. He managed to handle the setting and wording in a respectful and well-written manner. Pepper is a fascinating character and I hope Buckell uses him again.
The one woman in the story was a little underdeveloped, in that we didn’t hear her story from her own mouth, we heard it through reminiscing in Li’s head. What else happens to her, I won’t say, but I’m glad that some of the stories in the rest of the anthology feature strong women and make up for this one.
All in all, this is a good start to the anthology, and I’m sure you’re all dying to hear what else is in store. Look for more tomorrow.