I ordered the Joan Aiken short story collection The Serial Garden (all her Armitage short stories, including 4 previously unpublished) from Small Beer Press
about thirty-five minutes after I heard of its existence (it took me a while to work out the ordering interface! Plus, I was considering ordering a few other books, until I discovered that ordering 1 hardcover plus anything else from overseas costs more in postage than ordering 3 lots of 3 paperbacks). It arrived remarkably quickly, along with a bunch of promos for other books and a postcard in Japanese (a science-themed cafe in Tokyo, I think, where I can buy an original logo beaker for 800 yen and everything else goes well beyond my comprehension). I started reading it. And then I stopped. Not because I wasn't enjoying it, but because there is at least one story in here that I don't know if I want to read.
I love many of Joan Aiken's books - Midnight is a Place and The Whispering Mountain are particular favourites - and her short story collections were amazing (the fantastic ones - the horror ones were almost too effective). And the story this collection is named after, The Serial Garden, broke my heart as a child when I read it the first time; it's about loss, which would be effective at any age, but the particular circumstances of power, powerlessness and guilt are very specific to childhood, or at least the child I was when I read it. Everytime I re-read it I'd hope for a different ending, and there wouldn't be one. It felt perfect as it was, tho', despite being painful; and part of hoping for another ending was knowing that there wouldn't be one, and hoping anyway.
I knew she'd written another story using one of the characters from The Serial Garden - I read it five years ago or so and immediately blanked it out of my mind. I didn't think it was a bad story (I had some issues with later Aiken novels, which seemed to be running , but it wasn't brilliant, and it just trod too closely towards interfering with the original. In the introduction to this collection, tho', two sequels are mentioned. And it's putting me off reading the collection. I really want to re-read all my favourites - the ghostly latin lessons, the Furies, Harriet's hairloom, the one where the parents get turned into insects, the serial garden itself - but then do I just stop? Do I trust the author to not have gone back on their original story, or to have improved it by doing so?
I'm thinking of Diana Wynne Jones here - another author I love, but her recent work hasn't had the same power or effectiveness as her stories in the 70s and 80s. I liked her going back to Chrestomanci with The Lives of Christopher Chant - that worked - but I'd be worried if she embarked on an Eight Days of Luke sequel, say, or another Dogsbody book, both bittersweet books with perfect broken endings. I don't want The Serial Garden fixed, and, once I read something that does that, it's hard to ignore it.
Anyway. For the moment, it's sitting on my floor while I write essays. Maybe I should lend it to someone else and get them to vet it to my exacting standards.