the Little Red Reviewer

Archive for the ‘short stories’ Category

Bastion Magazine is a new monthly science fiction magazine. They’ve recently put out their second issue, and I was lucky enough to get a review copy.  To be honest, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Would this be like one of those runs hot ‘n cold anthologies that gets returned to the library half read,  forcing me to mumble excuses while avoiding the editor? Would the quality of the stories be sub-par? New magazine, editor I don’t know a thing about…. you never know with these things.

 

Well, now I do know.  I should never have worried in the first place. The May issue of Bastion Magazine contains nine short stories (holy crap, nine? that’s practically an anthology right there!), most in the eight to ten page range, which fit my attention span perfectly.  Check out Bastion Magazine on their website, where you can read excerpts from both the inaugural  April issue and the current May issue. And stay tuned, because in a few days I’ll be publishing an interview with the Editor in Chief of the magazine, R. Leigh Hennig.  Oh, and the stories? Damn good for the most part. The further I read, the more impressed I was by the quality of the writing.

Bastion May_cover

Confession: did I love every single story? Nope. But take that with a grain of sand because I don’t love every story in every issue of Asimov’s either.  I’m still bowled over by the sheer quantity of stories in here.  As I usually do with magazine issues and short story collections, here are a few words on some of my favorites (and when I say favorites, I mean more than half the magazine).

 

Moving Past Legs by Jamie Lackey – Editor R. Leigh Hennig chose one helluva an opener, that’s for sure. Humanity has figured out how octopi think, we’ve built neural nets so people can “plug into” them. You can walk into any pet store, buy the set up and the young octopus, go home, plug in, and get a high off the experience. It’s completely legal, and employers aren’t supposed to fire people just for being octo owners, but they still do. The ethics of the entire situation are incredibly fuzzy. Jeremy loves his octopus, Legs, so he lets her go.  He even helps a movement that is working to stop pet stores from selling and breeding intelligent animals alongside kittens.   What happens in this story will burn a hole right through you.  Who are we to decide what Octopi and other intelligent creatures want? They aren’t going to want the same things we want, and they may never thank us for being uplifted, for lack of a better term.

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Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000040_00012]

Hi Everyone,

Seems like January flew by in the blink of an eye, and February is upon us. That said, welcome to The Book of Apex: Volume Four of Apex Magazine Blog Tour! We’ll be journeying through The Book of Apex: Volume Four of Apex Magazine, which includes all the original fiction published in Apex Magazine during it’s fourth year.  All throughout the month of February, authors will be showcased, short stories will be reviewed, parties will be had, minds will be blown, giveaways will be won.  Maybe coldmageddon will even end and your kids will have an entire week of school without a snow day.

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000040_00012]

Never read anything from Apex Books? The fiction they publish defies categorization and pushes the boundaries. These stories are edgy, dark, and surreal, sneaking up on you, and demanding to be chewed on for a while. If you’re looking for something a little strange, a little odd, tilted from mainstream and sure to keep you reading, you’re in the right place: you’re in the Book of Apex Blog tour.

Here’s the tentative schedule, and as you can see, there is a ton of bloggers and authors (and an artist and a publisher!!) involved:

Feb 2 Review at Little Red Reviewer, My Bookish Ways interviews Jason Sizemore

Feb 3 Little Red Reviewer interviews cover artist Julie Dillon

Feb 4 Review at Dab of Darkness, Cecil Castilucci guest posts at Just Book Reading

Feb 5 Review at Rinn Reads, Little Red Reviewer interviews Michael Pevzner, A.C. Wise guest posts over at My Bookish Ways

Feb 6 Review at Lynn’s Book Blog, Rinn Reads interviews Rahul Kanakia

Feb 7 Review at Over The Effing Rainbow

Feb 8 Review at Tethyan Books, Dab of Darkness interviews Kat Howard

Feb 9 Books Without Any Pictures interviews Thoraiya Dyer, Katharine Duckett guest posts at Two Dudes in An Attic

Feb 10 Review at Many A True Nerd, Ian Nichols guest posts at Susan Hated Literature

Feb 11 Review at Two Dudes in an Attic, Rinn Reads interviews Adam Troy-Castro

Feb 12 Review at Books Without Any Pictures, My Bookish Ways interviews A.C. Wise

Feb 13 Little Red Reviewer interviews Ian Nichols, Adam-Troy Castro guest posts at Rinn Reads

Feb 14 Review at The Bastard Title, Alex Bledsoe guest posts at Lynn’s Book Blog

Feb 15 Review at Just Book Reading, Alec Austin guest posts at Many A True Nerd

Feb 16 Books Without Any Pictures interviews Marie Brennan, David Schwartz guest posts at The Bastard Title

Feb 17 Review at This is How She Fight Start, Lettie Prell guest posts at Worlds in Ink

Feb 18 The Bastard Title interviews David Schwartz, Sarah Dalton guest posts at Dab of Darkness

Feb 19 Review at Worlds in Ink, Little Red Reviewer interviews Alethea Kontis, Rahul Kanakia guest posts at My Bookish Ways

Feb 20 Review at Nashville Bookworm, Marie Brennan guest posts at Books Without Any Pictures

Feb 21 Review at My Shelf Confessions, Little Red Reviewer interviews Cecil Castellucci

Feb 22 Many a True Nerd interviews Alec Austin, Thoraiya Dyer guest posts at Tethyan Books

Feb 23 Review at Confessions of a Bibliomaniac, Little Red Reviewer interviews Tim Susman, Alethea Kontis guest posts at Over the Effing Rainbow

Feb 24 Review at Worlds in Ink, Michael Pezvner guest posts at My Shelf Confessions

Feb 25 Review at Susan Hated Literature, Lynn’s Book Blog interviews Alex Bledsoe

Feb 26 Dab of Darkness interviews Sarah Dalton, Tim Susman guest posts at Nashville Bookworm

Feb 27 Review at Fantasy Review Barn, Two Dudes in an Attic interviews Katharine Duckett

Feb 28 Worlds in Ink interviews Lettie Prell and Jason Sizemore guest posts at Confessions of a Bibliomaniac

Wow! Makes me wish there were more days in the month!

Beyond the Rift, by Peter Watts

available November 2013

where I got it: received review copy from the publisher

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Peter Watts is the kind of story teller who doesn’t let us lie to ourselves. His writing style is aggressive and unrelentingly honest, he understands how easy it is, how natural human arrogance can be. We always think we know best, don’t we? Especially when it comes to people we’ve never met, or creatures we don’t understand.  That book, Blindsight, that’s on everyone’s “most important science fiction books” list? This is that guy.

Including two award winning short stories, The Things (which I reviewed here) and The Island, this collection could easily be subtitled “the best of”. Past the award winners, you’ll find the mind blowers – the stories that take what you think you know about how we think about our universe and flip it all inside out.  Thought crime control, the crushing dangers of the ocean’s bottom, a new way for religion to work,  a woman torn between her own body and that of a four year old child, a prequel to the Rifters trilogy, and so much more await you in Beyond The Rift. Head over to the Tachyon tumblr page to read some excerpts.

Be sure to read the Outtro, an intro of sorts, that comes at the end of the book instead of the beginning. It’s important that you read that part, and it’s important that you read it *last*.  Watts has a pretty good idea of how most people are going to react to his work, and now he’s going to explain himself.

confused yet? intrigued yet? a little  of both? Here are my thoughts on my favorite stories from Beyond the Rift.

The Island – Like the other workers on the Eriophora, Sunday and Dixon only wake up when they’re needed. The ship’s chimp brained AI has found a good spot, so it’s time to start building. A gate, that is.   Yes, Sunday, Dixon, and the other sleeping crew members are glorified highway construction workers. Sleeping most of the way, they travel far ahead, building transit gates in every corner of the galaxy. Humanity evolved, and left their road crews behind.  Sunday can barely even recognize what comes through the gates as human anymore. There is some brilliantly tight world building happening in this story, that’s for sure. Dix is still young, he wants to be awake all the time, he thinks there’s so much he can learn from the ship’s AI, no matter that Sunday tells him she ripped her port out years ago, and for good reason.  He’ll barely stand still long enough for her to try to explain what happened all those years ago. Regardless, they’ve found a spot, and construction has begun.  And then they find something strange, someone no one has ever seen before. The star they are near, it is surrounded by a sphere of organic material, it’s one huge organism. Sunday even describes it as a giant dyson sphere. She doesn’t want to hurt anything that might be intelligent, even if it’s not sentient, or is, and can’t communicate with them. After studying the star, she realizes it is benign and helpless, and that if she doesn’t move the gate, she’ll kill it. How arrogant, how human she is, to think she can understand this creature.  Maybe it can’t communicate in any meaningful way, but it knows how to get what it wants.

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clarkesworld4

I was lucky enough to get a copy of Clarksworld Year Four, which includes 24 pieces of original short fiction the digital magazine published during their fourth year of publication.  Never heard of Clarkesworld? Please, allow me to enlighten you,  because these people simply rock it.  A digital magazine featuring original speculative fiction, interviews, and editorials, Clarkesworld published their first issue in 2006 and their original  short fiction has been winning awards ever since. The magazine itself has even picked up a few awards along the way (can you say three Hugo’s!!).

So I don’t have to tell you how awesome this magazine is.

You know how usually when I review an anthology or collection, I only talk about a handful of stand-out pieces, my favorites? Not this time.  The handful of short stories I’ve read so far (or listened to. Yay podcasting! I love you Kate Baker!) are some of the strangest, most out-there fiction I have ever come across. We’ve got McDonald’s terrorists, interstellar runaways, reincarnations of people who aren’t dead yet, the end of the universe, and an AI who thinks she’s a fairy tale.  Because everything in here is just so damn weird, I want each piece to get some much deserved attention.   I’ll review 3-4 short stories at a time, so you, dear readers and followers, can get the full treatment.

Want to make a comment on my review? By all means, comment here. I’ve linked each story back to Clarkesworld, so you can read the whole thing (or listen to the audio) and comment over there and give the magazine some direct attention.

Let’s get started:

Alone with Gandhari by Gord Sellar –  Kenny used to work fast food. He used to be a fat guy. But now, after a therapy that finally worked, with his taut belly and his clown-like facial tattoos, he’s a high ranking follower of Guru Deepak. Like all the other followers, he answers to the name Ronald, even though he prefers Ron. This opening paragraphs of this story were completely off-putting and disorienting to me, which makes the story hard to get into, but I’m happy I kept reading because I really ended up enjoying it, or at least I enjoyed the mental mind-fuck aspects of it.  Guru Deepak wants to help people change for the better, his followers will help him change the world. He is especially welcoming to people who need to stop eating fast food all the time. All are welcome, the blessings of Ghandhari are available to anyone who chooses to listen. The vegetarian lifestyle and meditation is probably good for Ron/Kenny’s health, but he’s unwittingly joined a cult. The hyped up Ronalds commit “Mac Attacks”, terrorizing patrons of fast food restaurants.   Ron/Kenny has been chosen by Deepak to lead an important mission to a corporate farm.  Far worse than eating a cow is abusing one on a farm, but what the Ronalds find on the farm isn’t exactly a cow. Is this a commentary on Fast Food or on food in general? A nightmarish satire? I’m not sure.

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After the Apocalypse, by Maureen F. McHugh

published in 2011

where I got it: library

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When we see the word “apocalypse”, everyone always thinks end of the world. And the world is a very big thing. But a small ending can also be an apocalypse. A marriage. A job. An expectation. An experiment. Because often it’s those things, those little, intimate things that many of us take for granted, that shatter our world when they end. Their endings become a person’s personal apocalypse, something to be survived.

Maureen McHugh’s slender volume of stories called After the Apocalpyse is stories of those little apocalypses. Some of the stories are true post apocalyptic tales, one even features zombies. But most? most are about those intimate endings, where the character’s world comes to an end, and they have to decide what they are going to do next: if they are going to give up and die, or if they are going to survive it.  Told in a very understated and matter of fact style, these stories have that bare bones feeling, with sentences that get to the point without the luxury of ornamentation.  McHugh doesn’t try to pretty up what her characters are going through, she just tells their stories.

Here are my thoughts on a few of the stories:

The Naturalist – probably the darkest and creepiest entry, this zombie story is truly post apocalyptic in more ways than one. In this future, zombie preserves also serve as prisons. Dump the prisoners into the preserve, and when the felons get tired of running and hiding, the zombies will eat them, problem solved. One incarcerated man decides to study the zombies, as if they were just another kind of animal.  He sets up a blind, but to attract the zombies for study, he’ll need some bait.

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m The Bible Repairman and other stories, by Tim Powers

Published in 2011 by Tachyon Publications

where I got it: purchased new

why I read it: if Tim Powers wrote it, I want to read it.

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Tim Powers has long been a favorite speculative fiction writer of mine.  I describe him as a spec fic writer and not a “SF” writer because most of his books take place in the past. For decades, he’s been writing alternate history with a paranormal twist.  Ghosts, voodoo, body switching, trapped souls, ancient demons, and mythological creatures abound. He’s writing what might have happened, what could have happened, what no one will ever tell you happened because no one would ever believe it.  But if it comes from Powers, I’m happy to believe every word.

I’ve read a handful of his novels over the years, my long time favorites being Last Call, The Anubis Gates and On Stranger Tides.  I’m sure I knew he’d written some short fiction, but I’d never come across any of it. When I saw a copy of his collection of short works The Bible Repairman,  it was a no brainer to buy it.  With 6 short stories (two of them really novellas) on the nature of souls and ghosts and things man perhaps was not meant to know, and a little blurb closing out each where he talks about how the story came into being, The Bible Repairman and other stories is a must have for any Powers fan.

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sorry for the crappy photo. . .

Nightflyers (short story collection) by George R R Martin

published in 1985 (stories written from 1973-1980)

why I read it: cuz I lurves me some Martin

where I got it: have no idea, it’s been on the bookshelf for a while.

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Thanks to HBO and a rather infamous 5th book,  just about everyone knows who George R R Martin is.   I’m not ashamed to admit it, Game of Thrones was my first Martin, and before I read it (this was maybe 5 years ago?), I’d never heard of him.  Many people know him as “that epic fantasy guy”.

what if I told you he wrote tons and tons of stuff before Game of Thrones was ever a twinkle in his eye? That he’d been writing short stories since the early 70’s?  Dreamsongs volumes one and two were released a few years back, and are known as the Martin short story collections. Containing everything from essays to short stories and novellas, to tv scripts to his thoughts on different parts of his life,  when it comes to page count they are just as epic as his fantasies.  However, if you’re looking for a smaller dose of early Martin, allow me to recommend a skinny little short story collection called Nightflyers. It’s unfortunate this little gem is out of print, it’s well worth the search on Amazon or ABE or e-bay, or you favorite local used bookstore.   Along with the novella Nightflyers, written in 1980, it includes 5 more short stories written during the 70s.   no dice? no worries, all the stories in Nightflyers are also in the Dreamsongs collection.

Another thing I’m not ashamed to admit is that I don’t read a lot of short story collections or anthologies. Just personal preference, I typically want something novella length or longer. Well, Martin and his Dreamsongs turned me into a short story fan, or at least a fan of his short stories.  And you know what?  I like his earlier science fiction based short works better than A Song of Ice and Fire, and Nightflyers is part of the reason why.

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some of the books reviewed here were free ARCs supplied by publishers/authors/other groups. Some of the books here I got from the library. the rest I *gasp!* actually paid for. I'll do my best to let you know what's what.