the Little Red Reviewer

Posts Tagged ‘short stories

Did you know Clarkesworld Magazine puts out yearly volumes, so you can get a year’s worth of all that edgy fantastical SFnal fiction all in one place?   And in case you missed it, I was recently over at SFSignal reviewing Clarkesworld Year Six.  if it strikes you fancy, check out all the Clarkesworld volumes here.

It’s worth it just for all that award nominated/ winning fiction from Cat Valente, Kij Johnson, Aliette de Bodard, and more.  Bottom line – if you want cutting edge science fiction, Clarkesworld has it, and Year Six is one of the strongest collections of science fiction I’ve read in a while.

 

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“The Ink Readers of Doi Saket” is available online at Tor.com. Head over, give it a read (don’t worry, it’s quick. and fun!), and come on back and let me know what you think.  and if his name sounds familiar, it’s because his novelette “The Boy Who Cast No Shadow” was nominate for a Hugo last year. Interested in what I thought of the rest of the Hugo nom’d short stories? Click here!

 

My thoughts on “The Ink Readers of Doi Saket” by Thomas Olde Heuvelt:

 

 

The story takes place in the Thai village of Doi Saket during the festival of Loi Krathong, when the river is filled with all manner of floating flowers and small boats. Within the floating flowers are the wishes of everyone in Thailand. Good health, long life, revenge, love, you know, the usual.  The villagers swim into the river to retrieve the wish filled boats and read the people’s wishes, knowing some of these wishes ARE going to come true, because that’s simply how this festival works. In the cases where the boat has capsized, specially trained monks read the smeared ink, and interpret what the person wanted as best they can.

 

(In a way, Doi Saket reminded me a little of The North Pole, where every child’s letter to Santa goes. Ask Santa for a video game, you might get it. Ask Santa for a pony, you’ll probably still just get a video game. Did Santa bring you something you asked for, or did you ask for something that was within your parent’s gift buying  budget?)

 

The villagers in Doi Saket also have wishes – to not die, not to have to wait so long for dinner to be ready, to be able to satisfy a lover. you know, the usual things. Young Tangmoo doesn’t really have anything to wish for. He enjoys watching the spectacle, and only at the last possible second does he find something useful to wish for.

 

There are some shady dealings happening in Doi Saket, and in too many ways that is an inadvertently integral part of the festival. Everything has to happen just so, so something else can happen, so something else can happen. It’s all connected like clockwork, and no one but the reader gets to appreciate all the connections.
The narrative weaves back around and through itself, with some wishes being granted through karma and coincidence, others through supernatural means, and others through, well, other means that I won’t go into.  And so much of the writing is just plain funny!  With so much of this ballot taking an emotional toll, can I tell you how much of a joy it was to just laugh out loud at a funny scene, or a descriptive nickname, or just the lightness and joy in living of the whole thing?

You can read John Chu’s Hugo nominated short story “The Rain That Falls on You From Nowhere” over at Tor.com.  I’ll be posting reviews of the nominated short stories all week, click here to see how far I’ve gotten through the ballot!

“My thoughts on The Water That Falls on You From Nowhere”, by John Chu:

No one knows how or why the water started falling, but once it appears it tends to follow the laws of physics. Outside, inside, summer or winter, it doesn’t matter. If you tell a lie, you are going to get wet. A whopper of a lie means a torrential drenching, whereas a little almost lie will merely spike the humidity in the room. Stating a paradox or open ended possible lie puts the speaker in such a state of painful anxiety, that doing exactly that has become quite a fad. Your best bet? Tell the truth or stay silent. No one ever drowned in a lie of omission.
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Matt and Gus have been together for a while now, and although Gus wants to sing his love from the rooftops, Matt still hasn’t come out to his parents.  In a do or die moment, they decide to visit Matt’s family for Christmas.
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This is a coming out story with a Science Fictional lie detector test.
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Matt has told his parents…. sort of.  As he explains to Gus, when writing or speaking to his parents, he uses the non-gendered Mandarin word that means sweetheart/spouse/lover. So his parents already know Matt has met the love of his life, they just don’t know that his sweetheart is a man.
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The story has a lot of Mandarin phrases, with Matt’s translation for Gus’s benefit. There’s some nice subtext here, of what’s lost in translation, either because the word or phrase doesn’t really have an English equivalent, or because the person doing the translating (Matt) is trying to insulate all parties from what  could be hurtful information.
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It’s an awkward Christmas dinner to be sure. There are some horrible scenes between Matt and his sister (not horrible writing, beautiful writing. Horrible as in the things she says to him, the things she expects from him, the things she accuses him of. Someone just needs to punch his sister in the face).  While the siblings are verbally sparring and soaking the entire kitchen, something wonderful is happening in the next room.  Something that won’t ever get lost in translation.
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At first, Matt annoyed me. He struck me as weak willed and wishy washy. But once I met his sister, those personality traits began to make much more sense, and they both were perfectly realistic characters.  There’s a quick scene between Gus and Matt’s parents that had me instantly in love with them.

 

All of the Hugo nominated short stories are available to read online, and you can read Rachel Swirsky’s lyrically haunting “If You Were A Dinosaur, My Love”, from the March issue of Apex Magazine, here.    (I’ll be posting reviews of the Hugo Nom’d short stories all week)

 

Here are my thoughts on “If You Were A Dinosour, My Love”, by Rachel Swirsky.

 

Half song, half prose poem, half prayer, with each paragraph beginning with the last phrase of the previous paragraph, the story put me in the mind of how a masterfully composed symphony returned to variations on a theme.

The title is the first line of the story, and it builds so very slowly –  she’s going through a thought experiment of if he was a dinosaur.  That his singing voice would be beautiful, that the geneticists would be all over him, that so he wouldn’t be lonely they would clone a mate for him, and even though she’d have lost him to a lady dinosaur, she wouldn’t be sad for losing him.

This is not a story, this is a kaleidoscope, with each touch, each incremental move of the barrel bringing something completely different into focus, taking you somewhere else, taking you one step closer to where the narrator is, at first, afraid to go. She wants to give you the imaginative, the impossible, the fantastically beautifully absurd before forcing you down to reality. You’re not sure where the story is going, you’re spiraling towards something, obviously, but the pitch perfect imagery is such a distraction that you don’t really care where you’re going. And then the end smacks you like a T-Rex’s jaw clamping down on your neck, and you suddenly know, without a doubt, exactly where that first sentence came from, where every sentence and thought came from. But a T-Rex is not about to eat you, this is reality and you are unfortunately, doomed to live.

You’ll be lured in by the lyricalness, pulled in further by the inescapable emotion, and then profoundly moved by the haunting devastation. This story killed me a little bit, and then I read it again, and it killed me a little bit more.  A truly amazing piece.

ApexMag46Swirsky

 

This post is part of the Irredeemable blog tour!  Check out Tomorrow Comes Media to see other bloggers involved with this tour and learn more about other blog tours.

irredeemable coverIrredeemable, by Jason Sizemore

published April 2014

where I got in: purchased the e-book

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Advertised as a horror anthology, Irredeemable has plenty of awful people who get exactly what they deserve in horrific ways with no hope of escape. But it’s also peppered with Urban fantasy stories, straight up science fiction tales, and the most horrific stories in which yes, someone did something bad, but surely not so bad to deserve what they get. And this deep in the Appalachian hills, where fear, religion, suspicion, and xenophobia run rampant, there’s always someone available to get what they deserve.

If straight up, nail biting, edge of your seat horror is your thing, be sure to read “City Hall”, in which a human resources department employes a very unique method of saving taxpayer dollars; “Ice Cream At the Falls”, an open ended story in which you’ll probably be cheering when this particular asshole gets exactly what he deserves after learning the truth about a false conviction; “Sleeping Quartet”, in which “what could possibly go wrong?” is taken further than you’d expect, and  “The Dead & Metty Crawford”, which is the absolute creepiest most disturbing zombie story possibly ever written, among many others.

Quite a few of the stories have an urban fantasy and science fictional twist, and it didn’t surprise me in the least that those were the ones I was most drawn to.  Throw in aliens, or zombies, or voodoo, or robots, or space stations, and I am all over that. And Science Fiction horror? Now we are talking!  If this paragraph is sounding like more your cuppa tea, “Plug and Play”, a darkly humorous story about a drug mule; “Mr. Templar”, in which robots are all that’s left on Earth after an apocalypse; and “Sonic Scarring”, in which what’s left of humanity hides in the hills after an alien invasion were written just for you.

With everything from gothic horror to post apocalyptic science fiction, the connecting thread is that of characters trying to escape the consequences of their decisions, and nearly begging the reader to forgive them.

Read the rest of this entry »

irredeemable badge

Be sure to check out the rest of the blog tour hosts, and Tomorrow Comes Media for more information on their other blog tours!

 

After reading Jason’s short story collection Irredeemable (watch for the review later today!), I was brimming with questions for him. The interview below just scratches the surface of everything I wanted to know about the collection, where his ideas come from, all the other projects he’s involved in.  Luckily I’ll have plenty of time to question and pester him later this year when I see him at ConText!  And if you’ve got questions yourself, be sure to pester Jason on twitter, @apexjason. We should probably ask him when he finds time to sleep. ;)

Jason Sizemore

Let’s get to the interview!

LRR: You know those “book blind dates” at bookstores, where they cover a book in brown paper, and write things on the paper like “historical fiction!”, “dinosaurs!” and “ray guns!”? What should go on the outside of Irredeemable when it’s covered up to be a book blind date?

J.S.: “Just deserts!”

LRR: What are some of your favorite stories in the collection? Which ones were the most challenging to write?

J.S.: As a huge geek and software developer, I find myself interested in issues involving artificial intelligence and evolving consciousness. “Mr. Templar” is my post-apocalyptic take on that concept where humans destroy the world and only a small handful of androids and robots still exist. Mr. Templar is searching for his creator. It is a bittersweet, touching, and charming story, and by far my favorite.

The most challenging to write was “For the Sake of Pleasing.” I wanted to write something longer than 10,000 words outside a sub-genre I usually write in. At the time, I was reading the Night Watch series by Sergei Lukyanenko, and wanted to try my hand at a dark fantasy similar to his. It took me months to get “For the Sake of Pleasing” to a point that made me happy.

irredeemable cover Read the rest of this entry »

long hidden anthology

The Long Hidden anthology edited by Rose Fox and Daniel José Older is diverse, globe spanning, fascinating, inspiring, and gloriously long. so long in fact, that it would be impossible to talk about my favorite stories in just one blog post. So I’ve split it into three.  This is part two, click here for part one.

 

If you’re just joining us, Long Hidden: Speculative Fiction from the Margins of History includes over two dozen stories that aren’t usually told, or at least don’t typically make it to the mainstream. If you’re looking for some variety in your reading, and looking to support a worthy project of one of the smaller publishing houses, this is the anthology for you. Global points of view, characters of all genders and preferences, characters who maintain their dignity in front of the worst humanity has to offer, people who were brutalized and/or executed for standing up for people who couldn’t stand up for themselves.  These are the stories of people who stood up and were heard, when surrounded by people who told them to shut up and sit down, if they deigned to speak to them at all.

As I mentioned in the first article on Long Hidden, many of the stories had me doing web searches to learn more about what really happened. To that end, I have included some weblinks in the hopes that you too will be interested in learning more about the contexts in which these stories swim. Some of the characters might be fictionalized, but none of their circumstances are.

 

Here are some thoughts on my favorites of the middle of Long Hidden:

“The Witch of Tarup” by Claire Humphrey (Denmark 1886)  – Dagny has just recently come to the hamlet of Tarup, and a few weeks after she wed Bjorn Moller, he suffered an apoplexy (perhaps a stroke?) that rendered him unable to speak. The wind has stopped blowing, the windmill has stopped moving, and with no way to grind it the wheat will rot. Dagny is desperate for the assistance of the village’s local witch, and visiting the local wives for information. On a lyrically repetitive wild goose chase they send her, offering hints and suggestions, of who to get a scarf from, and who to have coffee with, and the like. A method of communication with her husband is finally suggested, and she learns who the witch is. This is one of the more light hearted stories in the collection, and quite fun to read.

Read the rest of this entry »

long hidden anthologyLong Hidden: Speculative Fiction from the Margins of History, edited by Rose Fox and Daniel José Older

published May 2014

where I got it: Received review copy from the publisher. (Thanks Crossed Genres!)

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I’ve tried for a few days to write an introduction to this anthology that beats around the bush, that avoids the politics. Beating around the bush has proved impossible in the short span of time i give myself to write reviews.

 

So I will be blunt.

 

Unless you live under a rock, you know that historically the vast majority of speculative fiction published in the English speaking world has been written by straight white dudes, and what they wrote and published reflected their worldview.  I have nothing against their worldview, it’s just that I know there are about a billion other (six billion, working on seven, actually) worldviews out there, including my own.  I’d like to hear those voices too.  We (and by we, I mean me, and people like me: white, midwestern, don’t know any language but English) are getting points of view we have never seen before. Our eyes are being opened, and there is a blinding rainbow to be seen.

 

And I couldn’t be happier.  The world’s cultural  history doesn’t belong to just one group, so why should our speculative fiction?  Long Hidden: Speculative Fiction from the Margins of History offers over two dozen diverse stories about those who have been brushed aside, marginalized, been told that people aren’t interested in their stories, in too many cases been told to go away and shut up. Well, I might be a white girl from the midwest who led the easiest life you can imagine, but damnit, I am interested in these stories.

 

Yes, this is speculative fiction, but it is also historical fiction. Along with beautiful and sometimes haunting artwork,  each story in Long Hidden is subtitled by a place and a year, connecting and cementing everything that happens in this book with events that shaped history, many of which circle around colonialism, exploitation, slavery, and institutionalized dehumanization. Geographically, the stories range from India to Denmark, to China and Guatemala, and everywhere inbetween, offering a literal planetary scope of points of view. Dazzling prose, fascinating characters, and nearly everything I read had me running to the internet, Google, Google Maps, Wikipedia, typing in places, dates, names, and events. The internet isn’t an ideal source to be sure, but a collection of stories that has me asking myself “what was happening around this story? What is the context, why are these people so afraid, what else is happening here?” and instantly wanting to know more of the non-fiction that the fiction pointed to, that certainly that had to be one of the many purposes of this collection. I hope that you too will be interesting in doing further reading on your own, to further understand the contexts of these stories.  Because without context? it’s just a story. And nothing in Long Hidden is just a story. And that’s the point.

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wild and wishful KontisWild and Wishful, Dark and Dreaming, by Alethea Kontis

published Oct 2013

where I got it: received review copy from the publisher (Thanks Alliteration Ink!)

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Before last week, I’d only read a few Alethea Kontis stories, mostly what had been published in Apex Magazine. But I’d like what I’d read, and was interested in reading more. Kontis is a writer known for everything from fairy tale retellings, to secret history, to horror stories.  She doesn’t let genre boundaries limit what she writes, and many of these stories were inspired by events from her life or her friend’s lives.  She lives with one foot in a magical world, where anything is possible.

Her collection, Wild and Wishful, Dark and Dreaming, contains everything mentioned in the title and more. These eighteen short stories and two poems range from dark horror to science fiction, to coming of age, to revenge, often returning to themes of facing our fears, traps and escape, and that we ultimately don’t have to go it alone. Many of these pieces are perfect for reading out loud, and some of them were even designed that way.

What’s nice about single author collections is that the author’s voice can be heard as a constant note through the entire book. And Kontis’s voice is here, loud and strong. this is a woman who wants to take you new place and show you paths you didn’t see before.

Ultimately, Kontis is a woman who knows she’s got a story you want to hear.

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Robot-UprisingRobot Uprisings edited by Daniel H. Wilson and John Joseph Adams

published April 2014

Where I got it: purchased new

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Robots are supposed to help us, right? they’re supposed to do the jobs that humans don’t want to or can’t do, right? and thanks to Asimov’s three (four!) laws, there’s nothing to worry about.

 

right?

 

wrong.  Leave it to folks like Alan Dean Foster, Seanan McGuire, Charles Yu, Cory Doctorow, Ernest Cline, Nnedi Oforakor and others to remind me that robots do exactly what we program them to do, and in many cases this is fucking terrifying.

 

I just about every story in this anthology, we played God. We created something, typically in our own image, that would be able to do things we couldn’t.  Our creations raise and teach our children, solve our computer programming issues, clean up radiation, do jobs that are too dangerous for humans to do, protect company assets, keep us healthy, etc. When we’re so sure our inventions will help us towards a better world, what could possibly go wrong?

 

But lets say we succeed. the computer programming issue has been solved, the kids are grown up, the asset has been protected, diseases have been cured, the radiation has been cleaned up. What do we do when our problem is fixed and our shiny tools are no longer needed?  Robots are designs to work. they are not designed to stop.

Read the rest of this entry »


2014 Hugo Awards

I reviewed some Hugo nominated stuff. Click here for the list.

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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.