the Little Red Reviewer

Posts Tagged ‘short stories

As many of you know, I’m an interviewer over at Apex Magazine. I get to read some stories way, way ahead of time, and then interview the author. As one of the magazine editors put it to me when I first came on board “ask questions that are compelling. Make readers want to read the story”.  Thanks to that piece of advice, I think my interviews across the board have gotten better.  Working with Apex is an amazing experience.


Along with the interviews I conduct, much of Apex Magazine’s fiction is available for free, online. But each issue also includes special content, such as a  bonus story or article, or an excerpt from a novel that’s available to subscribers only.


Know someone who keeps saying “I should really read more short fiction, I just don’t know where to start”? Are you planning to get an e-reader for a friend or family member for the holidays? Apex Magazine makes a great gift! In fact, Apex is currently running a subscription drive, which means you can get a year’s subscription for only $17.95.  It’s the gift that keeps giving. It’s cheaper than dinner and a movie,  and will go further than a  B&N gift card. Also? Read Apex Mag and you’ll have the opportunity to say  “oh yeah, I read all those award winning stores and editors before they were famous”. Because all that fiction? All that artwork? That costs money.  And like any business, the more funding Apex Magazine has, the more fiction, poetry, non-fiction and artwork they can purchase.


Wanna give Apex a whirl? In celebration of their subscription drive and in celebration of the start of the giving season, I am giving away two gift subscriptions to Apex Magazine. All you need is an e-mail address, and to be a resident of planet Earth.  Leave a comment down below, and leave me some way to reach you if you win (e-mail or twitter). I’ll be choosing two winners on Nov 10th.


Still not sure?  Here’s a taste of what Apex brought the world in the last year or so:

ApexMag11_large NOv 2014

I love this cover art.  I can trace the lines with my finger and discover all sorts of directions and shapes.  Among other gems, this issue included an excerpt of Lavie Tidhar’s A Man Lies Dreaming,  Elizabeth Bear’s “Tiger! Tiger!”, short fiction from Chikodili Emelumadu, Ginger Weil, and Rich Larson, and award winning fiction from Apex Mag‘s  Steal the Spotlight contest.


ApexMag01_large Jan

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bone swans cooneyBone Swans, stories by C.S.E. Cooney

published July 2015

where I got it: received review copy from the publisher (Thanks Mythic Delirium Books!)



Gene Wolfe wrote the introduction to Bone Swans, and describes her writing style simply as “pure Cooney”. He then offers a challenge to any reader of this collection: to define “pure Cooney”.


The tl;dr version of this review is my answer to Mr. Wolfe’s challenge:


Claire Cooney’s writing style is lyrical, playful, poetic, and gleeful. It reflects the pure joy she gets from the act of storytelling. You know that look on a child’s face when they’re telling you a new joke they’ve learned? they get this “boy are you gonna love this!” look on their face? You almost don’t want to hear the end of the joke, because you want that child to be that happy forever. that look on their face? That moment is what Cooney writes. You don’t want the story to end, because you don’t want that feeling of gleefulness to end. To sweeten the deal, she writes prose that begs to be read outloud, offers up word plays and alliterations, and her metaphors shamelessly flirt with the literal.  This is prose that would tap out it’s own rhythm if given a set of drums or a page of staff paper. The greatest trick Cooney ever played is convincing the world that storytelling like this is easy.


However, these are not gleeful or happy stories. Yes, they are poetic, playful, and witty and darkly humorous, but they are not happy. These are stories of revenge, human sacrifice, a side of fairy tales even darker than Grimm’s,  and the damn fucking creepiest version of an afterlife (if that’s even what it was) that I have ever seen. Cooney seems to return over and over to a theme of “you can’t escape what you are”.  How does someone who oozes joyfulness write this dark, disturbing violence?  Let me show you:

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apex-world-sf-volume-4I had so much I wanted to stay about The Apex Book of World SF Vol 4 edited by Mahvesh Murad that I couldn’t possibly jam it all into one blog post.  Last week I talked about a few of my favorite stories in the anthology, and today I’m going to talk about a few more. With over 24 stories in the anthology, it was easy to have a very long list of favorites. I took the list of stories I really enjoyed, and cut it in half. Because I need to leave you something to discover on your own, don’t I?


Here are my thoughts on yet more of my favorites out of The Apex Book of World SF Vol 4.


Single Entry, by Celeste Rita Baker – Written in dialect, it was all I could do not to read this entire story out-loud. You can feel the energy of the carnival in the rhythm of the words, hear people singing and cheering. Dressed as the planet Earth, the protagonist is a single entry in the carnival. But where is the music coming from? How does their costume swell and shrink to fit through every door and fill every plaza?  Momentarily so big people can see themselves and their homes on the planetary surface, the walking dancing planet loses steam and shrinks back down to human size. And then keeps shrinking.  Just a beautiful story to read, it feels like a song whose time signature changes as time flows.


The Language of Knives by Haralambi Markov – I’m not sure how much I enjoyed reading this gory, grisly story, but i certainly won’t ever forget it. In a bakehouse, a loved one is prepared to be fed to the gods. His family strips his body, dries his bones, makes him into meal.   A death rite combines with a coming of age rite, wrapped in a story of love both romantic and familial.  That this story is really a love sonnet makes swallowing the subject matter a very strange experience.


Pepe by Tang Fei – Pepe and her brother are at an amusement park. But they aren’t real children. Created with springs inside, Pepe, her brother, and all their siblings were created to tell stories. But oh, the stories they tell!  They were  born many years ago, and in the time since, their siblings have been destroyed. Such a dichotomy in this story, Pepe and her brother are lightheartedly enjoying the amusement park, the rides, the lights, the laughter of children. But her brother dwells on their dark past, the memories of watching the other storytelling children pulled out of crowds and forced to talk, forced to expose their identities. Remember the movie AI: Artificial Intelligence? this story feels a little like that, but completely from the kids points of view. They never asked for this life, they were never given a choice. They were designed and programmed, and are now locked in a life they wouldn’t choose for themselves. But Pepe’s brother has one last choice to make, one last opportunity for freedom.

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apex-world-sf-volume-4The Apex Book of World SF, Vol 4, edited by Mahvesh Murad

published Aug 25, 2015

where I got it: receive review copy from the publisher (thanks Apex!)




Quick!  how many anthology series can you count on one hand!  Some of you probably need both hands and a foot.  If you’re looking for a new anthology (or just want to read some compelling and fun fiction), allow me to introduce you to the Apex Books of World SF Volume 4, which showcase speculative fiction from around the globe.  Lavie Tidhar edited the first three volumes, and he’s passed the reigns to Mahvesh Murad.  I’ve read and reviewed the first and third volumes of this series (and I’ve got Vol 2 around here somewhere), and Lavie, I gotta tell you, Mahvesh put one helluva book together. You better make sure you’ve contracted her for at least three more of these!  In more than 24 stories, this volume takes us from Pakistan to Israel to Mexico to Iceland to Bangladesh to Uganda to Singapore to Kenya and beyond.


Reading science fiction from elsewhere feels a little like reading mythology from elsewhere. Mythology doesn’t exist in a vacuum, and neither does speculative fiction. Both are affected by current and previous cultural mores, ecology, weather, local resources, politics, rivals, etc. Well, so is any kind of story telling, and science fiction is just another type of story to tell.  And like mythology, people everywhere use fantastic fiction to explain something that seems like magic to the uninitiated. I used the term fantastic fiction because these stories bleed through and beyond the assumed limitations of science and even speculative fiction – in this collection you’ll find magical realism, mythology retellings, the languages of artificial intelligences, mourning practices, experimenting scientists, families torn apart, and more. A handful of these stores are available online, if you want a sample:


The Good Matter by Nene Ormes (at Io9)

Six Things We Found During the Autopsy by Kuzhali Manickavel (Apex Magazine issue 76)

The Four Generations of Chang E by Zen Cho


My absolute favorites in this anthology were Like a Coin Entrusted in Faith  by Shimon Adaf and The Four Generations of Chang E, by Zen Cho.  Here are my thoughts on those and a number of others.  I’ve split this review into two parts, because I just had so much I wanted to say!


Setting up Home by Sabrina Huang – a very quick and very effective story in which an amnesiac man’s empty apartment slowly fills up with furniture, gifts, and household items. It’s quite magical actually. The final item is accompanied by a note from his father, explaining how this final gift should be “used”. There is a lack of overt context and background,  but you’ll figure out what’s going on pretty quickly. I do wonder though, how the man will react when he figures out what’s happened.


In Her Head, In Her Eyes, by Yukimi Ogawa – young Hase is a servant girl at the compound of wealthy indigo dyers. She does her job, but everyone treats her cruelly. She claims to be from a mythical island, and here to learn about patterns, that she’s been tasked with bringing home as many patters as she can. What makes Hase so weird is that she wears a metal helmet that she never takes off. It covers her face, and can’t be pulled or pried off.  Hase also seems to love being teased and treated badly, as to her, this is just another pattern. What’s really on her home island? When someone finally does she her face, that’s when the story really gets weird.  Hase certainly did learn something from her time with the indigo dyers, and it’s not what anyone expected.

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apex-world-sf-volume-4I’ve been following the Apex Book of World SF series for a while, and was thrilled when the fourth volume was announced.  The series had previously been edited by Lavie Tidhar, and now the editing reins have been passed to Mahvesh Murad. A new editor can mean a new direction, and a new style. No matter the direction, readers are guaranteed a mind bending taste of speculative fiction from around the world, including stories from Spain, Sweden, Kenya, Uganda, Taiwan, Japan, India, Israel, Greece, Iceland, Pakistan, Philippines, Czech Republic and more. The Apex Book of World SF Vol 4 hits bookstore shelves and e-readers on August 25th. Wanna pre-order? Click here to order direct from Apex Publications*.

If you’re looking to read beyond your geographic horizon, this anthology series is a great place to start. And yes, it’s an anthology series, but it’s not a series. You can start anywhere.

Mahvesh Murad was kind enough to give me a behind the scenes look into her editing process for this new volume.  And then we got on some tangents, and talked about radio, her new podcast Midnight in Karachi, and her Dragonlance reread over at After the interview, I’ve got some links to reviews to previous volumes in the World SF series so you can see what others (including me) thought of this anthology.

let’s get to the interview!

mahvesh murad

Little Red Reviewer: Tell us a little about the behind the scenes selection process for this anthology. Were there open submissions? Did you solicit stories from authors you already knew? What if you wanted to purchase a story that didn’t yet have an English translation?

Mahvesh Murad: The Apex Book of World SF is primarily a reprint anthology so we looked at work already published in various anthologies or online all over the world. There weren’t open submissions as such, no, but we did reach out to editors we knew who had worked on or curated stories from writers outside of the US/UK mainstream to see if they had stories we could look at. There were some stories I knew I wanted as soon as we started because I’d read them recently and they had left their mark, so we reached out directly to those writers, specifically about certain stories.

We have a few translations in this volume but none were translated for the anthology. If a story didn’t have an English translation, chances are I wouldn’t be able to read it so wouldn’t know if I wanted it or not:). It would be fantastic for this anthology to grow to a point where we can commission translations though!

LRR: What are some of your favorite stories from the new anthology?

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falling in lovewith hominidsFalling In Love With Hominids by Nalo Hopkinson

published Aug 11, 2015

where I got it: received review copy from the publisher (thanks Tachyon!)



Showcasing fiction from as far back as 2002, Falling in Love With Hominids is a vast and varied collection of Nalo Hopkinson’s short fiction. With a feeling of a retrospective art collection, the stories are everything from straight up science fiction to literary fiction to escapades of pure frolicsome imagination.  For an author you’ve never read before, short fiction might be the best way to get a taste of their fiction, to see if this is someone you want to make a 300 page investment in.  I also enjoy the reading freedom of single author collections. I can jump around in the table of contents, and guilt-free read the collection cover to cover in any order I please (I do this with all anthologies, actually. Even though I know editors put the TOC in a particular order for particular reasons).

also? Just look at that gorgeous cover art. Just look at it!

Hopkinson opens each story with a few sentences about where the idea for the story came from, and in a few cases a single sentence that acts more as a subtitle.  There is a lot of literary fiction in Falling in Love with Hominids, even a Shakespeare homage.  But my tastes lean towards the easier to digest, so my favorites included the  imaginative flights of fancy, the flirtations with science fiction, the fairy tale retellings.   And that’s probably the best thing about this collection: no matter what your particular tastes are, Hopkinson has probably written it.

The flights of fancy I keep mentioning include “Emily Breakfast”, the story of a farmer with a flying cat and  three fire-breathing chickens named Lunch, Dinner, and Emily Breakfast; and “Herbal”, in which an elephant suddenly appears in a woman’s high-rise apartment and when an elephant is suddenly thundering through your tiny apartment, what can you do?
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2015-04-05 20.33.31The Gabble and Other Stories, by Neal Asher (short story collection)

published 2008, Night Shade Edition published 2015

where it got it: received review copy from Night Shade Books (thanks!)









My first Neal Asher novel was The Skinner, an edgy  space opera that I’ve lovingly described as “magnificently disgusting”.  In that novel, the name of the game is adapt or die, and the denizens of the planet Spatterjay take full advantage of evolutionary opportunities. Even visitors who stick around long enough can watch their bodies change into something not quite human.  The Skinner made me an instant fan of Asher, and I’ve been watching for his titles ever since.

Many of Asher’s novels take place in his Polity Universe, which in a similar fashion to Banks’ Culture novels,  the novels all take place in the same universe, and occasionally characters from one book show up or are mentioned in another, but you can generally jump around in the order the books were published.   Not sure Asher is for you? Not sure you want to dive into a new universe? The Gabble, a short story collection of stores from the Polity will answer both of those questions for you.  If you ask me, you can just answer those two questions with a resounding Yes and be done with it.

What I loved about how Asher does alien planets and aliens is that everything is so damn alien. Why should aliens have two arms, two legs, a head, a nose and a mouth? If that configuration is unique to Earth, it follows that every planet will have a unique configuration based on evolutionary needs, the planet’s unique environs, and any one of a million other variables in how life works. No one we run into is going to look like us, think like us, or communicate like us. There is no gentleness here, no Star Trek style diplomacy.  Some species simply do not communicate with others, and humans are quite tasty.  It might sound harsh, but this is how nature works.   When it comes down to it, we are just animals in a food chain.

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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.