the Little Red Reviewer

Posts Tagged ‘short stories

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!)

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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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flights of fictionFlights of Fiction, edited by Gery Deer and Barbara Huiner Deer

published in 2013

where I got it: received a copy from Gery Deer (thanks Gery!)

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I’m one of those terrible people who ignores the table of contents in an anthology. I read the stories in whatever order I please. Yes, I know this negates all the hard work the editor has put into choosing a proper order for the stories, and yet. And yet I should I have read Flights of Fiction in order, or at least read the opening story first, and the closing story last. The opening story, “The Dead of Winter” is one helluva opener – dark, subtle and twisty, and the closing story, “Kayfabe”, balances a secret of magic with the inevitability of a life at its end. This anthology was put together by WOWA, the Western Ohio Writers Association. A humorous description of how the book came to exist is on the back cover:

 

“in 2008, a group of authors in Dayton, Ohio, got together for the sole purprose of ripping each other to shreds, leaving behind the mangled hopes of promising scribes who lay finally broken and decaying on the floor. After that, robbed of all dignity, they went out for coffee and decided to write a book.”

 

All of the stories take place in Ohio, but you don’t need to be from Ohio (or even be able to find it on a map) to enjoy this collection. Here are some thoughts on my favorite stories:

“The Dead of Winter” by Michael Martin – A near-perfect opener to set the tone of some of the darker tales, with an effective whisper of a first line:

 

“What I’m going to tell you only makes sense if you believe that I love my wife”.

 

A post-apocalyptic middle America isn’t a new playground by any means, but pay close attention to the man’s relationship and interaction with his wife. How he makes sure she’s protected, how he takes care of her as if she can’t take care of herself, her silence. Your observant mind is telling you one thing, but the man in the story, he’s telling you something very different. I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop, for “it” to happen, what I didn’t realize until the closing sentence was that it had already happened, and he truly does love his wife. I fricken’ loved this story.

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Cold Comfort and other talesCold Comfort and Other Tales by David McDonald

published December 2014

where I got it: received review copy from the author (Thanks David!)

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Beginnings are important.

 

Like a first impression, an author has one sentence, one chance to make in initial impression on the reader. We’ve all come across lackluster openings, openings that didn’t inspire, or confused, or simply made you scratch your head. Maybe you kept reading, maybe not.

 

For me, the ideal opening sentence is a perfect balance between nowhere near enough information, and just enough to draw me in. Not unlike that first floral nose of a glass of wine – you get the aroma, a suggestion of what’s to come, but little to no information about the mouthfeel or finish you’re about to experience. You take a sip because that first scent was intriguing. The titular story of Cold Comfort and Other Tales has just the kind of opening I dream of: perfectly balanced yet minimal information with just the barest hints of the entire worldbuilding of the story:

 

Vanja shivered as the icy wind pried at her furs with cruel fingers

 

What a tease! and I’m instantly curious. Is she used to the cold? Was she planning on spending so much time outside? Is this normal weather?  Time to find out what this wine tastes like. My first sip was fantastic, and it just got better from there.

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then againDivision by Zero #3: Then Again, an anthology of the MiFiWriters group

published Nov 6 2014

Where I got it: borrowed

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I knew there were a bunch of speculative fiction writers groups here in Michigan, but I didn’t know one of them published annual anthologies! How cool is that?  MiFiWriters is based in Michigan, and exists to promote the writing of science fiction by Michiganders.  They recently published Then Again, the third anthology in their annual Division by Zero series.  They choose a different theme each year, and the theme of Then Again was time travel. Imagine all the things you could do if you could travel through time: save lives, stop horrible things from happening, solve crimes before they happened. But what about the dangers of time travel? What if you only made the situation worse? What it time travel tore holes in spacetime? Ah, the beauty of what if!

 

Here are a few of my thoughts on some of my favorite stories from Then Again.

 

Time Enough, by Matthew Rohr  –  This was my favorite story in the collection. When Wilson Andrews successfully crosses a Campbell Bridge to go back in time, he doesn’t exactly come out when he expected.  He knows his mission to kill a certain person, but first he’s got to find her.  The scientists knew the journey through time would scramble his brain a little, so they’ve imprinted him with briefings and recordings to help him along the way.  The story involves a lot of flashbacks and partial memories, so it feels like it is not told chronologically, giving it a feeling of wonderfully off kilter weirdness. Remember the movie Memento? This story feels like that a little, with Wilson coming across faces and voices that jog his memory. As his memory slowly returns, Wilson is able to put the puzzle pieces together. Once he realizes what is going on, will he be able to carry out the murder?  Even though there is closure at the end, I liked that this story feels like a prologue or middle chapter of a longer book.

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datlow-yarbro

I’ve been lucky enough to interview some pretty cool people over the years.  But Ellen Datlow takes “pretty cool” to a whole new level. An editor of short fiction for nearly thirty years, Ellen holds four Hugo awards, ten World Fantasy awards, five Locus awards, three Bram Stoker awards, and I’ll stop there even though I could happily continue to list her achievements for the next hours or so. She’s co-edited twenty one Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror volumes, edited six Best Horror of the Year volumes (through Nightshade Books), and most recently was the editor for Lovecraft’s Monsters and The Cutting Room for Tachyon.

To say she is a rock star of the industry is quite the understatement.

Last weekend at the World Fantasy Convention, Ellen Datlow was awarded the prestigious Lifetime Achievement award, along with Chelsea Quinn Yarbro.

I was first introduced to her work through one of many anthologies she co-edited with Terri Windling, Snow White, Blood Red, which has since become a beloved paperback on my bookshelf.  That collection would become the first in a series of six, and many of them recently become available as e-books through Open Road Media.  If you are interested in fairy tale retellings, dark fantasy, or the short fiction of acclaimed authors such as Joyce Carol Oates,  Jane Yolen, Neil Gaiman, Tanith Lee, Charles deLint, Gene Wolfe, Storm Constantine and many others, this is an anthology series you should consider.

Datlow Windling fairy tale anthos

Ellen was kind enough to answer a few of my questions on her lifetime in the field and the joys and challenges of putting anthologies together.  Let’s get to the interview!

ellen datlow

LRR: I remember reading Snow White, Blood Red in the late 90s, it was a collection my soon-to-be husband and I bonded over. That was your first Fairy Tale anthology with Terri Windling, and it would become a series of six anthologies. When you start a new anthology, how do you know it will be a “one of”, such as Queen Victoria’s Book of Spells or a series, like the Fairy Tale or Best Horror of the Year volumes?

ED: That’s really lovely to hear!

One rarely knows in advance if an anthology will sell well enough for the publisher to offer a contract for a second, although for a year’s best one always hopes it will become a series as that’s its purpose. Snow White, Blood Red was intended to be a one-shot but it did well enough that our editor commissioned another (or two that time). I don’t think we ever got more than a two-book contract at a time for what became a six book series. It just ended up that way. And by the time the sixth came out the publisher had changed hands (possibly twice) and I was burned out on retold fairy tales — for a time.

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Scale-Bright - Benjanun Sriduangkaew

As I mentioned in my review of Scale-Bright, there are three short stories that are connect to and have been included with the novella. Some of you have already seen these, as “The Crows Her Dragon’s Gate” was published in Beneath Ceaseless Skies in 2013, “Woman of the Sun, Woman of the Moon” was published in GigaNotoSaurus in 2012, and “Chang’e Dashes From the Moon” was first published in Expanded Horizons in 2012.   The short fiction take places chronologically before Scale-Bright, and they are the mythological foundations for what occurs in Sriduangkaew’s newest contemporary urban fantasy.

 

The too long didn’t read of this review is that if you aren’t reading Benjanun Sriduangkaew, you need to be.

 

No bones about it, these short stories are gloriously bewitching, and the more I read them, the more they glowed. As with all mythology, these are stories are that coming to me through the eras of history. Like the dying light of a super nova that takes generations to reach me,  being warped and dimmed by clouds of dust and time along the way. But this light, was different.  These are characters who are saying “this is my real story, this is what really happened, this is the true color and depth of my light, of my life”.  In these retellings of how Xihe gave birth to the sun, of how Houyi the archer God shot down the suns, and of how Chang’e became the Goddess of the moon, Sriduangkaew has done the impossible: she’s convinced Goddesses who exist on high to tell us lowly mortals the silken secrets that shine deep within their hearts.

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bastion 6Bastion Science Fiction Magazine, issue 6

Published September 2014

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

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This was a very satisfying, yet difficult issue to get through. Let me unpack that a little, because it sounds a little mean, and I meant it to be the opposite.  this isn’t a very long issue, so I’d planned to binge read the entire thing in one or two sittings. The  stories in issue 6 focus around death and memories, risk and responsibility, things we all have to deal with but are terrified to talk about.  After a couple of stories I needed to take a break and read or watch something happy.  But it was really hard to take a break, because the stories all start with a great hook! When fiction can affect you like that, this is a good thing.

 

The issue opens with an emotional bang, with John Herman’s “Pancakes”, in which Charlie is given one last chance to see his father. But is this simulacrum really his dad? It sure looks like his father, sounds like the old bastard too. If you had just a few minutes to talk to a parent who was barely there for you, someone you never got along with, what would you say? Is this the time to be thankful, to be gracious, to be honest, to say the things you never thought you’d have the chance to say?  Charlie says them, and leaves, and then his father finishes the conversation without him.

 

We then move into the very dark “The Long, Slow War”, by Stephanie Herman, a far future science fiction story that takes place at a human colony on a distant planet. I enjoyed how the world building was done in this one, with Herman throwing the reader into the deep end at first, not quite explaining the sky split in half, or these aliens that will kill us if we so much as look at them wrong. The aliens taunt us, and our only weapon is apathy, it’s a futuristic expression of “if you ignore the person teasing you, they’ll get bored and leave you alone”.  It’s time for the treaty to be renewed and signed by both parties, and on the human side of the Embassy is a wall of photos of Ambassadors who didn’t survive the signing meeting.  The story focuses around the current human ambassador and as the meeting gets closer, his anxiety rises like bile in the throat. There is a subtext here of the silent fury behind the pacifism the colonists swore they chose for themselves.

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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.