the Little Red Reviewer

Posts Tagged ‘short stories

Collaborative, competitive, serialized, and interactive, Archipelago is part choose-your-own adventure, part screw-your-neighbor, and part stay-tuned!   What started out as a joint Patreon complete with enforced writing exercise has turned into what could be the next big thing in serialized fiction.  Created by Charlotte Ashley, Kurt Hunt, and Andrew Leon Hudson, Archipelago is a historical fantasy with Lovecraftian flavors. Members vote on where they want the story to go, and the authors have to go in that direction!

A few teaser intro episodes are  publicly available on their Patreon, check out The Ur-Ring by Charlotte Ashley, In Extremis by Andrew Leon Hudson, and Whatsoever is New by Kurt Hunt.  Here’s the homepage of their Patreon, where you can learn more.

I’ve been intrigued by this project since the moment I heard about it,  so I was super thrilled when the authors agreed to do a panel interview with me.  I set up a shared document on Google Drive, put in some open ended questions, and let them take the wheel!   But before we get to that, let’s learn a little about these amazing and creative writers:

Andrew Leon Hudson is an English writer, editor and designer based in Europe, a ten-year resident of Madrid with the local vocabulary of an introverted three-year-old at best. He is only now coming to terms with the stunning moment of culture shock that came with realising Sir Francis Drake – one of England’s great naval heroes, especially famed for his victory over the Spanish Armada – is viewed in his chosen home as nothing but a despicable pirate. He became involved with the Archipelago project as a way of working through this nautical trauma, and you can track his general therapeutic progress at https://andrewleonhudson.wordpress.com/.

Charlotte Ashley is a writer, editor, bookseller, and reckless thrillseeker whose stories are all mostly true. Since moving to Toronto, Canada, she has dabbled in the arts of fencing, parkour, capoeria, and LARPing, applying the lessons learned to her skill at writing rollicking swashbuckling adventures. Her stories have appeared in F&SF, PodCastle, the Year’s Best Science Fiction and Fantasy, and numerous anthologies. She has been nominated for both the Sunburst and Aurora Awards, and once wrote and performed a science fiction musical from the equipment of a CrossFit gym. You can learn more about her at http://once-and-future.com/ or on Twitter @CharlotteAshley

Kurt Hunt was formed in the swamps and abandoned gravel pits of post-industrial Michigan. At 17, he fell in love and moved into a shabby Chicago apartment instead of that fancy school he planned to attend, a decision that convinced him that the best things in life cannot be planned but must instead be conjured through a combination of good luck and poor impulse control. His fiction has been published at Strange Horizons, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, and PodCastle, among others, and he co-edited the 2016 “Up and Coming” anthology of writers eligible for the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer. You can follow Kurt on twitter at @SonitusSonitus .

and with that, let’s get to the panel!

Andrea Johnson: How did the three of you come up with the concept for Archipelago? What were your brainstorming sessions like?

Charlotte Ashley: It started out as a simple shared Patreon, then spun out of control. Andrew and I decided to do a shared world with a lot of interactivity and we realized pretty quickly that we had a similar vision of how this would work out. We invited Kurt on board and he “got it” instantly as well.

We brainstormed through Google Hangouts – it was a lot of “Oh! Oh! We could do this!” “Yes, omg, and then this!” We wanted a format that allowed as much autonomy as possible, with leeway for adding new things on a continual basis. As our characters discover the world, we’re discovering it as well.

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Me and audio fiction have a tenuous friendship. I tend to get distracted while listening to audio fiction, which means I have to listen to the same stories over and over and over again, almost like they are long musical pieces. Do I listen to the occasional audio book? Sure do. Are they something I seek out? Not really.   But . . .  long commute to work through beautiful farmland is the perfect setting for some audio short story podcasts.  And Clarkesworld has the amazing Kate Baker.  So there’s that.

 

If you’re not sure audio short stories are for  you, find something narrated by Kate Baker.  Her voice is warm and welcoming, drawing you in to the inflections and pauses. When I listen to her, I feel like it’s just the two of us having an intimate conversation in a dark pub where the bartender knows us and lets us hang out at that table in the back as long as we’d like. She’s not reading me a story, she is telling me a story. My brain responds to her voice the same way my brain responds to music, even though she’s not singing. All that to say that Kate Baker’s voice has absolutely spoiled me.

 

Still, I stick with the shorter of the short stories that she narrates.  Maybe the more I listen to, the more I will want to listen to and will download longer stories? Time will tell, I guess.

 

Last week, I listened to “Left of Bang – Preemtive Self-Actualization for Autonomous Systems” by Vajra Chandrasekera from the April issue (issue #127) of Clarkesworld, and “Two Ways of Living” by Robert Reed from the March issue (issue #126) of the same magazine. Both were narrated by Kate Baker, and by “listened to”, I mean I listened to them each at least 3 times.   Only today, as I’m writing this blog post  am I actually looking at the text versions on the Clarkesworld magazine website, mostly to just check the spelling of character’s names.  How strange the shapes of the text seems, after having heard the stories on audio.

 

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The Engineer Reconditioned by Neal Asher

published 2006 (or maybe 2008?)

where I got it: purchased used

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I’ve not read a ton by Neal Asher, but everything I’ve read I’ve enjoyed.   Asher enjoys having a go at religion, writing incomprehensible aliens who see humans as delicious snacks,  AIs who are smart enough to lie to their human wards, a biological explanations for immortality, over the top biological adaptations, and a galaxy with ancient alien technology and ruins.  That’s like, all my favorite scifi things!  If you’re interested in hard scifi, space opera, large scale universes, really alien aliens,  I highly recommend Neal Asher.

 

I didn’t realize The Engineer Reconditioned was a short story collection until I started reading it. The collection includes ten or so stories of various lengths from Asher’s interconnected Polity plot lines. If you’ve never read any Asher,  this is a great place to start, because whatever stories you liked the best there are a bunch of novels where those characters and situations will show up.  The collection includes stories of Jain tech, gross-out biological action on planet Spatterjay, stories of the mysterious Owner, and a few stories that are just fun romps through alien environs and dumb humans who may make tasty snacks.  Click here for a timeline and how all the Polity books work together.

 

The first and longest story, “The Engineer”, is what I came here for, and I wasn’t surprised that this ended up being my favorite story in the collection.  Two scientists, Chapra and Abaron, are aboard an exploration vessel and they come across an egg floating in space. Abaron teases Chapra about her obsession with old movies, especially a certain movie starring face huggers and chest bursting scenes.  They bring the egg inside the ship to investigate, and see if they can wake up the comatose creature inside.  Herein lies some excellent hard scifi – how to determine the creature’s natural habitat? What if air that humans can breathe poisons the creature? How to determine what to feed it? How to communicate with it?   The creature wakes up, and Abaron and Chapra are able to give it an environment in which it can survive, and food that it can metabolize. Living mostly under water, the creature starts building things and communicates its needs to the scientists by leaving different items on the pier.  After a while the scientists realize their AI has insulated them from the outside world as a protective measure. “The Engineer” was a fantastic story with great pacing, smart dialog, and some truly excellent science. Not to mention a few laugh out loud Alien jokes!

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Gods and Pawns by Kage Baker

published in 2007

where I got it: purchased used

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I’ve been trying (and not always succeeding) to read Kage Baker’s Company books in the order of publication.   Which meant next up was Gods and Pawns, which was  published in 2007.   The series starts with In The Garden of Iden, a novel that completely broke my heart into a billion little pieces. Then came Sky Coyote, in which I fell a little bit in love with Joseph even though he is a complete asshole. Or at least, I thought he was an asshole until I met Porfirio, now that guy is a piece of work.  The Company books get darker and darker the further you read in the series, and yet Baker’s writing style is full of humor and wit, so you’re laughing at the same time.  With all the research that went into these novels and short stories much of her work reads a little bit like Tim Powers, that of course these crazy things didn’t happen . . . but no one can prove that they didn’t….

 

Gods and Pawns is a collection of short stories that take place in the Company world. Similar to her collection In The Company of Thieves, these mostly light-hearted short stories are excellent entry points into Baker’s Company world.

 

What is The Company? In the future, time travel is discovered. However, you can only travel backwards in time, and recorded history can not be changed. The owner(?) of The Company sends operatives back in time, where they take in orphaned children and turn the children into immortal cyborgs who are now employees of The Company.  For the cyborgs, it’s a post-scarcity life – they never need to worry about money, or a job, or a roof over their heads. The job security is great because they are immortal. But what are they working towards? What is the point of finding and then hiding all the valuable paintings and manuscripts and gems in the world for some future you may never see? Is this a good gig? Is it slavery?  What’s the retirement policy like?

 

I have condensed and vastly oversimplified Baker’s amazingly complex world. If you enjoy long running space opera series with fantastic writing, time paraxodes (paradoxii?) horrible secrets, lots of dark humor, all written by an author who is a genius at playing the long game, this is a great series for you.  If you’re not sure if that is something you’d like, the short stories are a great place to start.  For more information, and possibly epic spoilers, checkout the Company reread that Stefan Raets did at Tor.com last year.

 

While I was disappointed that Mendoza doesn’t star in a larger portion of the stories in Gods and Pawns, I was happy to see my favorite side character, Lewis, get the spotlight.

 

Surprising nobody, my favorite short story in Gods and Pawns is the Lewis/Mendoza story, “To The Land Beyond the Sunset”, in which our two immortal operatives act as mortal guests of a family of supposed gods.  Mendoza is excited about the rare plants she finds on their property, and Lewis is trying to figure out how exactly these people are related to each other, and why they seem so ignorant. There’s also the whisperings in the walls of a secret family member who keeps getting moved around the villa so the “visiting mortals” can’t see him. There’s the expected humor in this story, Mendoza and Lewis are immortal, and do have what could be construed as godly power. And this lonesome family appears to be underfed, ill-informed, living in a ramshackle villa, and not godly at all.  Everyone is playing a role, it seems.  Mendoza’s first discovery makes me hope these people die a horrible death for what they are doing. The next discovery makes me feel so terribly sorry for them.

I always imagine Lewis looking like Cyril from Archer.

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miniatures_by_john_scalzi_500_780Miniatures: The Very Short Fiction of John Scalzi

published Dec 31, 2016

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

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Wanna know the balm for doorstopper books and series that don’t have an end in sight? Super short stories that are super satisfying.  Stories that get in, make a point and maybe make you laugh, and get out. It’s like those delicious bite-sized Milky Way mini candy bars that (the best) people give out at Halloween.

 

Miniatures is John Scalzi’s new collection of very short stories.  Inspired by everything from travel boredom, the bureaucracy of superhero management, overly intelligent yogurt, a very bitter Pluto, the design limitations of twitter, people being idiots, how to be polite to aliens,  having some fun at Wil Wheaton’s expense and more, these mostly humorous and mostly ultra short stories are the bite sized milky way minis of spec fiction.  Covering 25 years of Scalzi’s long career in journalism, review writing, and fiction, this collection is a must-have for Scalzi fans. Oh, you’re not familiar with John Scalzi, but you like to laugh?  You’ll like this too!

 

A handful of the stories deal with interactions with aliens, but these aren’t “first contact” stories, not by a long shot. These are millionth contact stories, when interactions with aliens have become as commonplace as seeing a stick-figure family sticker on the back of a mini-van.  Two of my favorite stories in the collection are of this variety – “New Directives for Employee-Manxtse Interactions” and “Important Holidays on Gronghu”.  Both are presented as company wide memos, and both of these companies are about to be holding massive open interviews.  I’ve read “Important Holidays on Gronghu” probably four times and it gets funnier every time.

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central stationCentral Station, by Lavie Tidhar

published May 2016

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

 

I’ve been reading Lavie Tidhar on and off since I started this blog. I really enjoyed The Tel Aviv Dossier, thought The Bookman was just OK, enjoyed some of his short fiction and the World Science Fiction anthologies he edited with Apex, and then I bounced pretty hard off of Osama. His work has won a lot of awards, and I constantly feel like I’m either not taking his work seriously enough, or taking it so seriously that I’m missing the point. With that background, it should surprise no one that this beautiful ARC of Central Station sat on my to-be-read shelf for as long as it did.

But . . good news! By the 2nd chapter of Central Station I was hooked, by the middle I was grinning every time I learned about another character’s back story, and on the morning of Memorial Day I had either the best timing in the world or the worst, as I read about the robotnik soldier beggars of the future.

I don’t know why, but I shy away from using the term “mosaic novel” to describe Central Station. Yes, the novel does fit the definition of a mosaic novel, and it also fits the definition of a “fix up” novel. . . and the problem is that both of those terms feel too flat and too small to encompass this book. Central Station has the overwhelming sensory overload of an Ian McDonald, the fantastical descriptions and bio-technology of a China Mieville, and the each story is a foundation of the next of Cat Valente’s Orphan’s Tales. With nods to scifi greats like Cordwainer Smith, Philip K. Dick, and Isaac Asimov (and was that a Burroughs reference I saw?), Tidhar touches on history, culture, and socio-economics to tell a story about how we’re all stuck together and should really make the best of things because these kids need a village to raise them. Reading this book was like being a bartender at bar frequented by locals – Everyone has a different story to tell, but all their stories are interrelated and interconnected. The further I got into this novel, the more I enjoyed myself.

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I’ve been elsewhere!

I hosted my first roundtable at Semiotic Standard, about books we didn’t finish.  The roundtable features Lynn of Lynn’s Books, Lavie Tidhar, Jacob of Red Star Reviews, Teresa Frohock, Mark Lawrence, Charlotte Ashley, and more!  Come on over to see these folks and their peers didn’t finish books, and why I might not finish the book I’m reading right now.

 

I’m also over at Apex Magazine, interviewing the incredible Mary Pletsch.  In the interview we talk about the song and music in her short story Folk Hero.  but first, a quick aside.  Ya’ll know what iambic pentameter is, right?  the super simple definition of Iambic pentameter is that it is poetry (or song lyrics) written so that each line has 10 syllables, with every other syllable being stressed.  If you get the rhythms just right,  it fits perfectly into 4/4 rock and folk music.  So, I’m reading Pletsch’s story, and there are song lyrics embedded in the story.  And my brain doesn’t come up with a melody, but it does come up with a rhythm. A rhythm that matches the hauntingly beautiful Age of Aggression, as covered by Malukah.  Yes, that is a video game song, and YES, you should listen to it while you are reading Pletsch’s Folk Hero. here, I’ll help:

Folk Hero, by Mary Pletsch

Age of Aggression cover, by Malukah

I read that story, and I hear her sandstone voice singing that song, and it’s beautiful and fitting, and perfect.

oh, you liked that Malukah song?  this one is better.

 

so, that should keep you out of trouble for a few days.  I’ve got a review of Lavie Tidhar’s Central Station publishing in a few days, so stay tuned (btw, it was AWESOME)

 


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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.