SFM: Carroll, Yoachim, Anders, Haldeman, Rusch, Herbert and Anderson

Short Fiction Monday: There is so much free or inexpensive short fiction available on the internet these days. Here are a few stories we read this week:

“The Loud Table” by Jonathan Carroll (Nov. 2016, free at Tor.com, 99c Kindle version)

A group of retired old men meets every day at a coffee shop to hang out most of the day and shoot the breeze. They live for each other’s company, so they’re bewildered and alarmed when the coffee shop manager announces that the café is closing for two months for renovations. After considering and discarding several other options, they wind up at Tough Nut, a gay café. They end up having a good conversation with the two owners of Tough Nut about old age and what it’s really like.

You get more and more invisible as you get older. Haven’t you felt that? People don’t see you. Or if they do, you’re only something in their way, an obstacle, like a chair or a big rock. You’re just another object blocking the sidewalk. Haven’t you noticed how impatient people get around us when we don’t move fast enough?

Afterwards one of the other men, Conrad, walks home with the narrator and confides in him that the doctors think he has Alzheimer’s. In fact, it’s not Alzheimer’s ― but the answer is much stranger than Conrad could have guessed.

“The Loud Table” is a bit disconnected, with the first half an introspective examination of aging and the second half veering off into SciFi Land. Surprisingly, I actually appreciated the first, non-fantastical half more than the second half; I thought the first half contained the stronger writing and the second half was a bit pat. But there are enough connections between the two parts, and Jonathan Carroll is a talented enough author, that it all worked for me. This story does make me consider reducing my time online, though! ~Tadiana Jones


“Welcome to the Medical Clinic at the Interplanetary Relay Station” by Caroline M. Yoachim (March 2016, free at Lightspeed, $3.99 Kindle magazine issue)

You live and work in a space station. One day, on your way to work, you take a shortcut through the hydroponics bay and are bitten on the hand by a tiny insect that was part of an infestation on the tomato plants. Your hand begins to swell and turn purple in the area of the bite. What to do?

You run down a long metal hallway to the Medical Clinic, grateful for the artificially generated gravity that defies the laws of physics and yet is surprisingly common in fictional space stations. The sign on the clinic door says “hours since the last patient death:” The number currently posted on the sign is zero. If you enter the clinic anyway, go to C. If you seek medical care elsewhere, go to B.

Choosing part B takes your story in one direction; part C leads you in a different direction … or, well, maybe not!

This is a humorously pessimistic short story, inspired by the old CHOOSE YOUR OWN ADVENTURE series of children’s books. There are ugly infections, venomous aliens, a truly abysmal space station medical clinic, and death and danger at every turn. “Welcome to the Medical Clinic at the Interplanetary Relay Station” is light and breezy and definitely good for some laughs, especially if you ever read a CHOOSE YOUR OWN ADVENTURE book and (like me) often peeked at both options to see which looked more likely to work out for the best, or read the book multiple times until you got one of the good endings. ~Tadiana Jones


“Clover” by Charlie Jane Anders (Oct. 2016, free on Tor.com, 99c Kindle version)

A stranger shows up at the door of a gay couple, Anwar and Joe, who’d just gotten married the day before, and presents them with Berkley, a black cat with white marks. He tells them that Berkley will bring them nine years of good luck if they adopt him. And he does! Anwar’s microbrew business grows, Joe’s news reporting career goes well, and their relationship stays solid.

At the end of the nine years, another man shows up at their doorstep with a fluffy calico cat, Patricia. Anwar and Joe rename her Clover, because of a pattern of spots on her back. Life starts to get interesting.

Berkley had worked for years to get Anwar and Joe’s apartment under control, and this represented both a creative enterprise and a labor of love. He had carved out cozy beds atop the laundry hamper, inside the old wicker basket that contained extra brewing supplies, and in the hutch where Joe kept his beloved death-metal concert shirts. Berkley knew exactly where the sunbeam came through the slanty front windows in the mornings, and the best hiding places for when Anwar brought out the terrifying vacuum-cleaner monster …

But now this new cat has invaded his territory. She’s a maniac and Berkley resents her deeply. There are also some bumps in the road with Joe and Anwar’s relationship, and some business problems for both of them. The good luck seems to have disappeared. And then one day Clover speaks to Anwar in English, asking for help.

The blurb for this story on Tor’s website says “Answering the question asked by innumerable readers of the author’s novel All the Birds in the Sky: what happened to Patricia’s cat?” ― which does seem somewhat likely to limit the readership for this story. In the novel, Patricia, one of the main characters, is a young witch with a cat (Berkley) that she inadvertently abandoned when she went away to school. The circumstances are explained more fully in “Clover.”

My rating for this short story would probably be higher if I had read All the Birds in the Sky, but it works reasonably well as a stand-alone story. Charlie Jane Anders made the trouble in Joe and Anwar’s relationship and the injured feelings of Berkley almost tangible. Cat lovers should enjoy this one. ~Tadiana Jones


“Graves” by Joe Haldeman (1992, originally published in Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, republished 2012 and free online at Nightmare Magazine, $2.99 Kindle magazine issue). 1993 Nebula award (short story)

An unnamed Army veteran who has a sleep disorder that, oddly, he REALLY wants to keep, reminisces about his experiences in Vietnam twenty years earlier. While in Vietnam, he worked in the Graves division, responsible for handling soldiers’ dead bodies. He describes in detail the disgusting disintegration of bodies that are left in the jungle for more than a few hours.

One day he and Dr. French, the pathologist with whom he works, are called to look at an odd-looking corpse in situ, out in the Vietnamese jungle. The body they’ve been called to examine is that of a native; the soldier thinks it’s from the Montagnard tribe rather than a Vietnamese, and the corpse is oddly desiccated, with teeth filed into points. Things go downhill from there, in a jungle guerilla warfare kind of way, but then some disturbing things happen, and the soldier has never quite been the same since.

For most of the story “Graves” seems like a fairly standard tale of the Vietnam war, somewhat coarse and violent. The twist might not be all that surprising to those who read more in the horror genre, but I have to admit that the ending snuck up and sucker-punched me. “Graves” won the 1993 Nebula and World Fantasy Awards. ~Tadiana Jones


The Possession of Paavo Deshin by Kristine Kathryn Rusch (2010, $3.99 Kindle, add Audible narration for $1.99)

Kristine Kathryn Rusch’s RETRIEVAL ARTIST series has been on my TBR list for a long time. So I picked up The Possession of Paavo Deshin, a stand-alone RETRIEVAL ARTIST novella, from Audible when it was on sale. The story, which is 2.25 hours long, is about an extremely intelligent boy named Paavo who for years has occasionally been haunted by two ghosts — a man and a woman. When one day they show up in corporeal form on the playground of his elite private school, he freaks out. When his mom is called to pick him up and finds out about the ghosts, she freaks out, too, and gets angry with the school administration. Afraid of being blacklisted by Paavo’s powerful parents, the administration hires a Retrieval Artist to help solve the case. Who are these ghosts, how did they get past the school’s elaborate security measures, and why does Paavo’s family feel so threatened by them?

This science fiction mystery is only nominally about ghosts; it’s more about parenting. I didn’t think The Possession of Paavo Deshin was all that exciting, but there were a couple of clever parts that I really enjoyed and the narration by Jay Synder is nice. Most of all, though, I really liked learning about the RETRIEVAL ARTIST universe. This story made me want to pick up the first novel in that series, The Disappeared, soon. ~Kat Hooper


“Dune: Red Plague” by Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson (Oct. 2016, free on Tor.com, 99c Kindle version)

“Dune: Red Plague” is a brief episode in an ongoing conflict in the DUNE series universe between an anti-technology group, led by Manford Torondo, and pro-technology people, personified by Josef Venport, the selfish CEO Directeur of Venport Holdings, a huge interstellar commercial empire with a large fleet of spaceships. Manford lost his legs in a bombing that killed his inspiration and mentor, Rayna Butler, and he views himself as responsible for leading humanity away from the temptations of technology. Venport, who cruelly calls Manford a “legless freak” and the “barbarian half-Manford”, considers the Butlerian group a bunch of zealots who want to “reduce humanity to a primitive agrarian culture scattered across the galaxy.” Venport has blockaded the planets that have taken the Butlerian pledge.

However, the anti-tech people on one planet, Walgis, are dying of the terrible Red Plague. Dr. Rohan Zim, an altruistic Suk doctor, convinces Venport ― with a fair amount of difficulty ― to loan one of the Venport spaceships to him to bring a life-saving vaccine to the people of Walgis, arguing that maybe it will change their minds about the benefits of technology and will make Venport look humane.

It’s a rather confusing and opaque world if you’re not already familiar with the DUNE universe and how it’s developed under the authorship of Brian Herbert (Frank Herbert’s son) and Kevin J. Anderson. Words and concepts like Mentat, Suk doctor and Butlerian creed play a significant role but often get little or no explanation. I dimly remember these things from reading Dune years ago, but I think a reader would have to know this universe and the later entries in this series a lot better to make this story work for you, and even then, it’s a thin, rather predictable tale, and isn’t a complete story in itself. “Dune: Red Plague” probably won’t be of much interest to anyone except fans of the ongoing DUNE series. ~Tadiana Jones


SHARE:  Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail  FOLLOW:  Facebooktwittergoogle_pluslinkedinrsstumblr
If you plan to buy this book, you can support FanLit by clicking on the book cover above and buying it (and anything else) at Amazon. It costs you nothing extra, but Amazon pays us a small referral fee. Click any book cover or this link. We use this income to keep the site running. It pays for website hosting, postage for giveaways, and bookmarks and t-shirts. Thank you!

TADIANA JONES, on our staff since July 2015, is an intellectual property lawyer with a BA in English. She inherited her love of classic and hard SF from her father and her love of fantasy and fairy tales from her mother. She lives with her husband and four children in a small town near the mountains in Utah. Tadiana juggles her career, her family, and her love for reading, travel and art, only occasionally dropping balls. She likes complex and layered stories and characters with hidden depths. Favorite authors include Lois McMaster Bujold, Brandon Sanderson, Robin McKinley, Connie Willis, Isaac Asimov, Larry Niven, Megan Whalen Turner, Patricia McKillip, Mary Stewart, Ilona Andrews, and Susanna Clarke.

View all posts by

KAT HOOPER, who started this site in June 2007, earned a Ph.D. in neuroscience and psychology at Indiana University (Bloomington) and now teaches at the University of North Florida. When she reads fiction, she wants to encounter new ideas and lots of imagination. She wants to view the world in a different way. She wants to have her mind blown. She loves beautiful language and has no patience for dull prose, vapid romance, or cheesy dialogue. She prefers complex characterization, intriguing plots, and plenty of action. Favorite authors are Jack Vance, Robin Hobb, Kage Baker, William Gibson, Gene Wolfe, Richard Matheson, and C.S. Lewis.

View all posts by

Review this book and/or Leave a comment:

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Add your own review

Rating