SFM: Valentine, Bradbury, Palmer, Lee

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 that we wanted you to know about. 

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviews

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviews“Given Advantage of the Blade” by Genevieve Valentine (August 2015, free at Lightspeed Magazine)

If you’ve ever wanted to have a cagematch between Snow White’s stepmother and the evil queen in Sleeping Beauty, this is the story for you. It’s also the story for you if you find the never-ending woman-on-woman violence inherent to many of our most beloved fairy tales getting a little old.

Genevieve Valentine imagines a situation in which all the female villains and heroines of fairy tales the world over are put in a room together … and given knives. Using this as her scenario — and an unnamed “you” as the perpetrator of this ongoing experiment — she examines how fairy tales prepare both their protagonists and their antagonists poorly for the real world. Princesses, by and large, fail to deal with hard truths because the idea “that so many people would help them just for kindness” is unrealistic, while their evil counterparts, “less used to kindness,” die because “they never join forces, no matter how it might help them.”

Valentine’s prose is crystalline; she describes the death of Snow White’s mother in heartbreaking detail, “white skin brocaded with blood, staggering as if in iron shoes.” And her observations about princesses (“long-lashed cows”) and witches (“old women get possessive; they regret things”) cut like knives. But the best thing about this anti-fairy-tale is its imagined never-quite-there ending, in which all the women work together against their oppressors, “the ones who locked them in.” ~Kate Lechler


fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviews
fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviews“A Sound of Thunder” by Ray Bradbury (1952, free at Scary for Kids)

In the year 2055 (about 100 years in the future when Ray Bradbury wrote this classic science fiction short story), one of the uses of time travel is for big game “safari” hunting: hunters pay a huge fee to take a guided safari trip to the far-distant past and bag a Tyrannosaurus Rex or other dinosaur. In order to avoid any chance of changing the past and affecting the future, the hunting party is strictly enjoined to stay on a metal pathway floating six inches above the earth, and to shoot only dinosaurs that were a minute or two away from death from other causes. Eckels, their latest hunter, is torn between his desire to kill a T Rex and a case of nerves, exacerbated by the appearance of the Tyrant Lizard:

It came on great oiled, resilient, striding legs. It towered thirty feet above half of the trees, a great evil god, folding its delicate watchmaker’s claws close to its oily reptilian chest. Each lower leg was a piston, a thousand pounds of white bone, sunk in thick ropes of muscle, sheathed over in a gleam of pebbled skin like the mail of a terrible warrior… Its mouth gaped, exposing a fence of teeth like daggers.

Can Eckels overcome his nerves and ― more importantly ― stay on the Path? Bradbury relates this adventure story in a more straightforward way than much of his work, although there are perhaps a few excess adjectives strewn along the Path. Still, the dramatic tension holds through the entire story, although the ending may not logically hold water. Frankly, I’ve never been able to understand how authors can justify an act in the past changing the future, except for the memories of those people who had traveled to the past. And then they usually go back to the future, and they’re the only ones who remember the prior version of the future. It just doesn’t make sense to me, although I understand its usefulness as a plot device.

“A Sound of Thunder” is famous as for its ― perhaps tenuous and coincidental, but nevertheless compelling ― connection to the “butterfly effect” concept of chaos theory. In 1963, a meteorologist named Edward Lorenz suggested that the beat of a butterfly’s wings on one side of the world might ultimately cause a tornado on the other side of the world. Lorenz’s point was that nature is highly sensitive to tiny changes, making weather impossible to predict accurately more than a few days in advance. The butterfly in Bradbury’s story also causes a tornado of sorts, albeit not by flapping its wings! ~Tadiana Jones


fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviews

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviews“Moogh and the Great Trench Kraken” by Suzanne Palmer (September 2015, free at Beneath Ceaseless Skies)

Moogh is a valiant warrior whose loyalty to his sword Grawk equals his inability to understand the sea. Yes, you read that right, “the sea.” He doesn’t get it. Just roll with it.

While walking along the shores of the “Tricksy River” that never seems to end (read: the sea), Moogh meets a mermaid who tricks him into joining her in the depths as her people’s sacrifice to pacify the Great Trench Kraken. Moogh, however, does not take kindly to being tricked, or to giving up. He fights the kraken on its own terms, divorced from his trusty sword Grawk.

This story was a lot of fun. It had a Pratchett-ian sense of irreverence that I love in humorous fantasy. For instance, Moogh, the ultimate dumb jock, tells his mermaid captor that “It is the duty of every man to embrace his nature but also live in harmony with the nature of others,” but when she calls him wise, he admits that he has never understood it, and can only recite it because the wise man of his village beat him with a stick. The ending may be predictable, but it is delightful and I’ll be looking for more of Moogh’s adventures. ~Kate Lechler


fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviews
fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsIndigara by Tanith Lee (2007)

I’m a big fan of Tanith Lee’s, so it pains me to report that her novella Indigara is not even recognizable as her work. The story is a far-future science fiction adventure in which a girl named Jet is forced to accompany her family to Ollywood, a city that is a parody of Hollywood, because one of her vain sisters (whom Jet calls a “bitch on wheels”) has a small role in a movie. The rest of Jet’s family is totally focused on all the superficial Ollywood gossip and antics, so Jet and Otis, her robotic dog, are on their own. That’s how they discover Indigara, a city that lies under all of the film studios. Like Robert Holdstock’s Mythago Wood, the city created itself out of the costumes, sets, props and actors that were left after SFF movie and TV pilots failed. They have taken on a life of their own. Meanwhile, as the actors live in their fantasy world, their shadows still inhabit the real world.

Indigara has such a cool concept. I liked the underground world and what it represents, the Hollywood satire, the novella’s odd structure (there are journal entries, movie scripts, and even subtitles) and the idea that people who get lost in a fantasy world are not living life to the fullest. Unfortunately, the concept is way more interesting than the story is. Jet’s disjointed adventure is not entertaining at all and the characters are one-dimensional and annoying. Jet, the most likeable character, says immature and obnoxious things such as “Go and jump up your own butt.” The shallow characters, the clichéd movie plot, and the pathetic dialogue are purposeful satire, but that didn’t make it an entertaining story. Honestly, it’s hard to believe that Tanith Lee wrote this.

I listened to the audio version read by Amy Palant, who does a good but not spectacular job. It’s just under 4 hours long. ~Kat Hooper

 


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KATE LECHLER, with us since May 2014, resides in Oxford, MS, where she divides her time between teaching early British literature at the University of Mississippi, writing fiction, and throwing the tennis ball for her insatiable terrier, Sam. She loves speculative fiction because of what it tells us about our past, present, and future. She particularly enjoys re-imagined fairy tales and myths, fabulism, magical realism, urban fantasy, and the New Weird. Just as in real life, she has no time for melodramatic protagonists with no sense of humor. The movie she quotes most often is Jurassic Park, and the TV show she obsessively re-watches (much to the chagrin of her husband) is Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Her personal blog is The Rediscovered Country and she tweets @katelechler.

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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.

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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.

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3 comments

  1. Of these four stories, the only one I haven’t read is Tanith Lee’s, and I don’t think that’ll be changing any time soon.

    Kate, I’m not surprised that you liked the Valentine story! The ending was a little too bitter and hopeless for me, though the whole work really is brilliant.

  2. I don’t know, even a Tanith Lee failure can be interesting.

  3. I had to read both of the stories Kate reviewed after reading her reviews. That pretty happens to me every week, though. :)

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