SHORTS: Swirsky, Vernon, Bardugo, Norton

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 reviewsfantasy book reviews science fiction book reviews“If You Were a Dinosaur, My Love” by Rachel Swirsky (2013, free at Apex Magazine)

Rachel Swirsky‘s “If You Were a Dinosaur, My Love” is tiny in size but remarkable in strength, a real pint-sized gem. It is no wonder the story won the 2013 Nebula short story award ― anyone who can pack such a punch into so few words knows what they are doing with them.

The story reads like a love letter. The author speculates on how it would be if her lover were a dinosaur, how she would teach him to sing and help plan his dinosaur wedding. The opening tone is perfectly tender, almost poetic, and any sense of silliness is tempered as the reader begins to sense there is a deeper purpose to this meandering soliloquy. Just as we settle into the delightfully magical world the author is building the story erupts into something quite different with a jarring quality that takes us by surprise. The magic turns out to be a shelter and the effect is quite beautiful and extremely sad. Considering this will take up no more than 10 minutes of even the slowest reader’s time, It should not be missed. ~Katie Burton


fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviews“Wooden Feathers” by Ursula Vernon (2015, free at Uncanny Magazine)

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsSarah carves wooden duck decoys and sells them at a flea market; Jep is an elderly man who comes by once a week and buys exactly one decoy from her. Sarah’s good at carving, but not great, and when she discovers that Jep was once a master carver, she begins to wonder: why he would buy her work, and why would he stop carving? They strike up a friendship of sorts, and as Sarah gets to know Jep better, she learns several truths — some heartbreaking, some horrifying — about the transformative power of creation.

Vernon takes a story of human connection and gradually adds several elements of the fantastic, weaving them together so that the impossible feels totally plausible by the end. Her insights into the creative process and an artist’s need to bring his or her vision to life are profound and deeply affecting, and her inclusion of small details like an old, flower-printed pair of boots is both shrewd and devastating. Highly recommended. ~Jana Nyman

Additional review:

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsSarah carves wooden ducks at a local flea market. She’s not as good as she’d like to be, but she’s proud of her creations. Imagine her surprise and hurt, then, when she finds out that one of her regular customers is Jep, the best carver in town — and that he isn’t buying her ducks out of appreciation for them.

What follows is uncanny, in the truest sense of the word. But all spec-fic elements aside, Ursula Vernon has given us a window into some painfully realistic human relationships. Grief, disappointment, and artistic frustration resound through this story, alongside love, compassion, and an odd, homely sort of bravery. The sentence that resounded with me the most is simple. Sarah finds out what Jep has been doing with her ducks. When he apologizes, she says it’s okay, and Vernon is careful to add, “even though it wasn’t.” That’s what I like about this story. It doesn’t shy away from the tiny contradictions that we live through on a daily basis, the lies we tell when we’re trying to be better than we are, the sorrow we feel over the loss of wooden ducks. ~Kate Lechler


fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviews“The Witch of Duva: A Ravkan Folk Tale” by Leigh Bardugo (2012, free at Tor.com)

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviews

There was a time when the woods near Duva ate girls. . . .

Leigh Bardugo’s “The Witch of Duva” is a dark Russian-flavored fairy tale with echoes of Hansel and Gretel and a serial killer twist… or is it wolves? Nadya and her brother Havel are the children of Maxim Grushov, a carpenter and woodcutter. They live in a village on the edge of a deep, dark forest. When a famine hits, Maxim no longer gets enough work from the other impoverished villagers. The children’s mother fades away and dies, the famine deepens, and ― worst of all ― girls begin disappearing from the village.

Real fear came upon the town. In the past, girls had vanished every few years. True, there were rumors of girls being taken from other villages from time to time, but those children hardly seemed real. Now, as the famine deepened and the people of Duva went without, it was as if whatever waited in the woods had grown greedier and more desperate, too.

Nadya’s father marries a neighboring widow, who makes it clear that Nadya isn’t welcome in her house. She sends Nadya out to check their traps for rabbits in the dark. When Nadya gets lost in the forest, she comes across a strange hut in the woods where an old woman cooks over a vast black cookstove, with bubbling pots and an oven large enough for a child to get inside… I might be forgiven for thinking that I knew where the story was heading at this point, but I was completely wrong.

This short story is related to THE GRISHA young adult fantasy series, but is a stand-alone story unrelated to the characters and events in that series. This folk tale, with elements of both fantasy and horror, might be told on a dark night by a villager living in Ravka, the setting of THE GRISHA series. Those who like dark fairy tales will enjoy this one. “… come help me stir the pot.” ~Tadiana Jones


fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsStar Hunter by Andre Norton (1961, free at Amazon)

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviews

Many of Andre Norton’s old SFF adventures are available in free Kindle versions. I pick them up in Kindle format and then purchase the whispersync audio version at Audible for a dollar or two. You also can often find audio versions (read by an amateur narrator) free at Librivox, but I prefer the professional narrators.

Star Hunter, a novella published by Ace Books in 1961, stars a daring adventurer named Ras Hume who concocts and carries out a con which involves drugging and altering the memories of an orphan, stranding him on a safari planet, “rescuing” him, and finally presenting him to a wealthy family as the heir they presumed had died in a spaceship crash. But things go wrong when the safari planet turns out to be inhabited by sentient malevolent creatures who aren’t supposed to be there. Then Hume and the boy must work together to save themselves and figure out what’s going on.

Star Hunter is quintessential Norton and, at 96 pages, is just the right length for its simple, though twisty, plot. I’ve never been enamored of Norton’s prose, but sometimes I’m in the mood for the old-fashioned feel of her adventure stories, especially when they’re free. I can’t help but wish, though, that as a female SF writer, she had attempted to subvert the traditional gender roles we see in so many old SF stories.

Jim Roberts narrated the version of Star Hunter that I listened to. His reading is a bit stiff, but I love his retro-soundng voice. ~Kat Hooper


SHARE:  Facebooktwitterredditpinteresttumblrmail  FOLLOW:  Facebooktwitterrsstumblr
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!

KATIE BURTON (on FanLit's staff September 2015 -- September 2018) was a solicitor in London before becoming a journalist. She was lucky enough to be showered with books as a child and from the moment she had The Hobbit read to her as a bedtime story was hooked on all things other-worldy. Katie believes that characters are always best when they are believable and complex (even when they aren't human) and is a sucker for a tortured soul or a loveable rogue. She loves all things magical and the more fairies, goblins and mystical creatures the better. Her personal blog is Nothing if Not a Hypocrite.

View all posts by

JANA NYMAN, with us since January 2015, is a freelance copy-editor who has lived all over the United States, but now makes her home in Colorado with her dog and a Wookiee. Jana was exposed to science fiction and fantasy at an early age, watching Star Wars and Star Trek movie marathons with her family and reading works by Robert Heinlein and Ray Bradbury WAY before she was old enough to understand them; thus began a lifelong fascination with what it means to be human. Jana enjoys reading all kinds of books, but her particular favorites are fairy- and folktales (old and new), fantasy involving dragons or other mythological beasties, contemporary science fiction, and superhero fiction. Some of her favorite authors are James Tiptree, Jr., Madeleine L'Engle, Ann Leckie, N.K. Jemisin, and Seanan McGuire.

View all posts by

KATE LECHLER, on our staff from May 2014 to January 2017, 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.

View all posts by

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 and conducts brain research 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

5 comments

  1. I read all three of the stories reviewed by Katie, Jana and Kat after reading your reviews! (Actually I had already read “If You Were a Dinosaur, My Love,” but I decided I needed to read it again since it hadn’t really impressed me particularly the first time.) It was very thought-provoking, although it reminded me of an adult version of “If You Give a Mouse a Cookie.” I totally agree with what Kat and Jana say in their reviews.

  2. I like Leigh Bardugo’s GRISHA-verse companion stories more than the snippets of the GRISHA books themselves, which seems a shame. “The Witch of Duva” is phenomenal, and I’m so glad you liked it, Tadiana!

    I definitely didn’t anticipate the end of “If You Were a Dinosaur, My Love!” I wish it were a little longer, just to explore what’s going on in a little more depth, but it’s still quite good.

    • I agree, Jana, that the companion stories are better than the original Grisha trilogy. I think I read three of these stories, and this one was my favorite.

      Bardugo’s latest novel, Six of Crows, is also in the Grisha universe but is darker. I’m working on a review of it right now. :)

  3. This SFM post has been edited to add Kate Lechler’s insightful review of Ursula Vernon’s “Wooden Feathers.”

Review this book and/or Leave a comment:

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