Short Fiction


A Voice in the Night: Definitely for established fans

A Voice in the Night by Jack McDevitt

Jack McDevitt is one of the numerous authors whose work I know because my dad said, “Hey, read this!” In McDevitt’s case, the “this” was The Engines of God. Having thus been introduced to recurring protagonist Priscilla Hutchins, I read several others of McDevitt’s novels and I’ve always enjoyed them. So I was interested to pick up this book of short stories to see how McDevitt does them.

Overall, I think I prefer McDevitt’s work at novel length; I think it’s because he does well with accumulation of detail over the course of a story. But A Voice in the Night (2018) does have several stories that I enjoyed.

The collection doesn’t have one unifying theme, but there are several themes that appear more than once. There ... Read More

SFM: Harrow, Kemper, Kowal, Lawrence

Short Fiction Monday: Our weekly exploration of free and inexpensive short fiction available on the internet. Here are a few stories we've read that we wanted to share with you. 



“Do Not Look Back, My Lion” by Alix E. Harrow (2019, free in Beyond Ceaseless Skies, Issue #270, Jan. 31, 2019; 99c Kindle magazine issue)

“Do Not Look Back, My Lion,” begins and ends with Eefa leaving home — she cannot bear to see her daughters and wife march to war any longer, is tired of her wife’s promises that this child (and this child and that child) will be the last marked at ... Read More

SFM: Reiss, Bisson, Wells, Spahn

Short Fiction Monday: Our weekly exploration of free and inexpensive short fiction available on the internet. Here are a few stories we've read that we wanted you to know about.

 

“Double or Nothing” by Alter S. Reiss (free at Daily Science Fiction, March 27, 2018)

A man has an android made that is an exact copy of himself, so the android can do all his work and tedious chores while the man enjoys his newfound free time. He’s actually not surprised when the android gets deeply annoyed with the system, though it is unfortunate (from the man’s point of view) that the man is naked in the bathtub when the android shows up with a gun.

This is, for lack of a better word, what I call a “cute” story. Not a lot there, but it’s well executed in how it plays with the do... Read More

SFM: Bazan, Lundy, Tidbeck, Mondal, Wilbanks

Short Fiction Monday: Our exploration of free and inexpensive short fiction available on the internet. Here are a few stories we've read that we wanted you to know about.



“Slow Victory” by Juanjo Bazan (free at Daily Science Fiction, May 24, 2018)

A time traveler heads back for a meeting in the woods with a young woman “hiding from the army of uninformed and ignorant men.” Bazan offers up a different take on time travel here, a more intimate, more quiet sort of tale than is often told in this sub-genre. It’s a lovely little story in how “history continues untouched,” save for within a single person’s mind. And that was enough.

An effective, efficient story that is just the right length. ~ Bill Capossere





“Counting ... Read More

How Long ‘Til Black Future Month?: A phenomenal display of imagination and talent

How Long ‘Til Black Future Month? by N.K. Jemisin

N.K. Jemisin continues to delight and amaze with How Long ‘Til Black Future Month? (2018), a powerful and thoughtful collection of twenty-two stories. Some stories metaphorically shook me by the collar and demanded whether I’m doing enough to better the world around me, some surprised me with a combination of sweetness and self-assurance, and some just flat-out brought me to tears.

Jemisin’s introduction is particularly useful, as she looks back over her authorial journey (so far) and provides tidbits about which stories collected here are interrelated, or perhaps were written in response to other authors’ works, or are connected to her own work, or are “’proof of concept’ stories,” as she puts it, “to test-drive potential novel worlds.” It’s a... Read More

SFM: Norja, Bunker, Cliff, Nayler, Nikel

Short Fiction Monday: Our exploration of free and inexpensive short fiction available on the internet. Here are a few stories we've read recently that we wanted you to know about.

 




“Birch Daughter” by Sara Norja (2018, free at Fireside Magazine)

“Birch Daughter” is about Aino, a young woman whose mother was turned into a birch tree by an evil spell. After hearing from the forest-folk in her dreams, Aino sets out to save her mother from her fate.

There’s a certain delicacy to “Birch Daughter.” From the first few lines it made me acutely aware of every choice every character made, in a way that made me also very aware that if any of those choices weren’t made so quickly or so confidently or even so quietly, everything in the story would come crashing down.

I enjo... Read More

Stronger, Faster, and More Beautiful: Linked stories exploring humanity’s potential

Stronger, Faster, and More Beautiful by Arwen Elys Dayton

Arwen Elys Dayton’s latest novel, Stronger, Faster, and More Beautiful (2018) is a novel comprised of six linked stories, each taking part in a different point in humanity’s future, beginning “A few years from now,” leapfrogging to various points beyond, and ending when “They have left us far behind.” Dayton doesn’t specify the precise year or time period, letting the pace and scale of scientific advancements inform the reader’s imagination. Her teenaged protagonists each experience some kind of alteration (or lack thereof) and must cope with backlash, acceptance, or rejection of their changing selves and the significance those changes have on the world around them.

“Matched Pair” — An affecting story about twins Evan and Julia Weary, who are quite ill, and whose parents have decided that one surviving child, ... Read More

The Thief of Forthe and Other Stories: The successor to Robert E. Howard

The Thief of Forthe and Other Stories by Clifford Ball

If I were to ask 1,000 people what the words “Clifford Ball” meant to them, those to whom it meant anything, I have a feeling, would reply that the Clifford Ball was the first weekendlong concert bash that the jam band Phish ever held, back in August ’96, in Plattsburgh, N.Y. Fewer, perhaps, would know that the provenance for the name of that shindig was the aviation pioneer Clifford Ball, whose moniker the Phish folks thought would be a cool and punny handle for their event. But it is not of these two Clifford Balls that I would speak here, but rather of another: Clifford Ball the author, whose claim to fame today is his being the first writer to continue on in the sword-and-sorcery tradition after the suicide of Robert E. Howard in 1936. If you have not previously heard of Clifford Ball the w... Read More

Trifles and Folly: A Deadly Curiosities Collection

Trifles and Folly: A Deadly Curiosities Collection by Gail Z. Martin

I haven’t read any of Gail Z. Martin’s DEADLY CURIOSITIES novels, but Tantor Audio sent me Trifles and Folly: A Deadly Curiosities Collection (2016) and I thought it’d be a good introduction to the series.

The premise reminds me of Juliet Blackwell’s WITCHCRAFT MYSTERIES, which stars a young woman, Lily Ivory, who gets vibes from used garments. She has a vintage clothing store in San Francisco and, because of her knack, gets pulled into all sorts of mysteries which she then solves. The San Francisco setting features prominently in the tales, as do a few people in Lily’s orbit, such as the friends who help her run the shop. Read More

How to Fracture a Fairy Tale: Grim undertones to Grimm

How to Fracture a Fairy Tale by Jane Yolen

One year after Tachyon Publications published The Emerald Circus, a collection of Jane Yolen's fantastical short stories based on various fairy tales and legendary people (both fictional and real), it has followed up with a similar collection, How to Fracture a Fairy Tale (2018). Like The Emerald Circus, this is a compilation of Yolen’s older, previously published stories, spiffed up with new author’s notes in which Yolen briefly discuss each story and how she “fractured” it with significant departures from its original source material. These end notes for each story also include a poem by Yolen that’s linked to the same original source material. The source material varie... Read More

The Sapphire Goddess: A very fine and long overdue collection

The Sapphire Goddess: The Fantasies of Nictzin Dyalhis by Nictzin Dyalhis

Unless you have perused the pages of the dozen or so Weird Tales anthologies that have been released over the past 50-plus years, odds are that you have not come across the name “Nictzin Dyalhis.” But during the 15-year period 1925 - 1940, Dyalhis was extraordinarily popular with the readers of that legendary pulp magazine, despite the fact that he only had eight stories published therein during that decade and a half. And of those eight, four were voted by the readers as the most popular of the issues in which they appeared, and five of them copped the front-cover illustration. This reader had previously encountered three of those tales in various anthologies, had loved them all, and was curious to read more. The only problem was, an anthology of Dyalhis’ work had never been compiled, until the fine folks at DMR released, this past summer, ... Read More

It Happened at the Ball: 13 stories with ballroom settings

It Happened at the Ball edited by Sherwood Smith

This collection of thirteen (mostly) fantasy short stories and a novelette or two is tied together by their ballroom settings, whether it be the Almack’s Regency ballroom (where a group of young ladies happens upon an overly potent magical love potion in Marissa Doyle’s “Just Another Quiet Evening at Almack’s”) or a Civil War-era ball in Galveston, Texas (P.G. Nagle’s “A Waltz for May”). There are also some other themes that surface and resurface: masks and hidden identities, romance, and ― as editor and author Sherwood Smith freely admits in her foreword ― escapist wish-fulfillment. Here be faeries, vampires, thieves, pirates and lots of other intriguing ... Read More

Nightflyers: Mystery and horror aboard a haunted spaceship

Reposting to include Marion's review of the new SYFY channel adaptation of Nightflyers. You can find it below our reviews of the novella.

Nightflyers by George R.R. Martin

Nightflyers was first published in 1980, won the Locus Award for best novella, and was nominated for a Hugo Award. It was made into an unsuccessful film in 1987. It’s recently been on people’s radars due to the upcoming SYFY series based on the novella. You can purchase it in several new (2018) formats including an illustrated edition, a story collection, and an audio version. I listened to the audio version, which was narrated by a... Read More

The People’s Republic of Everything: An experimental collection

The People’s Republic of Everything by Nick Mamatas

I don’t know if I simply wasn’t in the right mood for Nick Mamatas’ short-story collection The People’s Republic of Everything (2018), or if I’m not the right audience for his preferred themes and overall style, but this book and I just could not mesh.

There was one story, “Tom Silex, Spirit-Smasher,” which gripped my attention and had everything I look for in short fiction. The story focuses on Rosa Martinez, whose elderly grandmother might — through quirks of legality regarding her first marriage and the question of ownership of her first husband’s pulp publications — own the rights to a series of stories revolving around psychopomp Tom Silex. The character work is strong, the plot is laser-focused, and Mamatas’ ideas about family and the... Read More

Untouched by Human Hands: Sheckley’s stories are sharp and insightful

Untouched by Human Hands by Robert Sheckley

After reading Robert Sheckley’s Dimension of Miracles, I was eager to read more of his work. That novel was intelligent, creative, thought-provoking, and entertaining. So I picked up Untouched by Human Hands, a collection of Sheckley’s short stories published in the 1950s in the various pulp magazines.

My edition is the audiobook produced by Skyboat Media and read by Gabrielle de Cuir, Stefan Rudnicki, and Harlan Ellison. It’s almost 6 hours long. The stories are:

"The Monsters" (Fantasy & Science Fiction Magazine, March 1953) — This is a first contact story in which friendly humans arrive on a planet inhabited by friendly aliens... Read More

SFM: Palmer, Schutz, Gregory, Goh, McKee

Short Fiction Monday: Our weekly exploration of free and inexpensive short fiction available on the internet. Here are a few stories we've read that we wanted you to know about.

“Thirty-Three Percent Joe” by Suzanne Palmer (2018, free online at Clarkesworld, $2.99 Kindle magazine issue)

Science fiction humor is very hard to pull off, and rarely works for me. This Suzanne Palmer story is a radiant exception. Palmer hits a grand-slam with a human soldier who has 33% of his body replaced with smart parts, including a heart, one arm, part of the lower intestine and a spleen. An implanted Central Control Unit manages all of the implants, and their mission is to keep Joe alive. There are a couple of problems. One is that, while Joe is a good s... Read More

A Town Divided by Christmas: A humorous mix of science and romance

A Town Divided by Christmas by Orson Scott Card

The scientific method collides with southern small town culture and a local mystery in Orson Scott Card’s charming and insightful novella A Town Divided by Christmas (2018). Two post-doc academics ― Dr. Delilah (Spunky) Spunk, an economist, and Dr. Elyon Dewey, a geneticist ― are sent to Good Shepherd, North Carolina to do a genetic and sociological study. The hope is that by studying a relatively genetically isolated population, they can prove or disprove the theory that certain people carry a “homebody marker": a genetic tendency to remain in their native community or return to it. Spunky, the more personable of the two, is charged with interviewing the townspeople and convincing them to give genetic samples; Elyon (“that most tragic of personality types: The relentle... Read More

Diamond Fire: Wedding-related trials for the sister of the bride

 

Diamond Fire by Ilona Andrews

Nevada Baylor is getting married to Connor Rogan, and when Rogan’s mother Arrosa shuts down their plans for a small and simple wedding, insisting on a full-scale formal wedding, a couple of things happen. Nevada inexplicably gets incredibly fussy and controlling about the wedding details, firing two wedding planners, and her beleaguered 18 and 16 year old sisters Catalina and Arabella decide that the only feasible option is to handle the wedding planning themselves. And a large crowd of Rogan’s Spanish relatives on his mother’s side descends on Mrs. Rogan’s Texas mansion for a few weeks’ stay before the wedding. The half of those relatives who descend from her father’s second wife are already hostile, and matters only get worse when everyone is cooped up together in the same home, however large and luxurious.

Now the Rogan family’s valuable heirloom wed... Read More

The Loved Dead and Other Tales: The story that saved Weird Tales

The Loved Dead and Other Tales by C.M. Eddy, Jr.

Sometimes, it seems, a little notoriety can be a good thing. Take, for example, the case of the legendary pulp magazine Weird Tales. Though famously cash strapped for most of its 32-year run, during its earliest days, in 1923, things looked especially bleak for the nascent publication. On the very brink of bankruptcy, editor Edwin Baird decided to purchase, against his better judgment, a story by a Providence, Rhode Island-born writer named C.M. Eddy, Jr.

Eddy had already had a few of his weird tales released in the pages of Weird Tales, but this latest one was a real envelope pusher, dealing as it did with the highly distasteful and borderline taboo subject of necrophilia. But Baird did indeed print the story, the now-classic tale “The Loved Dead,” with the result that the Richmond, Indiana PTA tried to shut the magazine down completely! The ... Read More

SFM: Jackson, Rucker, Ochse, Armstrong

Short Fiction Monday: Our reviews of free and inexpensive short fiction available on the internet. For this year's Halloween week column, we offer a selection of haunted house stories. (The first story is admittedly pushing the boundaries of that classification, but it was too good to leave out.)

 

“The Man in the Woods” by Shirley Jackson (published 2014, free in The New Yorker)

Christopher, a college student, leaves school one day for reasons he can’t even articulate to himself, and walks for days through towns and fields, eventually making his way into a forest. The trees ominously press in on him, but a cat has joined him on his journey through the forest, giving him some companionship and comfort. Christopher and the cat eventually come across a stone house in the forest. He’s invited i... Read More

Driving to Geronimo’s Grave: A collection of Joe R. Lansdale’s favorites

Driving to Geronimo’s Grave by Joe R. Lansdale

See, here’s why I read Joe R. Lansdale; in Driving to Geronimo’s Grave (2018), there is a short story called “Wrestling with Jesus.” The story is about wrestling and male bonding. It’s violent. It’s gross and vulgar. The plot involves two men gambling over a woman. There are two women characters; one is weak and venial and the other is evil and manipulative. It has foul language. It’s funny. Generally, only “it’s funny” would even remotely attract me to a story like this, but “Wrestling with Jesus,” which follows the relationship of a lonely teenage boy and an octogenarian wrestler, is probably my favorite of this 2018 story collection.

Marvin, the teen boy in the story, is a target for bullies in his new neighborhood, where his mother has mo... Read More

Kingdoms of Elfin: Brrr!

Kingdoms of Elfin by Sylvia Townsend Warner

I first read Sylvia Townsend Warner’s Kingdoms of Elfin (1977) almost twenty years ago. At the time, I was using the recommendation lists in the back of Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling’s fairy tale books as a to-read list (side note: I highly recommend this; I found lots of amazing books that way). The online used-book market was not what it is today, so I found most of them by haunting the local used bookstores constantly to see if anything on the list had appeared since my last visit. Kingdoms of Elfin was one of the hardest to find. When I finally did, it left me with a lasting impression of sad and unsettling content delivered in beautiful prose.

When I heard tha... Read More

Rock Manning Goes for Broke: A strange and original tale by a brilliant writer

Rock Manning Goes for Broke by Charlie Jane Anders

The thing I loved the most about Rock Manning Goes for Broke, the 2018 novella by Charlie Jane Anders, is the narrative voce of Rock himself. Here are the opening lines:

Earliest I remember, Daddy threw me off the roof of our split-level house. “Boy’s gotta learn to fall sometime,” he told my mom just before he slung my pants seat and let me go.

That’s the flavor of this brief, fast-paced, action-packed dystopian, heroic dark comedy and kinda-love story.

Dad is not a psycho, or maybe he is, but he is also a stuntman, teaching his sons the trade. Rock gets older and enters school, where his class-clown antics bring him to the attention of the school bully, and also to the new girl Sally, who wants to make films. W... Read More

Exit Strategy: Murderbot to the rescue

 

Exit Strategy by Martha Wells

Murderbot, the snarky, introverted cyborg hero of Martha WellsTHE MURDERBOT DIARIES series, returns from its trip to Milu, the deserted terraforming facility in space. The cyborg Security Unit ― which has committed the unprecedented crime of hacking its “governor” that required it to obey orders ― was searching on Milu for additional evidence against the evil-ridden corporation GrayCris, as related in the third novella in this series, Rogue Protocol. Because of key evidence found on the Milu trip, Murderbot decides it needs to meet face-to-face with Dr. Mensah, who is technically Murderbot’s owner and possibly also its friend … though Murderbot would say it doesn't "do" friendship... Read More

SFM: Blackwell, Spires, Grizzle, Fox, Anderson

Short Fiction Monday: Our weekly exploration of free and inexpensive short fiction available on the internet. Here are a few stories we've read that we wanted you to know about.

“Waves of Influence” by D.A. Xiaolin Spires (2018, free at Clarkesworld magazine, $2.99 Kindle magazine issue)

Chenghui, a clever young Chinese woman, has committed fraud to win a contest to be trained by Meixiu, an internet sensation and social influencer. Chenghui’s sister, Yixuan, is a devoted fan of Meixiu, and is also slowly dying of a heart ailment. Chenghui reasons that if she can work her way into Meixiu’s inner circle, she can use her position to pretend to be Meixiu and send personalized messages to Yixuan, giving her the encouragement to keep fight... Read More