Short Fiction


Time Was: Gorgeous prose kind of compensates for the flaws

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Time Was by Ian McDonald

Time Was (2018), a novella by Ian McDonald, is billed as a time-travel love story, but really, there’s not a lot of depiction of either in this slim work, and while it’s often linguistically/stylistically beautiful, in the end I was more disappointed than not.

Emmet Leigh is a used book dealer who specializes in WWII. He comes across a 1930’s book, Time Was, with a letter inside from Tom Chappel to his lover Ben Seligman dating from the war. Curiosity piqued (“This was what every dealer, every bibliophile, craved: a story outside the book”), Emmett tries to learn more about the two men. His first clues come from Thorn Hildreth, whose great-grandfather’s stash of papers and photographs puts last names to first n... Read More

The Overneath: And assorted interesting stories

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Reposting to include Jana's new review.

The Overneath by Peter S. Beagle

It must be hard to be a literary icon, late in your career. You’ve ascended the literary heights and amassed an adoring following who still expect you never to repeat, and even improve upon your previous genius with each new work. But I’m not sorry for Peter S. Beagle, nor his latest short story collection The Overneath, which came out in November of 2017.

Most striking, to me, is that Beagle manages each new tale with a distinct, and yet perfectly effortless narrative voice. No problem with that whole repetition worry. There is none here. His narratives roll out rich in otherworldly wonder.

He does revisit the unicorn theme in this collection with b... Read More

Artificial Condition: Artificial intelligences with real personalities and concerns

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Artificial Condition by Martha Wells

The illicit adventures of Murderbot continue in Artificial Condition (2018), the terrific sequel to Martha Wells’ 2017 Nebula award-winning novella, All Systems Red. Murderbot, a deeply introverted cyborg security unit, or SecUnit, who previously hacked the governor software that forced obedience to human commands, has illegally gone off the grid, eschewing the safety of a mostly-free life with a sympathetic owner in order to travel on its own. Disguising itself as an augmented human, Murderbot takes off for the mining facility space station where, it understands, it once murdered a group of humans that it was charged with protecting, though its memory... Read More

SFM: 2018 Locus Award finalists

Today's Short Fiction Monday column features all of the 2018 Locus Award finalists for short fiction. The Locus Award winners will be announced by Connie Willis during Locus Award weekend, June 22 - June 24, 2018.

NOVELLAS:

In Calabria by Peter S. Beagle (2017)

Claudio, a middle-aged curmudgeonly farmer living in a remote area of the Italian countryside, has been a standoffish loner since his wife left him decades ago. He’s satisfied with his current lifestyle, taking care of his land and his animals, and writing poetry that he shares with no one.

Everything changes one morning when a unicorn shows up on his farm. The pure and beautiful unicorn inspires C... Read More

The Prisoner of Limnos: Another chapter in Penric’s life

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The Prisoner of Limnos by Lois McMaster Bujold

The Prisoner of Limnos (2017 print, 2018 audio) is another of Lois McMaster Bujold’s PENRIC AND DESDEMONA novellas. It is a direct sequel to Mira’s Last Dance, so I’d recommend reading that (and its prequels) first.

Penric and Nikys, the widow Penric is in love with, are safe at court in Orbas when Nikys gets an encrypted letter stating that her mother has been taken prisoner by political enemies in Cedonia.

To his delight, Nikys comes to Penric for help, and the two set off for Cedonia to bust mom out of jail. This will involve Penric dressing up like a woman (again), using his chaos ... Read More

All Systems Red: The adventures of an introverted killing machine

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All Systems Red by Martha Wells

The narrator of All Systems Red (2017), the 2017 Nebula award-winning novella by Martha Wells, is a once-nameless cyborg security unit or SecUnit that has given itself the name Murderbot (for reasons disclosed midway through the story). Using its own unprecedented and highly unauthorized initiative, Murderbot has hacked the governor module software that controls its actions and obligates it to be obedient. But instead of going on a killing spree, as one might expect given the name it adopted, Murderbot elects to spend its spare hours watching countless hours of video entertainment and trying not to interact more than is necessary with the group of eight humans that it’s responsible for protecting, a survey group of eight scientists called PreservationA... Read More

Barry’s Deal: Frenetic and fun

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Barry’s Deal by Lawrence M. Schoen

The world and characters of Barry’s Deal (2017) will require no introduction to long time Lawrence M. Schoen readers. The Amazing Conroy, a space-traveling hypnotist and his companion Reggie, a buffalito (buffalo dog), have cropped up several times before, not least in Schoen’s last novella (Barry’s Tale, 2014). Nevertheless, the internet assured me that this latest installment can be read as a stand-alone novella and, as it’s one of this year’s Nebula nominees, I gave it a go.

Conroy and Reggie have just touched down on Triton, an arcology known for its opulent casino hotel and black-market activity. Now fabulously rich, Conroy i... Read More

SFM: McIntosh, Szpara, Andrews

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, including 2017 Nebula nominees in the short fiction categories.

“What is Eve?” by Will McIntosh (April 2018, free at Lightspeed, $3.99 Kindle magazine issue)

Ben and several other middle school aged children are separated from their families and taken to an isolated school, to participate in a “unique program” that is supposed to be an incredible opportunity for the children. Once they arrive, Ben and the other students are given some odd instructions: wear an earbud day and night... Read More

I Met a Traveller in an Antique Land: A disquisition on the value of all books

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I Met a Traveller in an Antique Land by Connie Willis

Jim is visiting Manhattan, doing publicity for his blog, Gone for Good, and hoping to sell it as a book to a publisher. The point of Jim’s blog, and his sincere belief, is that things dying out and disappearing ― payphones, elevator operators, VHS tapes, and books nobody cares about ― is part of the natural order, a sign that society doesn’t need these things any longer. If society changes its mind, they can always be brought back. Books are generally digitized, after all. Or so Jim asserts.

When a meeting with a publisher gets cancelled, Jim wanders the streets of Manhattan until a downpour of rain drives him into an old-fashioned bookstore, Ozymandias Books, which appears to deal in rare titles. Jim wanders through the shelves, bemused at the odd variety of obscure books that he sees.
Pr... Read More

SFM: Bowes, de Bodard, Larson, Yoachim

Short Fiction Monday: Our weekly exploration of free and inexpensive short fiction available on the internet. Here are a few excellent stories, including three more from the current crop of Nebula and Hugo award nominees. 

Dirty Old Town by Richard Bowes (2017, Fantasy & Science Fiction magazine, May/June 2017 issue; PDF is temporarily free here, courtesy of F&SF). 2018 Nebula award nominee (novelette)

Richard Bowes is no stranger to semi-autobiographical work. He returns to that for... Read More

SFM: Prasad, Wahls, Pinsker, Dick, Kressel

Short Fiction Monday: Our weekly exploration of free and inexpensive short fiction available on the internet. Several 2017 Nebula short fiction nominees are reviewed in today's column.

A Series of Steaks by Vina Jie-Min Prasad (2017, free at Clarkesworld, $3.99 Kindle magazine issue). 2017 Nebula award nominee (novelette)

In this near-future SF novelette, 3-D printing has become so advanced that a “bioprinter” can mass-produce copies of food. In any criminal forgery case, the best forgeries are the ones that never get noticed, and Helena Li Yuanhui of Splendid Beef Enterprises, a one-woman business in Nanjing, China, is an expert at it. She keeps her business small and the quality of her gray market meat forger... Read More

SFM: Lingen, Prasad, Wilde

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, including two excellent Nebula nominees. 

“Flow” Marissa Lingen (March 2018, free at Fireside Fiction)

In Marissa Lingen’s “Flow,” teenaged Gigi, who loves her father and proudly shares his mannerisms, accidentally discovers — or is discovered by — naiads in the nearby woods. The naiads knew her father, and are pleased to meet Gigi, who spends time over the coming years performing small tasks for the naiads and coming to know more about their environment. But two tragic and life-changing events befall Gigi, who must reshape her self-image and how she fits into a world that doesn’t make accommodations for either water nymphs or people with assistive devices.
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The Tangled Lands: Great concept, varied execution across four novellas

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The Tangled Lands by Paolo Bacigalupi & Tobias S. Buckell 

The Tangled Lands is a shared-world collection of four novellas, two each written by Paolo Bacigalupi and Tobias S. Buckell. The setting is the faded remains of the once-great Jhandpara Empire, whose glory had relied on wondrously powerful magic. The dying remnants of once-glorious empires litter the fantasy canon (think the faded glory of Gondor —or Numenor before Gondor — or the seedy world of Lankhmar), but in The Tangled Lands, the old trope is given new life thanks to the sharp ecological / environmental metaphor that lies at its core.

The Jhandapra Empire had once been a grandly magnif... Read More

SFM: Pinsker, Takács, Murray, Brazee

Short Fiction Monday: Our weekly exploration of free and inexpensive short fiction available on the internet. This week we begin focusing on the 2017 Nebula award nominees in the short fiction categories.

Wind Will Rove by Sarah Pinsker (2017, originally published in Asimov’s, Sept-Oct 2017 issue; free PDF available at the author’s website). 2017 Nebula nominee (novelette)

Rosie, the 55 year old narrator, is a history teacher on board a generation ship that has been voyaging through space for the better part of a hundred years, and will be traveling for many more years. She’s also an accomplished fiddler, part of a band of fiddlers, guitarists, mandolinists and banjo players that plays weekly at the OldTime gathering... Read More

SFM: Buckell, Scalzi, Kanakia, Novakova

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.

“A World to Die For” by Tobias Buckell (Jan. 2018, free at Clarkesworld, Issue 136, $3.99 Kindle magazine issue)

Be warned: “A World to Die For” can be read as a message story, because the premise involves multiple realities with greater and lesser degrees of global warming. This does not get in the way of action and adventure, a study of personality, a collection of complicated characters, wonderful gadgets and a several types of suspense, ranging from the shoot-em-up kind to the m... Read More

Armageddon 2419 A.D.: Passing the buck

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Armageddon 2419 A.D. by Philip Francis Nowlan

I would imagine, at this point, that you have previously heard of the fictional character named Buck Rogers. And indeed, dating from his initial comic strip appearance in January 1929, and proceeding on to radio shows (starting in 1932, Buck Rogers was radio’s very first sci-fi hero), a 12-part film serial (starring the former Olympic swimming medalist Buster Crabbe), several TV adaptations, video games, and comics, the character has been fairly ubiquitous for almost 90 years now. To be sure, Buck’s comic strip was so very popular in the early ‘30s that it spawned, in January 1934, a rival sci-fi strip starring Flash Gordon, a character that Crabbe would also portray in three fondly remembered film serials.

But unlike Flash, Buck had, as his actual provenance, a literary background. That predecessor, you see, was one Anthony Rogers, who ... Read More

The Best of Lucius Shepard: Earlier stories are best

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The Best of Lucius Shepard by Lucius Shepard

I’ll come right out and say it. Lucius Shepard was one of the best SF short story writers of the 1980 and 1990s. His prose, imagery, themes, and style are so powerful, dynamic, and vivid that it’s a real crime that he didn’t gain a wider readership when he was alive, though he did win many SF awards.

Although he had already been publishing his stories in SF magazines like SF&F and Asimov’s for several years, he gained greater prominence with his short story collection The Jaguar Hunter in 1987, which won the 1988 World Fantasy Award and Locus Award for Best Collection. Many of the stories were nominated for the Hugo and Nebu... Read More

SFM: Corey, Gilman, Vaughn, McDonald, Bisson

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.



The Vital Abyss by James S.A. Corey (2015, $2.99 Kindle, $4.95 audio)

I haven’t read or watched THE EXPANSE yet, but I purchased some of the related novellas when they were on sale at Audible. The first one I read was The Vital Abyss and I loved it. This is my type of science fiction.

The story opens with 37 people held captive in a large room. They’ve been there for many years. One day a man comes in and asks for one of the prisoners to interpret some information that’s on a handheld computer. Thinking this may be a way for ... Read More

Bright Thrones: Whatever happened to Bettany?

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Bright Thrones by Kate Elliott

The Bright Thrones novella (2017) ties up some loose threads left after the conclusion of Poisoned Blade, the second book in Kate Elliott’s COURT OF FIVES trilogy. In the middle of that novel, Jessamy reunites briefly with her twin sister, Bettany, who appears to be in servitude to a famous foreign doctor, Lord Agalar. Very little about their strange situation is explained at the time, and circumstances drive the sisters apart just when it seems that a reunification (though certainly not a reconciliation) might be possible.

Most of Bright Thrones takes place before Bettany and Jes meet up at the royal f... Read More

Starlings: A worthwhile journey into a writer’s mind

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Starlings by Jo Walton

I’m honestly not quite sure of how to review Jo Walton’s 2018 collection of short stories, Starlings. As a fiction read, it left me greatly wanting, with many of the stories (there are also poems and one play, but more on those later) feeling undeveloped, slight, and too one-note, so that most frequent reaction was “nice idea, but ...” with the “but” mostly signifying a response that really wasn’t a response. And so what’s the problem, you might be thinking. You didn’t respond to most of the stories; give it a bad review. Which is a nice idea, but ...

And here’s the thing. Each story is followed by a brief afterword explaining where the premise arose, or what Walton’s intentions were, or where it was published (or not) or how much ... Read More

The Only Harmless Great Thing: A poetically imaginative work of social fiction

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The Only Harmless Great Thing by Brooke Bolander

Brooke Bolander’s The Only Harmless Great Thing (2018) is a lyrical, often moving, and sometimes searing novella that sets itself in an alternate reality that entangles two historical events: the public electrocution of Topsy the elephant at Coney Island in 1903 and the “Radium Girls” scandal in the early 1900s. That the two events were not simultaneous as in the novella is only part of the “alternate” part of this alternate reality. More central to the plot is the fact that elephants in this world are sentient.

The plot itself, which has two time strands, is relatively simple. In the early strand, Regan, a young radium girl already dying from the radiation she’s been exposed to in her job painting watch dials, trains a young elephant, Topsy, to replace her, both of them knowing what th... Read More

Mixed Up: Stories and cocktail recipes; both are intoxicating

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Mixed Up edited by Nick Mamatas & Molly Tanzer

Mixed Up (2017) is an anthology of cocktail-themed flash fiction and cocktail recipes, edited by Nick Mamatas and Molly Tanzer. The stories, like the drink recipes, are grouped by type and theme. I thought the editors took the most liberal view of “flash” here, because I think some of these works might run to 1200 words or slightly over, and I think of flash as topping out at 1,000 words. I don’t think there is a hard and fast threshold, and certainly the spirit of flash fiction (see what I did there?) is met.

Nick Mamatas says in his introduction to the stories that this is conceived as an old-fashioned “all-stories” magazine. The tales in the book includ... Read More

A Taste of Honey: An unusual and fascinating world

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Reposting to include Marion's new review.

A Taste of Honey by Kai Ashante Wilson

Another 2016 Nebula nominee today, this time for best Novella. A Taste of Honey (2016) is set in the same world as a previous work by Kai Ashante Wilson, The Sorcerer of the Wildeeps, which I confess I have not read (it’s not necessary for the understanding of this story, though it may provide some useful background to the setting and its institutions).

At its heart, A Taste of Honey is a love story between two men from different lands — wealthy nobleman, Aqib, from Olorum (where the story is set), and battle-hardened warrior... Read More

SFM: Rambo, Rustad, Jones, Jemisin, Wrigley

Short Fiction Monday: Our weekly exploration of free and inexpensive short fiction available on the internet. As the jumping-off point for this week’s SFM column, we're reviewing several of the stories mentioned in BookRiot’s January 4, 2018 column listing good places to read online short science fiction, which Marion Deeds noted in her January 10, 2018 WWWednesday column.  

“Red in Tooth and Cog” by Cat Rambo (2016, audio and text free at EscapePod, originally published in Fantasy & Science Fiction)

Renee is eating lunch in the park one day when her smartphone is stolen by a small, swiftly moving robot. Since her phone c... Read More

SFM: Campbell, Turtledove, Corey, Rusch, Balder

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.

“Sasabonsam” by Tara Campbell (Dec. 2017, free at Strange Horizons)

The vampirish Sasabonsam lurks in the trees near an African village, its limbs hanging down like swaying vines to snatch unwary villagers that the Sasabonsam then eats. Its first victim: a man who is returning to the village one night, reeking with fear.
You run, but of course that won’t help you. Whichever tree you’re near is the one I’m in. That’s how it works with Sasabonsam.
The Sasabonsam smugly expects that his victim’s flesh and soul will be completely absorbed soon, but the man’s soul is still inside of him when the monster grabs its next victim. And the turm... Read More