Short Fiction


Sleep Donation: A strange and thought-provoking tale

Reposting to include Marion's new review.

Sleep Donation by Karen Russell

In the near future, an insomnia epidemic has struck the United States. It’s caused by a dysfunction in orexin and those who acquire it can’t sleep. Eventually, they die. But there is a therapy that can help prolong life and, in some cases, even cure people. Donors can contribute sleep to those afflicted with the disorder. Babies make the best donors because their sleep isn’t contaminated by nightmares.

Trish is the top recruiter for a charity organization that finds sleep donors. Her sister died from the disorder and, when she tearfully tells the story to potential donors, she can get many of them to sign up. When she discovers a baby who turns out to be a rare universal sleep donor, Trish works with the baby’s parents to keep them on... Read More

And Go Like This: For readers and writers

And Go Like This by John Crowley

I don’t usually pay attention to the media blurbs on the covers of books, but the Newsday quote on the cover of John Crowley’s And Go Like This (2019) so perfectly describes this story collection that I must share it:

“Transforms the lead of daily life into seriously dazzling artistic gold.”

“The lead of daily life” in these stories comes from mostly average people going about their mostly average lives. In this collection you won’t find many of the plot fixtures we’re used to seeing in speculative fiction. There are no spaceships, battles, dragons, kings, or magic spells. There are a few speculative elements, but what makes Crowley’s fiction most compelling is the way he closely examines the souls of normal folk, portrays them in such a charming wa... Read More

To Hold Up the Sky: A bit too cool and hard sci-fi for me

To Hold Up the Sky by Cixin Liu

In my review of Cixin Liu’s The Three-Body Problem, I stated I thought the novel had gone on too long and noted that while it wrestled with “a lot of big ideas … I just wished such questions had been surrounded by richer characterization and a defter writing style.” It turns out I had pretty much the exact same reaction to Liu’s recent collection of short stories, To Hold Up the Sky (2020).

To speak generally of the collection, Liu offers up a lot of intriguing thought experiments and creates some truly evocative imagery. Unfortunately, these strengths were, for me, mostly outweighed by a paucity of engaging or compelling characters, a lot of heavily talky exposition in nea... Read More

Ring Shout: The horrors of racism and hatred made tangible

Ring Shout by P. Djèlí Clark

In Ring Shout (2020), P. Djèlí Clark melds two types of horror, Lovecraftian monsters and the bloody rise of the Ku Klux Klan in 1922 Georgia, as a group of black resistance fighters take on an enemy with frightening supernatural powers.

As Ku Klux Klan members march down the streets of Macon, Georgia on the Fourth of July, Maryse Boudreaux, who narrates the story, watches from a rooftop with her two companions, sharpshooter Sadie and former soldier Cordelia “Chef” Lawrence, a bomb expert. They’ve baited a trap for the “Ku Kluxes,” who are hellish demons that hide in disguise among the Klan humans, taking over the bodies of the worst of them. The trap works, but the silver pellets and iron slags contained in the bomb aren’t enough to kill the three monsters that rise out of the wreckage ... Read More

Allison V. Harding: The Forgotten Queen of Horror

Allison V. Harding: The Forgotten Queen of Horror by Allison V. Harding

Unless you are an aficionado of the famous pulp magazine Weird Tales, or have read some of the many anthology collections derived from its pages, the chances are good that you are not familiar with the author Allison V. Harding. This reader had previously encountered the author in the 1988 collection Weird Tales: The Magazine That Never Dies, which contained what is probably Harding’s most famous story, “The Damp Man.” I had hugely enjoyed this chilling tale and wanted to read more by this nearly forgotten writer, but there was one problem: No collection of Harding’s work had ever been compiled, and her appearances in various collections are few and far between. And this is somewhat surprising, given that, during the peri... Read More

Yellow Jessamine: A paranoid antiheroine in a dissolving city

Yellow Jessamine by Caitlin Starling

Having thoroughly enjoyed Caitlin Starling’s 2019 novel The Luminous Dead, I was very happy to learn that I wouldn’t have to wait long to read more of her work.

Yellow Jessamine (2020), Starling’s new novella, is completely different from The Luminous Dead but similarly features creepy atmosphere, a background of family trauma, and relationships filled with dysfunctional tension and longing.

Evelyn Perdanu is a wealthy woman in the city of Delphinium, a city that is slowly dying now that its surrounding empire has fallen to a coup. Evelyn is involved in shipping, and is also an herbalist specializing in “fixes to unfixable probl... Read More

Driftwood: A strong story collection with a great setting

Reposting to include Jana's new review.

Driftwood by Marie Brennan

Driftwood (2020) is a charming, meditative, and often poignant collection of linked stories by Marie Brennan that mostly succeeds both in its individual tales and as a whole, though I had a few issues. But given that one of those is it was too short, it’s still an easy book to recommend.

The book’s general setting is the titular Driftwood. Think of it as a beach whose tide, instead of washing up the pebbles and the sea’s detritus, washes up instead dying worlds. Except instead of piling up on a sandy strand, the worlds just edge farther and farther inward, getting ever smaller before eventually disappearing forever. Or as one character explains to another whose world has just started the process:
Bits [of a world] just vanish. People die... Read More

Drowned Country: An enchanting sequel

Drowned Country by Emily Tesh

Drowned Country (2020) is the second and concluding novella in Emily Tesh’s GREENHOLLOW DUOLOGY, following 2019’s Silver in the Wood. This review will contain some spoilers for Silver in the Wood.

When we last saw Tobias and Henry Silver, Tobias had become an ordinary mortal man, and had been reunited with Silver — who had been presumed dead, but instead had been saved by the Wood itself, becoming its guardian Wild Man in the way that Tobias once was. It turns out, though, that this idyll lasted only a few months before the two men fell out. Now Silver sulks alone in his manor house, using his powers to accelerate its ruin.

S... Read More

SHORTS: Brown, McGuire, Muir, Headley, Bryski, Goss

SHORTS is our column exploring free and inexpensive short fiction available on the internet. Here are a few stories we've recently read that we wanted you to know about.

While Dragons Claim the Sky by Jen Brown (2019, originally published in FIYAH Magazine Issue #10: Hair, available online for $3.99; free audio recording on PodCastle (Part 1 and Part 2), read by C. L. Clark)

While Dragons Claim the Sky tells the story of a skilled young mage as she takes a chance on discovering more of the world and her... Read More

The Heirs of Locksley: Archery and mischief with Robin Hood’s children

The Heirs of Locksley by Carrie Vaughn

The adventures of Robin Hood's three children continue in The Heirs of Locksley, the second novella in Carrie Vaughn's ROBIN HOOD STORIES series. It takes a unexpected four-year leap forward from The Ghosts of Sherwood. The eldest, Mary, is now twenty and still hasn't met the young man she's semi-betrothed to, and her feelings have shifted from fear and uncertainty to irritation that William de Ros still hasn’t bothered to come meet her; in fact, she's beginning to wonder if he even exists. John (named after Little John) is in his later teens now, and the youngest, Eleanor, is thirteen.

Robin's old enemy King John died a few years ago, and his thirteen-y... Read More

Where the Veil Is Thin: A mixed bag of fairies

Where the Veil Is Thin edited by Cerece Rennie Murphy & Alana Joli Abbott

Where the Veil Is Thin (2020), an anthology of stories about fairies and spirits, began as a Kickstarter. The project was successful, and the book is now widely available. Editors Cerece Rennie Murphy and Alana Joli Abbott have brought together a diverse group of authors with a wide variety of writing styles and approaches to the fae. While the tag line on the back cover says “These are not your daughter’s faerie tales,” some of the stories do read as if they might be intended for a youthful audience, while others are definitely not for kids. The stunning cover art is by Anna Dittmann.

The collection begins with a brief introduction by Jim C. Hines. In it, he... Read More

Desdemona and the Deep: “The bright-winged, the beautiful, the bizarre”

Reposting to include Tadiana's new review.

Desdemona and the Deep by C.S.E. Cooney

Desdemona and the Deep (2019) is C.S.E. Cooney’s third novella in the DARK BREAKERS series, but is a self-contained story that can stand alone. A finalist for the Locus Award for Best Novella, Desdemona and the Deep is a dreamy, sensual trip through the otherworlds. I’ll let Cooney set the scene:
Four stories above the Grand Foyer of the Seafall City Opera House, each painted panel in the barrel-vaulted ceiling depicted a scene from one of the three worlds. Which world it happened to be depended on the tint and tone of the panel: daylight was for Athe, the world of mortals; twilight represented the Valwode, where the gentry dwelled; and midnight belonged to Bana the Bone Kingdom, home to all the koboldkin. Through these wheeling coffers of world... Read More

Of Dragons, Feasts and Murders: Mystery and court intrigue in a cool setting

Of Dragons, Feasts and Murders by Aliette de Bodard

Last Friday night, I was feeling indecisive about what to read, so I emailed Jana and listed the options I was considering: YA Historical Fantasy? Creepy Medical SF? I admitted I was leaning toward Snarky Murder Novella. “It’s Friday,” she said, encouraging me to treat myself with Snarky Murder Novella, and I’m very glad I did.

Of Dragons, Feasts and Murders is part of Aliette de Bodard’s DOMINION OF THE FALLEN series, coming between book three, The House of Sundering Flames, and a fourth book yet to be released. However, it is written to stand on its own; you don’t have to have read any of the previous books. I hadn’t, but I definitely wi... Read More

SHORTS: The Retro Hugo-nominated novelettes and short stories of 1944

SHORTS: Our column exploring free and inexpensive short fiction available on the internet. In today's column we review the 2020 Retro Hugo nominees in the novelette and short story categories, following up on yesterday's column, in which we reviewed the novellas.

RETRO HUGO NOVELETTES:

Arena by Fredric Brown (1944, published in Astounding Science Fiction, free online at Internet Archive). 2020 Retro Hugo award nominee (novelette).

Two massive fleets hang outside the orbit of Pluto, about to engage in a furious battle to the death: Humans and the aliens they call the Outsiders. Bob Carson, a young human in an individual scout ship, is about to engage ... Read More

SHORTS: The Retro Hugo-nominated novellas of 1944

SHORTS: Our column exploring free and inexpensive short fiction available on the internet. In today's column we review the 2020 Retro Hugo nominees in the novella category, other than The Jewel of Bas, which we've previously reviewed here as part of The Best of Leigh Brackett. Stay tuned for tomorrow's column, where we turn our attention to the Retro Hugo novelettes and short stories.

A God Named Kroo by Henry Kuttner (1944, published in Thrilling Wonder Stories, free online at Internet Archive). 2020 Retro Hugo award nominee (novella).

In remote Tibet, a minor deity named Kroo is slowly d... Read More

SHORTS: Gailey, Huang, Solomon

SHORTS is our column exploring free and inexpensive short fiction available on the internet. We've previously reviewed most of the novellas, novelettes and short stories that are currently nominated for the 2020 Hugo Awards. Here are our reviews for the remaining nominees. Reviews for the Retro Hugo short fiction nominees are coming this week!

Away with the Wolves by Sarah Gailey (2019, free at Uncanny Magazine, $3.99 Kindle magazine issue). 2020 Hugo award nominee (novelette). Read More

Wicked Wonders: The wonder and magic in our lives

Reposting to include Skye's new review.

Wicked Wonders by Ellen Klages

In Wicked Wonders (2017), Ellen Klages has assembled an impressive collection of her short stories. Although almost all of these stories have been previously published (the sole exception is “Woodsmoke”), most of them appeared in anthologies and are unlikely to be familiar to most readers. These fourteen stories run the gamut from non-fiction (“The Scary Ham”) to straight fiction (“Hey, Presto,” “Household Management” and “Woodsmoke”) to science fiction and fantasy. They’re often bittersweet or wistful and frequently surreal; tales of ordinary lives in which the fantastical or unexpected element sneaks up and taps you on the shoulder, and when you turn around the world has shifted.

Several tales in Wicked Wonders are reminiscent of certain of Ray Bradbury’s short... Read More

Silver in the Wood: A hopeful tale about renewal

Silver in the Wood by Emily Tesh

Silver in the Wood (2019) is an enchanting novella by Emily Tesh, who is a finalist for the 2020 Astounding Award. It is the first in Tesh’s GREENHOLLOW DUOLOGY; the sequel, Drowned Country, will be released in August.

Tobias has lived alone for a long time. He’s a sort of guardian of the forest, keeping its assorted supernatural creatures from getting out of hand. (He’s also a couple of other things, which you’ll find out about later.) Tobias is shaken out of his routine when he has a meet-cute with Henry Silver, the new owner of the manor house at the edge of the wood.

I don’t think the word “England” is ever technically mentioned, but this feels like the folkloric English forest. Reading Silver in the Wood, the reader feels like one wrong turn might lead th... Read More

King Kull: The Sword & Sorcery genre begins here

King Kull by Robert E. Howard & Lin Carter

There’s a reason why I never lend out books anymore, even to my closest friends; namely, the fact that when I used to loan them out, I never got them back in the same good condition, or, even worse, never got them back at all. Cases in point: three paperbacks from one of my old favorite writers, Texas-born Robert E. Howard. Back in the mid-‘60s, Lancer Books released all of Howard’s Conan the Barbarian stories in a now-classic series of 12 paperbacks, as well as a beautiful paperback of another legendary Howard character, King Kull. I owned all 13 of those wonderful volumes, and made the big mistake of lending the first two Conan books out (both featuring gorgeous cover artwork by Frank Frazetta), as well as the Kull (feat... Read More

The Order of the Pure Moon Reflected in Water: A warmhearted wuxia fantasy

The Order of the Pure Moon Reflected in Water by Zen Cho

The Order of the Pure Moon Reflected in Water (2020) is a surprisingly warmhearted fantasy novella set in a war-torn Asian country. It's a queer take on wuxia, a time-honored genre of Chinese fiction based on heroes skilled in the martial arts, frequently in superhuman, fantastical ways (think Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon or even Kung Fu Panda).

One day, in a small coffeehouse, a customer angrily accuses his waitress of using jampi witchcraft on him. The quarrel degenerates, a handsome bandit intervenes,... Read More

The Empress of Salt and Fortune: A literary puzzle-box

The Empress of Salt and Fortune by Nghi Vo

Cleric Chih and their hoopoe, Almost Brilliant, are on a journey to the capital — both to view the next month’s impending eclipse and to be present at “the new empress’ Dragon Court” — and along the way, the two make a stop at Lake Scarlet, where an old woman invites the pair to stay and catalogue, for the first time, the treasures held there. Chih soon discovers that the old woman, named Rabbit, has a fair number of stories to tell as well: stories of The Empress of Salt and Fortune, who came from the mammoth-filled north and wielded great power despite her exile, eventually changing the Ahn empire forever.

Nghi Vo’s debut novella is painstakingly crafted, slowly teasing out crucial information with richly-layered and gorgeous prose. The method by which the story of Empress In-yo is told echoes the ways in ... Read More

Time Patrol: Classic time travel stories by Poul Anderson

Time Patrol by Poul Anderson

Between 1955 and 1995 Poul Anderson published a series of short stories, novelettes, novellas, and novels, about the Time Patrol, a secret group of people from all over the world whose job is to protect the world history we know. They jump up and down the timeline, making sure that terrorists and other disruptors don’t use time travel to remake history to suit their own malign purposes. Or any purposes, actually. Their goal is to keep history the same, even with all its evils, so as not to accidentally wipe out human civilization so that we can eventually evolve into the Danellians, a post-human species that is highly invested in making sure history doesn’t change.

Though there are many Time Patrol agents, the one we see most often in these stories is Manse Everard, an American man who was recruited by the ... Read More

SHORTS: Hill, Osborne, Towles, Buckell, Palmer

SHORTS: Our column exploring free and inexpensive short fiction available on the internet. This week's post reviews two more Locus Award nominees, along with other recent short fiction works that we've enjoyed.

Late Returns by Joe Hill (2019, included in the Full Throttle collection). Locus award finalist (novelette)

Joe Hill, who like his famous father typically writes in the horror genre, switches it up in Late Returns, a novelette that was originally published in his Read More

Permafrost: A time-twisty thriller

Permafrost by Alastair Reynolds

Alastair ReynoldsPermafrost (2019), a finalist for the 2020 Locus Award for Best Novella, is billed as “a time-traveling climate fiction adventure.” It takes place in two timelines.

In 2080, humanity seems to be coming to an end, mostly due to a lack of food. Valentina Lidova, an elderly Russian math teacher, attempts to continue teaching her malnourished students, knowing all the while that it’s futile.

Then she’s visited by someone from an institution called Permafrost who offers a crazy-sounding solution. They claim to have invented time travel and want Valentina to be the first person who travels back in time. They’ve chosen her because it was her mathematician mother, now dead, whose widely-mocked theories they used to invent the techno... Read More

SHORTS: Roanhorse, Liu, Lee, Goss, Kingfisher, Bear

SHORTS: Our column exploring free and inexpensive short fiction available on the internet. This week's post reviews several more of the current crop of Locus Award nominees in the short fiction categories.

“A Brief Lesson in Native American Astronomy” by Rebecca Roanhorse (2019, anthologized in The Mythic Dream, edited by Dominik Parisien and Navah Wolfe). 2020 Locus award finalist (short story).

In the future, people’s memories can be stored and preserved even after they’ve died, and other people can inject them like drugs. Dez Hunter is an actor who has spiraled into depression after the death of his beloved girlfrien... Read More