Short Fiction


SHORTS: Miller, Leiber, Clement, Brackett

SHORTS: In this week's column we review several short fiction works that we've read recently, including three more of the current Retro Hugo nominees from 1943.

“Galatea” by Madeline Miller (2013, $3.99 on Kindle; anthologized in xo Orpheus, edited by Kate Bernheimer)

In the Roman myth of Read More

The Citadel of Weeping Pearls: A pearl of a mystery in the Xuya universe

The Citadel of Weeping Pearls by Aliette de Bodard

Aliette de Bodard’s UNIVERSE OF XUYA series of novellas and short stories has been nominated for Best Series in the 2019 Hugo awards, for very good reason. The detailed worldbuilding and thoughtful writing pull the reader into a world with an alternative history, where Chinese ships were the first to discover the Americas, drastically changing our history and leading to a space age future where Chinese and Vietnamese galactic empires hold great power and intelligent mindships interact with humans outside of the ship through projected avatars. De Bodard’s website has an extremely useful page that includes a brief description of the Xuya (“Dawn Shore”) universe and a hand... Read More

Exhalation: The very best kind of speculative fiction

Exhalation: Stories by Ted Chiang

Ted Chiang’s stories are the very best kind of speculative fiction. They’re modern, sophisticated, intelligent, clever, thoughtful, and entertaining. Best of all, they’re full of futuristic science and explorations of the personal, sociological, and ethical considerations we may be facing as science and technology advance.

Most of the stories in Exhalation have seen print before; only two are new. Here are my thoughts on each:

"The Merchant and the Alchemist's Gate" — Originally published in 2007 by Subterranean Press, winner of the Hugo and Nebula Awards. A man in Baghdad visits a merchant who shows him a gate that allows his customers to go backward and forward in time. Both amusing and poignant, and told in a series of nested vignettes, this thoughtful novel... Read More

The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath: A nice blend of horror and beauty

The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath by H.P. Lovecraft

Randolph Carter keeps dreaming of a beautiful unknown city which he is aching to visit. After begging the gods to show him the way and receiving no answer, he sets out on a dream-quest to find it. The priests tell him that nobody knows where the city is and that the journey will kill him, but Randolph Carter is not deterred. His quest takes him through fantastic and mostly dangerous places where he meets strange friends and enemies. All the while he can tell that the gods who don’t belong to Earth are trying to stop him from discovering Unknown Kadath.

Anyone who has read anything by H.P. Lovecraft will be familiar with his style, and it’s on full display in The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath (1943). Lovecraft excelled at invoking a sense of terror and dread as he described the... Read More

The Last Tsar’s Dragons: Less than the sum of its parts

The Last Tsar’s Dragons by Jane Yolen & Adam Stemple

The Last Tsar’s Dragons (2019) is frustrating, both as a reading exercise and in retrospect, when I think about how universally lauded Jane Yolen is and that Adam Stemple, her son, is a well-regarded author in his own right. So take a master storyteller and her progeny, begin with the political tar pit that was the Russian court in the last days of the Romanovs, and add revolutionaries and literal fire-breathing dragons into the mix…

What should, by all expectations, be a fascinating story meanders between various viewpoints, skips through its timeline with no clear indications as to when events are occurring with relation to one another, and makes... Read More

In the Shadow of Spindrift House: One day, we will all go into the water

In the Shadow of Spindrift House by Mira Grant

Zoinks, Scoob. Like, this is one crazy mixed-up book.

In the Shadow of Spindrift House (2019) is a lot like if Mystery, Inc. — you know, those four meddling kids, their talking dog, and that giant green van — stumbled into investigating a Lovecraftian tale. The difference being, of course, that Mira Grant’s novella is deadly, deadly serious, with little chance that any shambling or creeping horrors will be unmasked to reveal an old amusement-park owner who would have gotten away with his nefarious plan if not for said meddlers.

Harlowe Upton-Jones and her three friends, all recent high school graduates, are real-and-true teenage detectives. They’ve spent years solving cases ... Read More

SHORTS: Heller, Moore, Hamilton, Bradbury, Asimov

SHORTS: In this week's column we review several of the Hugo-nominated short fiction works, including four of the Retro Hugo nominees.

"When We Were Starless" by Simone Heller (2018, free at Clarkesworld, $3.99 Kindle magazine issue). 2018 Hugo award nominee (novelette).

In a fallen, future version of our Earth, Mink’s tribe of nomadic, intelligent lizards wanders the land, living at a bare subsistence level and frequently threatened by physical dangers, like giant verminous creatures called rustbreed. One of the tribe’s treasures is their weavers, eight-legged technological artifacts from a prior time that can turn raw materials into useful items for the tribe, like pots and tents.

Mink is both a scout ... Read More

Clash by Night: An inventive mixed bag of a novella

Clash by Night by C.L. Moore & Henry Kuttner

Clash by Night (1943) , by the wife-husband team of C.L. Moore and Henry Kuttner, is an odd bit of a bird, feeling less like a smoothie that blends together different story types and writerly styles and more like a salad where you can easily spot the tomatoes, greens, peppers, etc. Uneven overall, but it does have its good points.

The opening gives us the setting quite directly, with an unknown narrator of the future telling us, “We are on Venus, nine hundred years ago, beneath the Sea of Shoals.” Earth has been destroyed by atomic war and in the 200 years since that catastrophe, humanity has continued on Venus, with most of the people (“civilians”) living in Keeps (underwater domes) and various mercenary... Read More

SHORTS: Yap, Lee, Bear, Jemisin, Okorafor

SHORTS: Our weekly exploration of free and inexpensive short fiction available on the internet. Here are a few more Locus-nominated stories we've read that we wanted you to know about.

“How to Swallow the Moon” by Isabel Yap (2018, free at Uncanny magazine, $3.03 Kindle magazine issue). 2019 Locus award nominee (novelette).

“How to Swallow the Moon,” a Locus-nominated novelette by Isabel Yap, follows the cadence and arc of a traditional fairy tale — a village periodically plies a dangerous supernatural being with strictly-cloistered maidens, called binukots, or “jewels,” in order to sate his hunger and prevent him fro... Read More

SHORTS: Bolander, Goss, Le Guin, Liu, Ford, Jemisin

SHORTS is our regular short fiction review column (previously SFM or Short Fiction Monday). In today's column we review several more of the 2019 Locus award nominees in the short fiction categories.

No Flight Without the Shatter by Brooke Bolander (2018, free at Tor.com; 99c Kindle version). 2019 Locus award nominee (novelette).

No Flight Without the Shatter brings together Linnea and her Aunties Ben, Dora, and Martha at the end of the world. Linnea is reco... Read More

SHORTS: Bolander, Kritzer, Padgett, Moore & Kuttner

SHORTS: Our exploration of free and inexpensive short fiction available on the internet. Here are a few Hugo-nominated stories we've read recently. (Due to Mother's Day and other life events, SHORTS appears on a Wednesday this week.)

“The Tale of the Three Beautiful Raptor Sisters, and the Prince Who Was Made of Meat” by Brooke Bolander (2018, free at Uncanny Magazine, $3.03 Kindle magazine issue). 2019 Hugo award nominee (short story).

I was intrigued by the title of “The ... Read More

Kabu Kabu: Are you ready for a change of scenery?

Kabu Kabu by Nnedi Okorafor

Speculative fiction reader, are you in a rut? When you think about the genre, do you mostly see brawny white guys with swords and old white wizards with beards? Or maybe a thief with a hood? Or a group of misfits who must team-up to save the world from an evil overlord or a tyrannical government? Is there a castle or a spaceship in every story? And lots of people riding horses?

Speculative fiction reader, isn’t it getting a bit stale? Are you ready for a change of scenery?

If so (and even if not) I urge you to pick up Nnedi Okorafor’s Kabu Kabu (2013), a collection of 21 short stories that will expand your horizons and restore your faith in the future of your favorite genre.

Kabu Kabu begins with a short introduction by Whoopi... Read More

Miranda in Milan: Such stuff as twenty-first century dreams are made of

Miranda in Milan by Katharine Duckett

I’ll be perfectly honest: The Tempest is not my favorite of William Shakespeare’s plays. It’s well-written, it has some fantastically quotable lines, and it contains insightful commentary about men and the pursuit of power (through various means, and of various types). But The Tempest only has one active female character, the sorcerer Prospero’s teenage daughter Miranda, and her functions are to (1) receive only the information her father deems appropriate, (2) remain obedient and chaste so that her virginity can be the strongest bargaining chip possible, and (3) be symbolically wedded to the king of Italy’s son in order to facilitate her exiled father’s return to Milan and, thus, to his status as Duke. She’s a means to an end; nothing more. There’s a lot of great stuff in The Tempest! It’s just, you know, that bit’s not great.

As modern authors t... Read More

SHORTS: Kingfisher, Brazee

Our weekly exploration of free and inexpensive short fiction available on the internet. Here are two more reviews of recent Hugo and Nebula award-nominated stories.

“The Rose MacGregor Drinking and Admiration Society” by T. Kingfisher (2018, free at Uncanny magazine, $3.03 Kindle magazine issue). 2019 Hugo award nominee (short story).

“The Rose MacGregor Drinking and Admiration Society” is a charming little diversion, among a steadily-growing list of charming short works, by T. Kingfisher. This one also happ... Read More

The Tea Master and the Detective: A Holmesian mystery in an Asian space habitat

The Tea Master and the Detective by Aliette de Bodard

The Tea Master and the Detective (2018), a novella nominated for both the Nebula and Hugo awards, is a delightful revisiting of the legendary Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson ... if both were Asian women, and Watson was a genetically modified human that is the brains and heart of a transport warship. It’s set in Aliette de Bodard’s UNIVERSE OF XUYA ― also nominated for a Hugo for Best Series ― a “timeline where Asia became dominant, and where the space age has Confucian galactic empires of Vietnamese and Chinese inspiration,” per the author’s website.

The Shadow’s Child, a mindship, is suffering... Read More

PERfunctory AfFECTION: Far from perfect

PERfunctory AfFECTION by Kim Harrison

Three years ago Meg, a talented artist who also works as a university art instructor, was in a bad car accident. She was driving and her boyfriend, the passenger, was badly injured. Since then she’s dealt with PTSD, high levels of anxiety, and overwhelming guilt. She has also had trouble recovering after her mother’s death and this has led to depression. Meg is pretty messed up and has trouble teaching her classes, making friends, and coping with life in general.

As the novella opens, Meg’s psychiatrist has put her in an experimental drug study. Almost immediately, Meg feels much, much better, almost suspiciously so. Within days of starting the new medication, Meg has even made some new friends, something that had previously been all but impossible. Her boyfriend, though, suspects the drug causes hallucinations and delusions and that Meg has too quickly become wholly dependent on it. The... Read More

SHORTS: Cho, Stueart, Palmer, Kingfisher

Our weekly exploration of free and inexpensive short fiction available on the internet. Here are a few excellent stories, including two of the recently announced Hugo nominees, that we wanted you to know about.

If at First You Don’t Succeed, Try, Try Again by Zen Cho (2018, free to read online or download at Barnes & Noble Sci-Fi & Fantasy Blog). 2019 Hugo award nominee (novelette).

If at First You Don’t Succeed, Try, Try Again, by Zen Cho, is a Hugo-nominated novelette about an imugi, a Korean creature who isn’t quite a dragon yet, but desperately wants to ascend to Heaven and join that august celesti... Read More

In the Land of Time: And Other Fantasy Tales: A Dunsany primer

In the Land of Time: And Other Fantasy Tales by Lord Dunsany

In In the Land of Time: And Other Fantasy Tales (1986), literary critic and editor S.T. Joshi has compiled a large collection of Lord Dunsany’s short fiction that spans fifty years and is representative of his entire oeuvre. As someone who is not well-acquainted with the writings of Edward John Moreton Drax Plunkett, the 18th Baron of Dunsany (1878-1957), I found this collection to be both an excellent resource and an enjoyable read. I especially appreciate the opportunity to listen to this in audiobook format, thanks to Tantor Audio who has recently released an audio edition which is 17 hours long and is beautifully narrated by Steven Crossley.

After giving us an informative introduction, Joshi has arranged Dunsany’s stories into six sections. The fi... Read More

Alice Payne Arrives: The problems with time travel

Alice Payne Arrives by Kate Heartfield

Alice Payne arrives on the scene in this 2018 Nebula-nominated novella, and it looks like she’s setting up for a longer but welcome stay. Alice Payne is a half-black, thirty-two-year-old woman living in 1788 England in a mansion called Fleance Hall, with her father and a handful of servants; she’s also a closeted queer woman in a secret relationship with her companion, an inventor named Jane Hodgson. Alice and her father have fallen into financial straits, and her father, who is suffering from severe PTSD as a result of fighting in the American Revolution, is unable to support them financially. So Alice has taken up highway robbery, in the guise of a highwayman called the Holy Ghost, choosing as her victims men who prey on women. (Though I found it improbable, apparently there are enough of these men traveling near Fleance Hall to allow Alice to support her household with her ill-gotten gains.)
Read More

Gods, Monsters, and the Lucky Peach: Ecological remediation + time travel

Gods, Monsters, and the Lucky Peach by Kelly Robson

Gods, Monsters, and the Lucky Peach (2018), one of several exceptional novellas nominated for the 2018 Nebula award, combines some intelligent and subtle world-building in the aftermath of worldwide disasters, the future version of project financing and lobbying (with lamentable similarities to our current world), and time travel to ancient Mesopotamia as research for an environmental remediation project.

In the 23rd century, humanity is beginning to rebuild on the surface of the Earth after living underground for many years in “hives and hells.” Life on the surface is limited to specific habitats, and the need for expensive ecological restoration projects to make the habitats livable has led to funding consortiums with time-consuming (and headache-inducing) formal proposal requirements. In the excitement surrounding the discovery of time travel a de... Read More

The Black God’s Drums: We really hope this begins a series

The Black God’s Drums by P. Djèlí Clark

In an alternative history, magical steampunk version of New Orleans, in 1884 the city is still influenced by the aftermath of the Civil War, which ended in a division of the Union and Confederate states. New Orleans is a pocket of neutrality, one of the few territories not aligned with either the North or South. The city is run by a council made up of ex-slaves, mulattoes and white businesspeople; British, French and Haitian airships patrol the skies to keep the peace.

Thirteen-year old-Jacqueline is a bright, quick street girl and pickpocket who goes by the name of Creeper (for her skill at climbing walls). Within Creeper lives part of the spirit of Oya, the orisha or goddess of storms, life and death, lending Creeper power over wind and sharing premonitions and visions with her. And her latest vision is a doozy: an immense, horrific skull moon hanging over New Orleans, snuffing out the... Read More

SHORTS: Castro, Greenblatt

Our weekly exploration of free and inexpensive short fiction available on the internet. Here we review a couple of Nebula-nominated stories (one older; one newer), with a wide array of opinions from our group of reviewers on the newer story (actually, three identical ratings and one outlier). Read on!

With Unclean Hands by Adam-Troy Castro (2011, originally published in Analog magazine, $2.99 Kindle version). 2011 Nebula award nominee (novella).

Andrea Cort is a cold, damaged human being. One would think this would make her wholly unsuitable for a career in the diplomatic corps that represents humans in a universe filled with sentient species. But the incident that damaged her as a child is also one that require... Read More

Oathblood: Stories about Tarma and Kethry

Oathblood by Mercedes Lackey

Fans of Tarma and Kethry shouldn’t hesitate to pick up Oathblood (1998), a short story collection featuring all of Mercedes Lackey’s tales about the female sword and sorcery duo. A couple of these stories appeared in The Oathbound and Oathbreakers, the other two books in Lackey’s VOWS AND HONORS series (part of the larger VALDEMAR saga), but most did not (though published elsewhere previously).

In these stories we witness the event that set Tarma on her quest for revenge (and, wouldn’t you know, it involves a gang rape, a common feature in Lackey... Read More

SHORTS: Gailey, Pinsker, Fox, Bruno

Our weekly exploration of free and inexpensive short fiction available on the internet. Bill and Tadiana both weigh in on a few more of this year's Nebula nominees (and one other excellent short story that Tadiana thinks should have been nominated), and Tadiana comments on the 20Booksto50K Nebula controversy.

“STET” by Sarah Gailey (2018, free at Fireside magazine)

“STET” is in the form of a draft of a scholarly article by a woman named Anna, in which she and her editor exchange increasingly agitated (at least on Anna’s side) written comments about the article’s references and footnotes. “STET” begins with a section on “Autonomous Conscience and Automotive Casualty.” It sounds dry, and reading the paragraph of body text from this article doesn’t do ... Read More

SHORTS: Clark, Wijeratne & Virdi, Harrow, Iriarte

Our weekly exploration of free and inexpensive short fiction available on the internet. This week's column features more of the 2018 Nebula award-nominated novelettes and short stories.

“The Secret Lives of the Nine Negro Teeth of George Washington” by P. Djeli Clark (Feb 2018, free at Fireside magazine). 2018 NEBULA AWARD WINNER, 2019 LOCUS AWARD WINNER (short story)

P. Djeli Clark takes the historical idea of George Washington’s teeth (not wooden, as lore has it) and creates around them a series of vignettes detailing, as the title tells us, the “nine Negro teeth” that made up his set. Each brief vignette tells us a bit about the slave from whom the tooth came, how they came to be in Washington’s servitud... Read More