The Storyteller and Other Tales by K.V. Johansen
The Storyteller and Other Tales is a book of stories, and I mean that as the highest compliment. I felt like I was transported from the 21st century to some Thane’s hall with a roaring fire and a smoke hole instead of a chimney, while K.V. Johansen wove tales that took me to different and wonderful traditions.
Johansen is a fantasy scholar, and this shows up clearly in this book. The four tales that she presents use widely differing fantasy settings. "The Storyteller" is set in a Scandinavia-like land, in a world of little gods, ancient devils and power-hungry wizards. "He-Redeems" is set in the bronze age, and is told from the perspective of a simple, devout slave, and demonstrates the problems with blind obedience. "The Inexorable Tide" is an Arthurian story, the way it might really have been, and an explanation... Read More
Story CollectionCollections of stories by one author. In order by rating (5 stars at the top).
The Storyteller and Other Tales by K.V. Johansen
Lips Touch: Three Times by Laini Taylor
I'm having a hard time reviewing Lips Touch: Three Times. Intelligent language seems to be failing me. I don't want to write a review so much as I want to jump up and down and squeal like a crazed fangirl. Lips Touch is chocolate in book form. It's dark, it's rich, it's delicious, and it's precisely to my taste.
Lips Touch is a collection of three stories; the common theme, as you might guess from the title, is the kiss. In fairy tales, a kiss is often the catalyst for transformation. Laini Taylor is, without a doubt, writing fairy tales here. From the threads of older stories, she weaves new tales that have all the power of the old.
The first story, "Goblin Fruit," is set in the present day and features an unpopular high school student, Kizzy, whose unfulfilled longings make her eas... Read More
The Rose and the Beast: Nine Fairy Tales by Francesca Lia Block
The Rose and the Beast: Nine Fairy Tales was my first look into the writing of Francesca Lia Block, and I was immediately captivated by both her style and tone and her unsurpassable use of imagery, and her ability to make old fairytales into new, darker and profound creations. It is gradually becoming clear in the general world of literature that fairytales in their original form were not at all intended for children, and the advent of sweet little fairytales, beginning with the Brothers Grimm and accumulating in the works of Enid Blyton, are gradually heading back to what they were originally used for: deep insights into the minds and souls of human beings as a whole. With that in mind, Francesca Lia Block perfectly captures their essence and meaning.
The cover art also captures this regard for fairytale... Read More
The Ladies of Grace Adieu and Other Stories: A wonderful companion to Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell
The Ladies of Grace Adieu and Other Stories by Susanna Clarke
The moment I finished Susanna Clarke's wonderful first novel Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell, I wished that there was more of it. It was a long wait, but finally the fans of Clarke's magically-soaked nineteenth-century Britain have a sequel — of sorts. Clarke presents eight short stories concerned with the presence of Faerie in England, and its influence on human inhabitants, all set in the same universe (with the same magical structure) as her previous work. However, it's more of a companion piece than a sequel, considering it does not continue the story told in her novel, but expands on several of its ideas and subplots.
This is particularly the case in the title story, "The Ladies of Grace Adieu," in which we find out why Jonathan Strange was so eager to remove his brother-in-law from the province of Gloucester... Read More
The Ladies of Grace Adieu and Other Stories by Susanna Clarke (audio)
Rebecca has written an excellent review of The Ladies of Grace Adieu and Other Stories and I am completely in agreement with her review. I'd just like to make a few points about why I love Susanna Clarke's writing, and I'll mention the audiobook:
The Duke of Wellington Misplaces his Horse" was a particularly delightful piece not only because it was so whimsical, but mainly because the main character is a real historical figure. One of the aspects of Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell that I particularly enjoyed was Susanna Clarke's use of several historical events and people. She gives them personalities that are completely believable. Imagining The Duke of Wellington in this particular magical situation was highly entertaining.
In addition to mentioning true hist... Read More
Smoke and Mirrors by Neil Gaiman
Neil Gaiman's place on my personal "favorite authors list" is cemented firmly by Smoke and Mirrors, a versatile collection of his short stories and narrative poems. There is a wide variety of "types" of story here, from fantasy to horror to mystery to wildly hilarious comedy. I liked almost all of them.
Neil Gaiman's two finest gifts are (1) humor, and (2) truly scary horror that gets under your skin rather than just grossing you out with gore. He flexes his humor muscles with such outstanding fare as "Chivalry" (the story of an old woman who buys the Holy Grail at a thrift shop), "We Can Get Them For You Wholesale" (about hit men with discount rates), "One Life, Furnished in Early Moorcock" (about a young boy and his love for fantasy novels), and "Shoggoth's Old Peculiar" (believe it or not, a funny Cthulhu story, abo... Read More
Black Pearls by Louise Hawes
Once upon a time, there was a woman who was so caught up in a book that she did nothing all day but read it, from cover to cover.
Black Pearls: A Faerie Strand is a gem. Louise Hawes' dark, sensual fairy tale retellings and Rebecca Guay's evocative illustrations work perfectly together to form one of the best books of retold tales that I've ever read. I checked this out from the library, but I've resolved that I simply must have a copy of my own to treasure.
Hawes' prose is perfect for the genre. Her writing is beautiful without being heavy, and she has a talent for conveying visceral images in arch, elegant turns of phrase. She's also got a knack for metaphors. They're sometimes unexpected, sometimes familiar, and always perfectly fitting for the character who thinks them. (Rapunzel's witch compares hatred to poison... Read More
Harrowing the Dragon by Patricia A. McKillip
Patricia A. McKillip is the author of several wonderful books (my favourites being Alphabet of Thorn and Winter Rose) and is one of the few fantasists in the publishing world that is original. Although her stories may contain typical fantasy elements (dragons, heroes, kingdoms, quests, good versus evil, etc) they are written in such beautiful poetic-prose that the stories transcend the clichés they stem from; reading more as luminous fairytales than hum-drum fantasy. Although the prose is beautiful, it is also an acquired taste. When I was first introduced to her work, I found it rather difficult to adjust to a story that was often hidden under such dense, rich language. Of course, it's worth it in the end, but for those just starting out on McKillip, perhaps this anthology of short stories is a good starting... Read More
The Very Best of Charles de Lint by Charles de Lint
With a title like The Very Best of Charles de Lint, I had high hopes, and I have to say that they were met. Yes, this is the best of Charles de Lint’s fantasy. Chosen in consultation with his readers on Facebook and on his website, de Lint has culled down decades of writing to create a special volume with beautiful cover art by Charles Vess that highlights the reason why de Lint is considered one of the founding fathers of urban fantasy. I have been reading de Lint for close to two decades now, and am quite the completionist. I buy chapbooks and limited editions, and keep them in slip covers. With a background like that, I consider myself well qualified to judge if this is indeed the best of his writing. And, with the caveat that he is pulling from his short stories, because it’s difficult to anthologize his longer novels in this kind of a... Read More
Stories of Your Life: And Others by Ted Chiang
In his review of Ted Chiang’s brilliant short story collection Stories of Your Life and Others in The Guardian, China Miéville mentions the “humane intelligence [...] that makes us experience each story with immediacy and Chiang’s calm passion.” The oxymoron “calm passion” is an insightful and ingenious way to describe these stories because of the way it hints at their deft melding of the most solid of hard science fiction concepts with an often surprisingly gentle, humane touch. There’s no other author I can think of who can inject such a level of emotionality in a story about a mathematical theorem like “Division by Zero.” There’... Read More
The Drowned Life by Jeffrey Ford
Jeffrey Ford's The Drowned Life is as engrossing as his previous short story collections, immediately ensnaring the reader with his detailed prose and characterization. One noticeable trend is that while Ford dabbles in clear-cut fantasy with stories such as "The Manticore Spell" or "The Dismantled Invention of Fate," much of his work deals more with the mundane sprinkled with just the right amounts of magic and the surreal. The titular piece for example, "The Drowned Life," seems like the narrative of the common Joe, albeit one that utilizes Ford's excellent use of language and metaphor. However, it slowly steers itself into the territory of weirdness with its concept of an underwater afterlife but all this time, the reader isn't jolted from the experience.
What I particularly enjoy with Ford's writing is that the quality is consistent. E... Read More
Cyberabad Days by Ian McDonald
Cyberabad Days is a fully realized vision of a near-future India — indeed, of a near-future world in which India is a major player, even more so than today. Ian McDonald’s prose sparkles, the plots of the stories are uniformly tight, but it is the imagination, the picture of the future, that really works here. If you want that “sense of wonder” that science fiction is most famous for, this is the place to find it.
Cyberabad Days is set in the same universe as McDonald’s River of Gods, a highly praised novel that won the British Science Fiction Award in 2005, and received nominations for the Hugo and Arthur C. Clarke Awards. In the seven stories of Cyberabad Days, linked by setting and technology but not by characters, McDonald imagines a ... Read More
The Best of Kage Baker by Kage Baker
The more I read Kage Baker, the more I love Kage Baker. Of the hundreds of speculative fiction authors I’ve read, I rank Kage Baker in the top ten. Maybe top five. She’s that amazing. I love her clever imagination and her style which is unembellished, straightforward, and full of wit and charm. Which is why I was jumping up and down when the nearly 500-page story collection called The Best of Kage Baker showed up on my doorstep.
This collection, published by Subterranean Press, contains 20 excellent stories; nine have been published in five previous collections and eleven are uncollected. Several are set in the world of Baker’s most famous creation: THE COMPANY. Here are the stories you’ll find in The Best of Kage Baker:
1. “Noble Mold” — (1997, Asimov's Science Fiction) Mendoza, ... Read More
The Incarceration of Captain Nebula and Other Lost Futures by Mike Resnick
I find many story collections to be mixed affairs and, unless it’s a “Best of” collection, I open the book with the assumption that I’m going to find a few stories I like among more that I won’t get particularly excited about. But I’ve loved the stories I’ve read by Mike Resnick, so I had high hopes when I opened The Incarceration of Captain Nebula and Other Lost Futures, a collection recently published by Subterranean Press who are known for their lovely productions. Even with my lofty expectations, I was extremely pleased with this collection.
It begins with a charming introduction in which Mike Resnick brags about having the best job in the world. He explains that he didn’t used to think of himself as a short-story writer until one of his stories (“Kirinyaga”) won a Hugo award. Since then he has written about... Read More
Jagannath: Stories by Karin Tidbeck
Strange. Disturbing. Unimaginable, but imagined. Weird. Karin Tidbeck’s first collection of short stories, Jagannath: Stories, can be so described, but one must also include compelling. It is not usual for me to want to read story after story in a single-author collection in a single sitting, but here each story was better than the last, and I stayed up long into the night reading. This Swedish author, who translated her own work into English, has an odd mind that produces odd stories, stories that every lover of weird fiction needs to read.
My fascination with this collection started with the first story, “Beatrice.” It is about a man who falls in love with an airship — not in the way a man normally falls in love with a complicated piece of machinery, not as in, “He loves his 1964 Mustang,” but actual passionate, physical and emot... Read More
Understories by Tim Horvath
[In our Edge of the Universe column, we review mainstream authors that incorporate elements of speculative fiction into their “literary” work. However you want to label them, we hope you’ll enjoy discussing these books with us.]
Tim Horvath has an amazing imagination. He can take his work in academe (as a writing teacher) and turn it into a story about a dying department of umbrology, the study of shadows, complete with all the political scheming for promotion and infighting about ancient scholars (Galileo or Socrates?) you might expect in such a story. But then he can also imbue it with poetry when describing a lunar eclipse, or with whimsy, as in relating his experiences watching shadows on a ski slope, or even the nature of love (“she told me once she preferred rainy days because on them I looked at her more directly”). The entirety of “The Discipline of Shadows” is so s... Read More
Nine Horrors and a Dream by Joseph Payne Brennan
Nine Horrors and a Dream is a collection of Joseph Payne Brennan's best horror tales, and was first published by Arkham House in 1958. The book consists of short stories that, for the most part, first appeared in the classic pulp magazine Weird Tales in the early 1950s; indeed, the book is dedicated to that great magazine, which ended its 31-year run in 1954. Prospective readers of Brennan's collection should be advised that this is NOT an easy book to acquire. It's been out of print for many years, and it took me a half dozen attempts at eBay auction before I could get my hands on a decently priced copy. But it was worth the trouble. This is an extremely enjoyable bunch of scary stories, and Brennan turns out to be an exceptionally readable author, writing in a clean and forthright style. The 10 stories in this collection run the gamut from the monstrous to the macabre, with many of them... Read More
Terror by Night: Classic Ghost and Horror Stories by Ambrose Bierce
Wordsworth Editions, published in London, has a wonderful thing going with its current series entitled "Tales of Mystery & the Supernatural," bringing back into print short story collections and full-length novels from such relatively unknown authors as Gertrude Atherton, Edith Nesbit, D.K. Broster, Marjorie Bowen, May Sinclair and Dennis Wheatley. The imprint's collection of horror tales from Ohio-born Ambrose Bierce is a very satisfying and generous one, gathering 51 of the author's more shuddery pieces, out of the 90 or so from his complete oeuvre. (Bierce never wrote any longer pieces, calling the novel, in typically cynical fashion, "a short story padded.") Bierce, who was born in 1842 and died myster... Read More
Chessboard Planet and Other Stories by Henry Kuttner and C.L. Moore
Chessboard Planet and Other Stories is a collection by science fiction's foremost husband-and-wife writing team, Henry Kuttner and C.L. Moore. The collection is comprised of a novella, two longish short stories, and a short piece.
The novella, "Chessboard Planet," originally appeared under the title "The Fairy Chessmen" in the January and February 1946 issues of John W. Campbell's Astounding Science-Fiction and, in my opinion, is an unjustly forgotten masterpiece. In it, the United States and the European union known as the Falangists have been at war for decades, and as the story opens, the U.S. is in big trouble. It seems that the enemy has come up with a scientific equation that can completely preempt reality; a formula made up of variable constants, the solving of which is driving our best scientific minds insane. A team of men at U.S. Psychometrics i... Read More
The Jack Vance Treasury by Jack Vance (edited by Terry Dowling & Jonathan Strahan)
While I don’t think there’s any one novel or short story or even collection of Jack Vance‘s work that comes close to capturing all the best aspects of his writing, I do think that this 633-page Subterranean Press collection does a fairly good job of exposing the reader to a wide array of Vance’s oeuvre. In addition to eighteen stories that span much of Vance’s writing career, there’s a brief comment from Vance himself after each story that gives a little view into how his mind worked while in creative mode, as well as some of the authors and factors that had a major impact on him in developing his writing (note to self after reading one of his comments: re-read P. G. Wodehouse, then find and read some Jeffrey Farnol, two of the writers he says influenced him). There’s also an “Appreciation” by Read More