short story


Top Ten Tuesday was created by The Broke and the Bookish and is now hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl. Yesterday, the topic was Top 10 Favorite novellas/short stories.

This is another really hard one. I’ve read quite a few of shorter stories over the years. Also, older works which were considered books previously would now be novellas, going by length. But here are my current favorites:

1, All Systems Red by Martha Wells
This was a treat because I came into it expecting it to be good, because every review I’ve seen of had been favorable. Often enough this creates too high expectations for the work. But they were right; I thoroughly enjoyed the Murderbot’s adventures.

2, Randall Garrett’s Lord Darcy stories
These stories are set in an alternate universe, where magic takes the place of science, even in criminal investigation. Lord Darcy is the Chief Forensic Investigator or Chief Criminal Investigator for the Duke of Normandy. His sidekick is Master Sean who does most of the magical forensics. Most of the cases take place among the rich and powerful so Lord Darcy must be diplomatic.

3, Mountains of Mourning by Lois McMaster Bujold
This little gem follows Miles Vorkosigan who tries to show his famous dad that he can do stuff, too. It ends up haunting Miles for the rest of his life.

4, A Mere Scutcheon by Nancy Jane Moore
A three musketeers story but the Queen’s musketeers are women! It’s part of her Conscientious inconsistencies collection.

5, Women of Futures Past: Classic Stories, edited by Kristine Kathryn Rusch
This is a wonderful collection of science fiction short stories by very influential women writers. The oldest was written in 1933 and the newest 1989. Rusch’s introduction “Invisible Women” is also well worth reading if you’re at all interested in SF history.

6, Penric fantasy novellas by Lois McMaster Bujold
Ms. Bujold has been writing these shorter stories set in her five gods universe in the recent years. They’re fun and nice reads. I’ve really enjoyed the interaction between Penric and the demon riding inside him. The first one is Penric’s Demon.

7, That Game We Played During the War by Carrie Vaughn
This short story is available for free at tor.com.

8, The Tomato Thief by Ursula Vernon
This was a fun and yet thought-provoking fantasy novelette.

9, Fiction River: Timestreams
I’ve enjoyed all of the Fiction River collections I’ve read so far and this is among the best. I love time travel stories anyway.

10, The Dispatcher by John Scalzi
In this world, people can’t be murdered because anyone who is killed intentionally come back. The main character is a dispatcher: his job is to humanely put down people who need it.

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A short story collection focusing on steampunk with magic through alchemy.

Publication year: 2015
Format: print
Publisher: WMG Publishing
Page count: 237

“The Rites of Zosimos” by Angela Penrose: the collection starts with a story set in a magic/alchemy school. The story has two such schools. A body is found, naked and boiled. Sir Peter Estridge, assistant to one of the deans, is pressured to investigate the murder together with Lady Catherine Morwood, the Grand Dame of the other school.

“Heart” by Leslie Claire Walker: Sebastian is a powerful necromancer who has an unhealthy obsession with Erynn. Sebastian has also murdered Erynn’s love. Erynn can think of only one way to escape.

“Pennies for Portents” by Diana Benedict: Francie’s brother can build really good mechanical machines. One of them is Madam LeGrue, the mechanical fortuneteller which is the only reason they’re allowed to travel with a carnival. Unfortunately, the fortuneteller has started to behave strangely.

“The Order of the Golden Grapefruit” by Sharon Joss: animated chocolate! Fritz’s father was an animator for the army. Unfortunately, the horrors of war have affected his mind and so he and Fritz are seeking employment from one of the best confectionary shops in Belgium. The shop needs are spectacular display of animated chocolates.

“The Perfect Perfume” by Anthea Sharp: Charlotte’s parents were the best perfumers in London. But when they died, Charlotte wanted to continue their legacy. She just needs something extraordinary as an ingredient to create a truly wonderful perfume for Queen Victoria II’s jubilee.

“The Grand Dangoolie” by Ron Collins: Set in WW2, the Grand Dangoolie is the stage name for August McDormand who claims that he knows real magic. The main character’s boss, Houdini, wants to prove that McDormand is a fraud.
“The Whirring Dreams of Aberrant Blood” by Cindie Geddes: In this world, girls with the correct type of blood, called aberrants, can bring mechanical wonders to life.

“St. Jean & The Dragon” by Brenda Carre: St. Jean is a jinni and his master is Jane Watson, who investigates paranormal happenings. Something is stealing people, and everything seems to be connected to the house of an old woman who herself hasn’t been seen in months.

“Weight in Gold” by Dory Crowe: McKenzie Ross is traveling on a steam ship to the US to study there. Her father is also onboard but in disguise because he’s smuggling gold and knowledge from out of Napoleon’s Empire.

“Heaven’s Flight” by Leigh Saunders: Paige wants nothing more than tinker with all things mechanical. This makes her parents cross because they want to see her married well. However, when one of Paige’s mechanical wonders records a mysterious and threatening conversation, she and her maid must do their best to avert disaster.

“Blood Moon Carnival” by Kim May: Fia is a phoenix, trapped in a half bird, half human form by the Ringmaster who uses alchemy to trap various mythological beings into his circus and display them.

“Makes the World Go ’Round” by Kelly Cairo: 10,000 years ago, two technicians were assigned to work on the pyramid at the same time. The pyramid is responsible for keeping the world turning. The technicians fell in love but now one of them has died and the other must find love again, or the world will stop turning.

“Myrtle’s Boxes” by Louisa Swann: The Philosopher’s Stone is in Myrtle Creek’s left eye socket. Unfortunately, the souls trapped in the stone are driving him crazy and he has to find a way to free them.

These were all delightful tales with various steampunk gadgets and alchemy. I highly recommend this collection if you like steampunk at all.

Only two of the stories were really dark, “Heart” and “The Whirring Dreams of Aberrant Blood” the others are mostly fun. As a chocolate lover, I especially liked “The Order of the Golden Grapefruit”.

This is a collection of two novellas and two short stories in the Ruby Callaway urban fantasy series. Each happens in a different time period: 1812, 1993, 1959, 2006.

Publication year: 2016-2017
Format: ebook, kindle
Publisher: Watchfire Press
Page count: none in Kindle

Bone Realm (1812): Rebecca Callaway is working in her late father’s business: Liberty Printworks which has also an unofficial apothecary for magical stuff. When a terribly wounded man and a talking dog enter the shop, Rebecca knows that she’s in trouble, especially when the dog reveals that the man’s half-demon. However, for a high price Rebecca (who will soon change her name to Ruby) agrees to try to help him. But the half-demon’s pursuers manage to get into the shop because they’re local policemen. During the fight, the shop is burnt down. Rebecca manages to save very little and must flee with the half-demon and the talking dog. Soon, she must find a way to defeat 1600-year old werewolf or die herself.

This novella sets up is Ruby’s life as a magical bounty-hunter and introduces the world to readers.

Silver Tempest (1993): An Elven King has hired Ruby to find his daughter who has run away… to live with vampires. Elves are very good creatures, and this is a terrible thing to happen to an elven princess. Getting her away isn’t going to be easy at all.

Kentucky Clear (1959): Ruby was hired by an old vampire because someone has stolen a shipment of blood. She’s tracked the thief to a remote log house which has a distillery. But the situation soon becomes very complicated and dangerous.

Going Home (2006): Ruby has been hired to take down a rogue Fae who lives to create chaos. He starts by holding an entire upper-class restaurant to hostage. Things get complicated from there.

For the most part these were enjoyable reads. Ruby has a hot temper and, as she’s fond of thinking, she isn’t there to help widows and orphans. She wants easy gigs so that she can get the money, but things rarely go smoothly. However, she does sometimes help people almost reluctantly. She’s quick to act and talk, and thinks later. She also often takes instant dislike to people and isn’t afraid to say so, usually with a string of profanities. The only partner she wants is her enchanted shotgun.

However, the first novella was somewhat disjointed. Couple of times it seemed that quite a lot of time had gone by and rather mysterious things had happened. The other three are more straightforward and action oriented.

The world-building was very interesting. Earth seems to be just one realm out of nine and Ruby can go from one realm to another but only from specific locations. This last bit was revealed in the final story so during the previous stories I wondered a couple of times why she wouldn’t just jump out of danger but apparently she can’t do that. Her powers aren’t well defined: in addition to being able to walk from one realm to another she can see “wisps” around people or things and these tell her something. She calls it intuition which give her nudges to one direction or another.

The world seems to have demons, the underworld, various fae, and other supernatural creatures such as vampires and werewolves. They’re hiding from ordinary people.

A collection of ten British crime stories set during Christmas.

Publication year: 2016
Format: print
Publisher: Profile Books
Page count: 278

These are all cozy crime stories and four of them actually don’t have a murder which was a nice change. They’re almost all historical short stories.

‘The Necklace of Pearls’ by Dorothy L. Sayers: Lord Peter Wimsey is one of the guests invited to spend Christmas with a very rich, and not very nice, man and a collection of other guests. When the host’s daughter’s pearl necklace goes missing, Lord Peter is asked to look for it.

‘The Name on the Window’ by Edmund Crispin: this is a clocked room mystery or rather a pavilion which is surrounded by newly fallen snow and no footprints. Yet, a man was murdered in it.

‘A Traditional Christmas’ by Val McDermid: The narrator goes to her wife’s family for Christmas. Everyone is accepting of them even though they have a very traditional English upper-class Christmas. At least, until someone ends up dead.

‘The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle’ by Arthur Conan Doyle: a stolen jewel is unexpectedly found in a Christmas goose. Holmes and Watson go on a goose chase. (yes, I had to write that in honor of the silliness of the story 😊)

‘The Invisible Man’ by G.K. Chesterton: A Father Brown mystery where a ghost seems to be haunting a couple of people.

‘Cinders’ by Ian Rankin: In a Cinderella play, the Fairy Godmother’s actress has been murdered and Rebus and the other detectives have their hands full questioning the theatre troupe.

‘Death on the Air’ by Ngaio Marsh: A very nasty man is found dead. At first it seems like he was electrocuted through a radio but that might not be the case.

‘Persons or Things Unknown’ by Carter Dickson: A group of people has gathered to celebrate Christmas and their host tells them a mysterious tale from the house’s history.

‘The Case is Altered’ by Margery Allingham’: yet another tale where a rich couple has gathered a group of people in their house for Christmas when mysterious things start to happen.

‘The Price of Light’ by Ellis Peters: An older rich, and nasty, man is feeling his mortality and tries to find a way to pave his soul’s way to heaven. As long as it doesn’t cost too much and makes sure that he is remembered. He’s giving exquisite candlesticks to the abbey. But then, the candlesticks are stolen and Brother Cadfael makes his own investigation.

I enjoyed most of these stories. I haven’t read Rankin before and I ended up enjoying his story so much that I might read his other works this year.

Despite their shortness, most of the stories have a twist or two and kept this reader, at least, guessing.

The second Fiction River short story collection.

Publication year: 2013
Format: Audio
Running time: 7 and 15 minutes

Narrators: Matthew Buckman, Jerimy Colbert, Kristine Rusch, Dean Smith, Barton Grover Howe, Jane Kennedy, Alison Longuera, Stephanie Reid

Like the name implies, these stories focus on solving problems that humans are facing today. They each focus on a different problem, though, which shows just how many problems we have. All of the stories overcome problems that humans themselves have created, not outside threats like an asteroid hitting the Earth.
I liked most of the stories and my favorites are “Flight of the Little Bird”, “Neighborhoods” and “The Legend of Parker Clark and Lois Jane”.

“The Gathering” by David Gerrold: In this story, a group of people who want to save the world have gathered together and discuss their past successes and failure. And why they always fail.

“Positive Message” by William H. Keith: Sunrise Earth is a company which specializes in solar power. But when the company starts to get real successes, the old oil companies fight back.

“The Legend of Parker Clark and Lois Jane” by Ron Collins: Clark is working on reducing carbon emissions when suddenly his boss tells him to stop work. However, he was very close to a breakthrough, so that decision makes no sense. Until Clark realizes something.

“Your Name Here” by Laura Resnick: the main character works in the population control office. Some people desperately want to procreate despite not passing the tests.

“Flight of Little Bird” by Stephanie Writt: Tara hates her job and feels that she’s very small and worthless. She wants to be so much more, but doesn’t know how. But then she has an idea and everything changes.

“Staying Afloat” by Angela Penrose: many fields are suffering from too much rain. Paola is trying to find some good and cheap solution that small and poor farmers could use.

“The Shape of a Name” by Annie Reed: Anisha is a war orphan who has lost her arm. One day, one white woman comes to the refugee camp and takes her away, to a girl school.

“Neighborhoods” by Dean Wesley Smith: an eccentric millionaire is disgusted with the news of continuing violence in his home city of Chicago and he decides to do something about it.

“Heaven Backwards” by Lisa Silverthorne: In the future, the Earth is a desert because of the sins of people who didn’t follow the Word. But one small settlement still survives. However, some of their children have been disappearing. Then, three outsiders are at the gates.

“Earth Day” by Kristine Kathryn Rusch: the mother of the main character was obsessed with saving the Earth and her son continues that trend, although probably not in the way that the mother intended.

“Deus Ex Machina” by Travis Heermann: the world’s first functional artificial intelligence awakens.

A collection of science fiction short stories by very influential women writers. The oldest was written in 1933 and the newest 1989.

Publication year: 2016
Format: print
Page count: 267
Publisher: Baen

Lots of people are saying the women don’t write, and publish, science fiction. That’s simply not true. As Rusch shows us in her “Introduction: Invisible Women” women have been writing SF since the beginning of the genre attracting readers and winning awards. But readers and critics, both men and women, have many, many ways of marginalizing and outright forgetting women. They write in wrong subgenre, have wrong themes, the science is outdated etc. etc. ad nasaum. Well, Rusch and Baen are now bringing back some of the ignored women whom the younger generation of readers, and writers!, don’t know.

Much to my surprise this collection has only one writer I haven’t heard of before: Zenna Henderson. Actually, I’ve read only one story from these before: Bujold’s Aftermaths. So, I was delighted to read these stories and I dearly hope there will be more.

The stories are in a variety of styles and sub genres from horror to pulp fiction to time travel. I liked the introductions, too, because Rusch tells us the awards and honors these writers have won and the way they’ve influenced each other and the whole genre.

“The Indelible Kind” by Zenna Henderson (The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, December 1968): Miss Murcher is a teacher in a small school and Vincent comes to her school. Vincent is eight but he can’t read much. Otherwise, he’s very bright boy and perhaps something more.
This is one of the quieter stories, with the Other as its theme.

“The Smallest Dragonboy” by Anne McCaffrey (Science Fiction Tales, 1973): Keevan is barely twelve and the smallest of the boys who want to be dragonriders. But the more he’s bullied and teased by the oldest boy, the more he’s determined to impress a dragon hatchling.
It’s been decades since I read Pern books but this story brought the setting right back and made me want to read some of the Pern books I haven’t read.

“Out of All Them Bright Stars” by Nancy Kress (The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, March, 1985): Sally works in a diner. The US government has contact with aliens but Sally and her friends have only seen them on TV. Until one walks into the diner.

“Angel” by Pat Cadigan (Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine, June 1987): Angel is the main character’s (MC) friend. He communicates with the MC without words and do all sorts of little tricks. Then Angel sees a strange woman he clearly fears.

“Cassandra” by C.J. Cherryh (The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, October 1978): One of my favorite authors but I don’t think I’ve read her short fiction before.
The people call her Crazy Alis because to her only she is a solid person. Other people are grey ghosts walking around in a town which is in flames and crumbling down. Medicines take away her nightmares and allow her to sleep, but they don’t take away the things she sees when she’s awake.

“Shambleau” by C.L. Moore (Weird Tales, November, 1933): The oldest story in the collection mixes pulp fiction and horror.
Northwest Smith is an intergalactic smuggler and not the most gallant of men. But when he sees a girl running from a murderous crowd, he rescues her and even gives her a place to sleep. However, the girl isn’t human and then his real troubles begin.

“The Last Days of Shandakor” by Leigh Brackett (Startling Stories, April 1952): Another pulp story but this time with the subject of lost city. Set in Mars in Brackett’s Eric John Stark universe where Mars, Venus, and some of the other planets are habitable and have their own humanlike people.
John Ross in a man from Earth but he lives on Mars. He studies the local peoples and places. Then he sees a man who doesn’t look like anyone else John has ever seen. He calls himself Corin and at first he refuses to take John to his city, which is apparently dying. But reluctantly he agrees and the two set into a desert on the road to Shandakor.

“All Cats Are Gray” by Andre Norton (Fantastic Universe, August/September 1953): Cliff Moran is a down-of-his-luck captain. Steena of the Spaceways, and her gray cat Bat, are a legend among the spacefarers. When she says that the legendary haunted luxury liner Empress of Mars is drifting close by, Cliff believes her and they head out to capture it.

“Aftermaths” by Lois McMaster Bujold (Far Frontiers: The Paperback Magazine of Science Fiction and Speculative Fact, Volume V, Spring 1986): Bujold is one of my favorite authors. I’ve read this little gem several times.

Falco Ferrell is a pilot and new to the Personnel Retrieval and Identification branch of the Escobaran space military. He and his new partner, MedTech Tersa Boni, have been assigned the rubble of space battle. Their task is to retrieve the bodies, identify them, and send them home. But soon, Falco starts to suspect that Tersa has been in the service for too long.

“The Last Flight of Doctor Ain” by James Tiptree, Jr. (Galaxy, March 1969): Doctor Ain travels around the world and everywhere he goes, people fall sick.

“Sur” by Ursula K. Le Guin (The New Yorker, February 1, 1982): This story is alternate history without any SF elements.
Since she was a little girl, the main character has been fascinated by the reports and books by men who have gone to the South Pole. But the dream of going there herself has seen unattainable, until she gathers a group of determined women who share her dream.

“Fire Watch” by Connie Willis (Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine, February 15, 1982): A story about the time traveling historians! I can’t believe I haven’t heard of this one.

Time traveling to the past is hard. But it’s even harder when you’ve been preparing to walk with Saint Paul himself – and are sent instead to St. Paul’s in the middle of air raids. The main character tries to prepare as well as possible, but it might not be enough.

Not all of these stories worked for me but most of them are strong and some of them are real gems.

Rusch has a related website: http://www.womeninsciencefiction.com/

By the way, some of Leigh Brackett’s work is available on Audible.com if you like audio books.

A short story collection about… the end of the world.

Publication year: 2016
Format: ebook, epub
Page count: 252
Publisher: WMG publishing

As you might expect, these are pretty intense stories. All of them are emotional, one way or another. I’m actually not a huge fan of apocalypse stories, except for Terminator movies (and in them, it’s about avoiding the end of the world) but most of these I liked. Most of them are chilling stories, one way or another. When society’s rules break down, some people will only think of themselves but fortunately not all. Otherwise, humanity wouldn’t have evolved to have a society at all. This seems to be something that people are forgetting these days.

I think every story ends the world in a different way. I’m not entirely sure if I should enjoy the creativity or find it chilling.

The stories have been divided into several parts: just before the Apocalypse, the beginning of it, during it, surviving after it, and three stories which describe the whole thing.

Waiting for Apocalypse:
“String of Pearls” by Eric Kent Edstrom: The world has just heard that comets will strike the Earth and end human life. Lucas Piper and his girlfriend Vicki are among them. Lucas regrets not doing anything meaningful with his life. When they go to get more beer from the local small shop, they find out that the elderly shopkeeper has been murdered. Lucas decides to do something.

“The Shoes I Wore This Morning” by J. Daniel Sawyer: Lord Phineas Roxton Summerlee has just returned from an expedition where he and his small party were looking for a city of gold from the Amazons. The locals warned him away from it, but he didn’t listen.

The Beginning of the End
“The Dust Devil, the Riffraff, and the Big Orange Sunset” by Valerie Brook: Charlene Lynn Weaver is a patient on a psych ward. She and all the others have been locked up and nobody has come in the morning to care for them. Dust storms rage outside and the fine dust has filtrated inside so it’s not possible to leave the building. Charlene is one of the few people who know what’s really going on.

“Goin’ to the Chapel” by Rebecca M. Senese: In just three days, Marlee is going to get the perfect wedding she’s dreamed about since she was a little girl. Unfortunately, that’s the day when aliens invade Earth.

“With Wings the End” by Rob Vagle: The world is dying because people’s hearts are turning into blackbirds and flying away. The birds have mirrored bellies and fly in tight formation. Jeffrey wants to stay in his house, away from danger but his wife Laura wants to meet her friend whose heart is changing soon. On the way to the hospital, Laura also contracts the disease (or whatever it is) and Jeffrey brings her home to die.

Amidst the Apocalypse
“Cogs in the Machine” by Paul Eckheart: The Tickers have wiped out much of humanity but the survivors defend the remaining settlements. Tania wants to be part of Major Townsend’s village but she has a secret which might destroy her or save humanity.

“The Faerie Invasion” by Anthea Sharp: Ric Garcia is trying to protect his little sister from murderous fey folk who have invaded all of USA. But Angelina is sick and Ric doesn’t know what to do. Then the Wild Hunt come to their hiding place.

“Demon-touched” by Travis Heermann: Something infests or possesses humans. When they’re “ridden” (as it’s called) they do terrible things but don’t remember any of it afterwards. The narrator is a neuroscientist and one of the few who is still looking for a cause and a cure. But this time he awakes from “being ridden” in a cage with a shotgun in front of his face.

Survivors: Apocalypse came years ago but some survived it and have to continue living in a drastically changed world. This is perhaps my favorite setting for an Apocalypse story.
“Same Time Next Year” by M. E. Owen: 15 years ago something changed many people into Beasts. Still, Arlene’s family has a tradition to gather and celebrate their continued existence. But now they’re late and Arlene is worried for them.

“The Story That Has to Be Written” by Louisa Swann: A giant solar flare has wiped out a lot of humanity and made the whole planet much drier. The narrator, who is seven years old, her little brother, and father are still struggling to survive in a world where food is hard to come by because most of plant life can’t grow and most of the animals are gone.

“Tyrph Rights” by David Stier: USA is a wasteland thanks to genetic engineering gone wrong. Today, Devin and his new partner Rahel are going to try to get inside the Loop – the dangerous remains of the Sears Tower.

From start to finish:
“Paradox. Lost.” by Stefon Mears: The narrator has invented a time machine and it turns out to be a big mistake. Time travel doesn’t work like any of the theories.

“The Night of Brahma” by Leigh Saunders: Reina Varela Harrak can see the future but it hasn’t brought her happiness because only rarely have people believed what she has told them. Including her own family. Partly because they’re struggling to survive in the horrors of the Endless War.

“Three Degrees Above Zero” by Doug Dandridge: Scott Stafford was an astronomy teacher in Florida. Now, he might be the last man left alive on Earth because of a neutron star. The most science oriented story in this selection.

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