short story


A short story collection which has stories from multiple genres including fantasy, science fiction, and history.

Publication year: 2017
Format: ebook
Publisher: WMG Publishing

For a collection with the name “No Humans Allowed” this one sure had a lot of humans. 🙂 None of them were the main character, but in most stories many, if not all, secondary characters were human.

About half of the stories in this collection are fantasy and six are science fiction. Some have no supernatural elements except for intelligent non-human creatures (or other things) which don’t communicate with humans in any special way.

“In the Beginnings” by Annie Reed: This is a very cosmic story of a universe coming into being, seeing other life blossom and evolve.

“At His Heels a Stone” by Lee Allred: This story is set in the dawn of human age. The POV character is a huge boulder. It has endured ice age and is worshiped by the plants and animals around it as the king of everything it sees. Then Man came and is determined to move it.

“In the Empire of Underpants” by Robert T. Jeschonek: Before their disappearance, humans created many artificial intelligences. They even put AI into their underwear. One courageous pair of underpants is searching for any information about where the humans have gone.

“The Sound of Salvation” by Leslie Claire Walker: This is lovely short story with a very inhuman main character.

“Goblin in Love” by Anthea Sharp: Crik Nobshins is a young goblin, a redcap who is supposed to eat meat raw and enjoy violence for its own sake. But Crik is a different goblin and he must keep that a secret from the rest of his riot. Especially he must keep a secret that he loves a luminous and pure lady of the waters.

“Slime and Crime” by Michèle Laframboise: The main character of this story is a garden snail who has had an unfortunate accident which makes some other snails look down on them. They’re also a detective, doing their best to keep order in the snail community.

“Always Listening” by Louisa Swann: A very small sphere is looking a home or at least anyone else in the vastness of space. She has been built to calm and sooth others and the long, lonely journey after an accident separated her from her mother ship, has been trying.

“Here I Will Dance” by Stefon Mears: One of the most inhuman stories in the collection, it’s set in a forest.

“Rats at Sea” by Brenda Carre: Willy Topper is a white rat. When his ship HMS Rubicon is attacked by the loathsome French frigate, Willy wants to rescue his lady love who lives in a cage.

“Sense and Sentientability” by Lisa Silverthorne: Ottotwo is one of three robots (or androids). Three scientists are working to give them real intelligence. Ottotwo learns a lot.

“When a Good Fox Goes to War” by Kim May: The narrator of this story is a kitsune, a fox spirit. One Japanese lord captures the kitsune and tries to make it take sides in a war. But nobody commands a kitsune.

“The Game of Time” by Felicia Fredlund: The main character in this story is the gods’ Book of Time. When the gods make a mistake part of the book’s power goes to humans and give some of them powers beyond what they should have.

“The Scent of Murder” by Angela Penrose: A science fiction murder mystery story where human has been murdered in their own starship on a planet far away from Earth. Thinker for Useful Ideas Yazvoras has been assigned the duty of investigating the death. However, human diplomats demand that the ship and the investigation be given to them the next day, so Yazvoras must work quickly.

“Still-Waking Sleep” by Dayle A. Dermatis: Juliet was created to bewitch a certain boy and bring down one of the most prominent families of the city. She was created without emotions and only the knowledge which is required for her to perform her duty. But something unexpected happens.

“Inhabiting Sweetie” by Dale Hartley Emery: Dje’Eru is one of many ambassadors from their own plant, sent to open communications with humans. However, they must inhabit a human body to do so and they can’t do it for long.

“The Legend of Anlahn” by Eric Kent Edstrom: The Force of One Thousand has gathered to defend a mountain pass from the enemy. The enemy are other craskin and the two armies are fighting for the ultimate honor of defending their homeland from encroachers. Anlahn is one of the smallest of his pack but he realizes that the craskins can’t continue to fight among themselves. He knows what he must do, even if it means further shame to himself.

“Sheath Hopes” by Thea Hutcheson: Shukano is out mining. He’s short on survival obligations and he really needs to find a slit and treasures inside it. Treasures he could sell and as soon as possible. Mining is dangerous work but the rewards could be more than he expected.

“We, The Ocean” by Alexandra Brandt: The sea is full of intelligent species. One is a hive or a group mind of near immortal creatures whom men in the past thought of as women, tempting the men. But modern humans don’t pay attention to sea creatures. Instead they litter and pollute and poison the oceans. Among the hive mind, one of them wants to do something and is severed from the hive mind. They go to observe the humans.

I must admit that some of the stories were different than what I was expecting. I thought it would have alien or fantasy species cultures, perhaps first contact with humans, similar to Cherryh’s Chanur books or Elfquest. The collection has four such tales, “Goblin in Love”, “The Scent of Murder”, “The Legend of Anlahn”, and “Sheath Hopes” except with not species we’re familiar with, except for the goblins. Out of the science fiction stories, three deal with AI characters, “Empire of Underpants”, “Always Listening”, and “Sense and Sentientability”, one is murder mystery set in an alien world “Scent of Murder”, one is set entirely in an alien world “Sheath Hopes”, and one is a first contact story “Inhabiting Sweetie”. A couple of the stories have animals which have their own human-like societies and customs. “Slimes and Crimes” is a police procedural while in “Rats at Sea” rats adventure during the age of sail. Both are really fun.

My only complaint is that very few of these stories have a really alien POV. The rats and snails have very human motivations and even the boulder dreams of vengeance against the upstart humans. “The Sound of Salvation” and “Here I Will Dance” succeed best in that respect. Of course, if all the stories were that alien, the collection would be much harder to read.

My favorites, in addition to “the Scent of Murder” were two of the most inhuman stories “The Sound of Salvation” and “Here I will Dance”. But I didn’t dislike any of the stories.

A multigenre short story collection.

Publication year: 2017
Format: ebook
Publisher: WMG Publishing

This issue of Fiction River has stories from many genres. The theme of the collection is fast paced exciting stories and most of them deliver. There are stories with no SF/F elements at all, a couple of fantasy stories, a couple of noir stories, science fiction, and urban fantasy.

I liked most of these, although the noir stories didn’t really appeal to me. The first two stories are very good.

“The Wrong Side of the Tracks” by Kelly Washington: Marlene is trying to get away from her psychotic and abusive boyfriend, who just happens to a small town sheriff.

“The Ex” by Michael Kowal: The POV character of this first-person story is friends with a former president of US. He’s trying to save the Ex from very determined assassins.

“The Demon from Hell Walks into a Speakeasy” by Ron Collins: A noir urban fantasy story, complete with the slang of the era. The main character is a demon who meets the wrong elf princess in a Chicago speakeasy. Her dad is the city’s most feared gangster.

“Blood Storm” by Bob Sojka: The crew of a M-1 Abrams tank is trying to get home (in the tank) from a mission in Iraq. They can hardly believe their eyes when a group of flying creatures attack.

“So Many Ways to Die” by Dayle A. Dermatis: Vera is a medic on a small space ship. She’s there because her husband is the chief engineer. Now, a meteorite has struck the ship and damaged it terribly. Vera is the only one left unwounded. She must deal with her fears and go outside to repair the ship and quickly, or people will die.

“Egg Thief” by Debbie Mumford: Dragon eggs, or rather their contents, fetch a very rich rewards. One bold thief has decided to try their luck and sneak into a dragon’s lair.

“Dust to Dust” by Annie Reed: Mickie’s master has sent her after yet another despicable man. She must find him or her own life is lost. But then she sees a little girl who reminds her of her own daughter and things go wrong.

“O’Casey’s War” by Patrick O’Sullivan: Another noir story. John O’Casey returns to New York to finish what his friend Preston tried to do. But instead, he gets framed for murder and must find a way out.

“Looting Dirt” by David Stier: In Iraq, new private Nick Varlan is shooting “rag heads” as he calls them. Then he’s picked for a dangerous mission.

“The Mark of Blackfriar Street” by Scott T. Barnes: Doug Mayhew is a bounty hunter. When he spots a man in a peasant dress but with a rich man’s cap, he deduces that he’s worth capturing. He and his trusty horse Pickles manage to capture the man but holding on to him is another matter.

“Death in the Serengeti” by David H. Hendrickson: Jakaya Makinda is a Senior Park Ranger in Tanzania. When he sees a group of slaughtered elephants, he knows that poachers are near. But these poachers are more ruthless and prepared that ever before.

“Rude Awakening” by Kevin J. Anderson: This story starts with the main character literally awakening when a madman tries to kill him in his own coffin. He remembers hearing about a serial killer who is murdering his kind.

“Cleaning up the Neighborhood” by Dæmon Crowe: Jerome has finally gotten his big break and he’s heading to a university. Unfortunately, his old car dies right when he’s in a narrow alley in a big city. Desperate, he runs off to get gas. Meanwhile, Tom from Neighborhood Patrol is convinced that the abandoned car belongs to a criminal.

“Redline” by Travis Heermann: Troy’s big brother Jake and his best friend are always in trouble. When Jake and Beaver promise to take Troy along for a ride to the city, Troy’s very happy. However, they run into a large dog and Jake shoots it. That turns out to be terrible mistake and the trio is soon driving for their lives.

“L.I.V.E.” by Eric Kent Edstrom: Cassie’s dad is the CEO of a very large company and she’s in danger of being kidnapped. So, he forces her to learn to defend herself and to deal in a possible kidnap situation. Good thing, too, because when two armed men barge into the coffee shop were she is, she needs those skills.

My favorites where the first two, “Death in the Serengeti” and “L.I.V.E.”. “Cleaning up the Neighborhood” was also a fun and quirky read. All of these are short and very fast-paced with not much time to introduce or develop the characters. Yet, most of them worked very well.

A short story collection of steampunk tales. Most are reprints.

Publication year: 2015
Format: print
Publisher: Robinson
Page count: 518

Many steampunk stories are set in Victorian England but I’ve read some set in the Wild West settings and of course those set in fantasy worlds with steampunk machines and magic side-by-side and alternate worlds without actual magic. This collection has wide variety of settings from imaginary worlds to Mongolian steppes and rain forests of South-America.

The characters are also quite varied. Some of the stories are from “SteamPowered II: More Lesbian Steampunk Stories” so we also get lesbian lovers (no sex scenes), along with the usual spies, adventurers, detectives, and apprentices. The moods of the stories range from adventurous to horror to contemplative. However, especially those stories that are set in the past, racism and sexism is shown affecting the main character. Also, I don’t consider all stories to be adventure but they do have social conscience, so they definitely have a “punk” attitude. In some stories that conscience is hidden, rather than overt and some explore the evils of tech (such as genetic engineering) slightly sideways. A couple of the stories are about the horrors of war.

Tobias S. Buckell: “Love Comes to Abyssal City”: Tia is a young diplomat whose job is to meet the people who come to Abyssal City. However, that job demands that she spends time away from her social duties, spending time with the travelers when they’re quarantined before letting them into the city. Even the day when she’s supposed to meet her future cardmate, she instead spends three days together with a young traveler from another city. She’s fascinated by his stories and him. Perhaps more than she should be because the city itself notices the anomaly when she doesn’t like the man the city has computed to be her perfect match.

A.C. Wise’s “A Mouse Ran up the Clock” is set in Nazi Germany. Simon Shulewitz can build mechanics inside animals and they don’t die. Unfortunately, his skills attract attention from the ruling Nazis.

Cherie Priest: “Tanglefoot” is set in her Clockwork Century series, even though you don’t need to know anything about the series. Dr. Archibald Smeeks is an inventor and a builder but is now quite elderly and lives in the basement of a sanitarium. Edwin is one of the orphans there and does his best to assist the doctor both in work and in remembering. Edwin has his own job, too; he’s building a mechanical boy as a new friend.

Jay Lake: “Benedicte Te”: Algernon Black-Smith is a secret agent for Her Majesty. But someone tries to murder him quite spectacularly with a runaway steam train. Then the Consul-General sends him to a secret mission into the Republic of Texas. However, Algernon strongly suspects that the Consul-General himself tried to assassinate him. So, he must be very careful.

Benjanun Sriduangkaew: “Five Hundred And Ninety-Nine”: This story starts in the modern day Krungthep (Bangkok). Nathamol and Rinnapha are roommates in a university. At first, Nathmol’s biggest problem is that she’s in love with Rinnapha. But when China and America go to war, electricity and other modern comforts are stripped away.

Christopher Barzak: “Smoke City”: The main character of this story has two lives. She lives in the modern world with her husband and kids. But she’s from Smoke City where she has another husband who must work in the steam factories. She also has other children whose destiny is to work, too, in those same factories.

Carrie Vaughn: “Harry and Marlowe and the Talisman of the Cult of Egil”: This is essentially a female Indiana Jones story. Harry (a woman) steals the talisman and then must try to take it back to England in Marlowe’s airship. However, while she and her handsome partner Marlowe have been getting the talisman, the Germans have blockaded the whole island.

Jonathan Wood: “Anna In The Moonlight”: In this world, England has been torn by civil war because some people have had animal parts ingrafted into them and others think that’s against god’s will. Frank is a soldier in that war. The killing hardens him. Until he meets a woman.

Chris Roberson: “Edison’s Frankenstein”: Set in the Chicago World Fair and in a world where prometheic matter has replaced the fledgling electricity as the main power source for steam engines and “Antediluvian” machinery. Archibald Cahabane is the leader of the Algerian Exhibit and he’s trying to get the Exhibit to be built in time. But then a strange man is found and Archibald hears that someone has been murdered.

C.S.E. Cooney: “The Canary of Candletown”: The coal to power steam engines must come from somewhere. Candletown is a coal town where the children born are automatically put to work, with barely enough food to survive. Canary is one of those children. One day she meets with a woman from outside the town.

E. Catherine Tobler: “Green-Eyed Monsters In The Valley Of Sky, An Opera”: Dinosaurs! Opera! Mechanical dinosaurs! In South America.

Alex Dally MacFarlane: “Selin That Has Grown in the Desert” in set on the Mongolian plain. Dursun’s parents are talking about finding a husband for her. But she doesn’t want that because she isn’t attracted to men. However, no other woman is like that and she knows she must do her duty. But then the traders come and with them is a strange looking woman who has many secrets.

Gord Sellar: “The Clockworks Of Hanyang”: MacMillan is a brilliant and famous English detective. He and his long-time friend Lasher are in Hanyang, Korea. They’re disturbed by the local mechanical constructs, the mechanika, which can’t speak and which are built without the knowledge of language. That and the fact that they’re built with the five relationships of Confusious are supposed to ensure that they never rebel, unlike the Western mechanika. However, a mysterious young lady asks MacMillan to investigate on her behalf and he agrees, even though Lasher has more doubts than usual.

Tony Pi: “The Curse of Chimère”: Professor Tremaine Voss has been invited to the screening of one of the first color films, an new invention by alchemists. However, when he arrives, people are running away from the cinema in panic or unable to move and bleeding from the eyes. Luckily, Voss is a very experienced investigator of supernatural things gone wrong. The story’s available for free online at Beneath Ceaseless Skies.

Aliette de Bodard: “Memories In Bronze, Feathers And Blood”: Nezahual used to be a Jaguar Knight. Now he builds mechanical creatures and some of them even come alive. Then Acamapixtli tries to convince Nezahual to start building a different, more peaceful world with his machines. Even the idea is threatening to some. The story is told from the POV of one of Nezahual’s mechanical creatures. The story’s available for free online at Beneath Ceaseless Skies.

Nisi Shawl: “The Return of Chérie”: Lisette is an agent of Kalima, an independent African state. She returns with secret offers of alliance from two different nations to the head of state. She also meets Daisy, who is a secret agent for Kalima and Lisette’s former lover. Oh, they’re both over 50.

Lisa L. Hannett: “On The Lot And In The Air”: A mechanical crow is part of an carnival show where people try to throw rocks at him to make him drop the golden cog in his beak.

Genevieve Valentine: “Terrain”: A steampunk Western. Fa Liang, who builds mechanics, Shoshune siblings Faye and Frank, freedman Joseph and his wife Maria, and Elijah, who is the only one of them who can own land legally, are living and working together on a small farm. They also run a message service where the boys ride mechanical dogs instead of horse. But the railroad is coming and threatening their livelihood and their very lives. Available for free at Tor.com

Sofia Samatar: “I Stole the DC’s Eyeglass”: Pai-te is a servant in the DC’s household. One day she steals his eyeglass. She gives it to her sister who develops a “spirit eye” and starts to build strange things.

Caitlín R. Kiernan: “The Colliers’ Venus (1893)”: Professor Jeremiah Ogilvy is a curator of his own museum and a geologist. When the local miners find a woman trapped inside a mineral deposit, the professor demands to speak with her even though she has killed two men.

Cat Rambo: “Ticktock Girl” is told from the POV of an automata which was built to by wheelchair-bound Lady Sybil to be her legs and fists. A reporter is asking the robot to remember her life and she remembers snippets of it.

K.W. Jeter: “La Valse”: The wealthy with long, long pedigrees are preparing for their annual New Year Eve Ball. Herr Doktor Pavel and his young assistant Anton are making sure the mechanical orchestra functions and that the aristocrats of both genders are property tightened into their mechanical body cages which will make them seem somewhat younger. Then something goes wrong.

Margaret Ronald: “The Governess And The Lobster”: Rosalie has come to Hakuma as a governess for four orphan children. She’s also required to find out if a school should be started in that town. However, Hakuma is a city of transients; both humans and automata rarely stay there for longer than a few months. Apparently, the automata have their own city nearby. The children have had no formal education and pretty much left to their own devices.

Samantha Henderson: “Beside Calais”: In this world, flying machines roam wild, like a cross between birds and horses. Some have been captured and tamed to work and when war threatens, humans start breeding the flying machines for war. In France, the breeding is planned to begin on a seaside farm where éoles and a couple of other breeds of machines still fly wild. Ian Chance has taken a commission to oversee it. On the farm is Ian’s previous lover Claire. When Claire was grievously hurt, crippled, four years ago, Ian ran away. Now he must face her again.

Ken Liu: “Good Hunting”: Liang’s father is a monster hunter and when Liang turns 13, his father takes him along to hunt a hulijing, a fox woman. Young Liang finds out that his father doesn’t know everyone. But the British are building a railroad through China and the old magic is disappearing. Both monsters and their hunters must find new ways to survive.

All of the stories have fascinating worlds. I liked all of the stories although not all of them have adventure. My favorites were “Beside Calais”, “The Governess and the Lobster”, and of course Carrie Vaughn’s story. The stories set in other countries than US or Britain brought a whole new angle to steampunk which I very much enjoyed.

The first short story in the historical (fantasy) Avon Calling serial.

Publication year: 2017
Format: ebook
Publisher: SpearPoint Press
Page count: 33 (at Amazon)

Avon Calling serial is set in the 1940s New York. At a first glance, Betty Jones has everything a middle-class woman could want: she’s a stay-at-home mom for two kids and has an adoring husband. Sometimes she sells Avon’s cosmetics products. Yet, she has a side that her family doesn’t know about. Betty can hear other people’s thoughts and has formidable combat skills. She also has a troubled past and has changed her name.

This was a great starting story: it introduced Betty and her world and yet left a lot of questions unanswered. We find out that Betty’s mother also had the same ability and that she was cruelly used.

In this story, Betty goes to sell the cosmetics to a woman she knows but finds another woman, who has been battered by her boyfriend. Betty smiles and pretends not to notice, but when the evening comes, she pays a visit to the boyfriend and his small band of drug dealers.

I found the combination of cosmetics and Betty’s secrets surprising but also appropriate. Cosmetics can be used as a mask, to change a woman to appear more appealing to men and also to other women. It can be an armor, to shield a woman from the outside world or a way to fit in. Seeling cosmetics is also a great way for her to meet women who need help. Betty definitely has two sides and she works hard to fit in as mom and wife while going out at night to kick the backsides of cruel men.

Season 1 collection has ten episodes.

A multigenre short story collection.

Publication year: 2016
Format: ebook
Publisher: WMG Publishing

This collection has even more genres than usual. There are stories with no SF/F elements at all, a couple of fantasy stories, an epic fantasy story, a post-apocalyptic story, some science fiction, and a tale of near future mixed with humor. The last story mixes humor and horror. As is appropriate for the theme, many are rather grim. The theme of “last stand” has been interpreted quite broadly, which is evident from the very first story. This time three stories didn’t work for me at all. But I enjoyed the others.

“The Great Ice Cream War of Grover’s Hollow” by Annie Reed: Pooter McKinnon and his friends love ice cream and they especially love Mr. Hurley’s ice cream truck. Mr. Hurley never smiles and the kids are a little afraid of them but they love the ice cream. Then one day, another ice cream truck shows on the same street. It belongs to a large chain.

“Slow Motion” by Eric Kent Edstrom: A baseball story.

“Do Not Resuscitate” by Dory Crowe: Rosemary used to be a teacher but after a stroke, she can’t talk and can’t even feed herself. One night, she sees something awful. Can she somehow communicate what she saw?

“Sunset, Fall, Home” by Dan C. Duval: Gary has a horse farm but the surrounding developments are squeezing it. His youngest son has returned home to ask him to sell the place and for once in his life, Gary is honest with his son.

“’Til Death Do Us Part” by Kerrie L. Hughes & John Helfers: In 1896, Jacob and Clara Troyers have moved to the wilds of America, to settle there. They live alone but near a fort. One night, Jacob is overdue from his hunting trip and a half-wolf, half-man attacks Clara biting her. She shoots it, but to her horror, it turns into Jacob. She must do whatever she can to protect their six-month-old son.

“Circle ’Round” by M. L. Buchman: Lola Mahoney is the new commander of a very tough US army squad. She and her team are sent to a very dangerous mission.

“Unto the Ether” by M. E. Owen: Aliens have come to Earth’s orbit and they’re not communicating, at least with the humans. Instead, they’re following their own protocol which disrupts all the nations on Earth. One scientist has dragged her teenage daughter to a safe bunker on Easter Island and she’s bored out of her mind. The story is told in aliens’ reports and the daughter’s letters to her best friend.

“Bury My Son at Home” by Angela Penrose: The Legion and the Confederation have brought their war to this planet. They recruited all men to their war and now the men are dead. Women are searching desperately for their loved ones’ bodies through the battlefields, to bring them home for decent burial. The battlefields are vast and then they find out that their time has ran out.

“The Flare” by Laura Ware: Ten days ago a huge solar flare hit Earth and everything electrical died. Sue and her husband Dan and their two children happen to live near a grouchy survivalist. Grudgingly, he helps them. But then a teenager staggers to Sue. He was short by a man insists that everyone follow him. And that man is coming for Sue’s small community.

“What’s Left of Me” by Bonnie Elizabeth: a woman battling multiple cases of cancer.

“The Counter” by Rob Vagle: Lane lives in a world where his worth is measured in coins inside him. Today, the Counter is coming to count and weight them, to see if Lane will live or die. Lane knows that he will fall short but he has a plan.

“The Toymaker of Kelsium Rye” by Chuck Heintzelman: Alger Dolling is the only toymaker in Kelsium Rye. By law, he can’t sell the toys; he must give them away. When one toymaker is becoming too old, he vanishes mysteriously. Now, it’s Alger’s turn to face the Destroyer.

“Magic and Sacrifice” by Felicia Fredlund: Tribald has been at war with Soar for three generations. Once again the spring has come and with it a brutal assault through the pass at Fire Mountain. Brave men and woman have died on both sides. Maora and her husband are determined to stop that.

“Lady Elizabeth’s Betrothal Ball” by Anthea Sharp: Most young women are thrilled at their betrothal ball. But princess Elizabeth isn’t like most young women. She already has a lover but because her lover is a poor commoner and a woman, they can’t be together. However, Elizabeth can’t just run away because the British Empire has spread even to the furthers star systems. So, she must do something far more drastic.

“Suppose They Gave a Ragnarok and Nobody Came?” by Lee Allred: Tyr, god of war has been asleep for a long time. When he senses that Ragnarok is near and finds Thor Thorsson, Thor isn’t what he expected. For one, this Thor was adopted so he’s black and for another, he’s a computer programmer, not a warrior. But Tyr must try to carry out Odin’s plan: to find Balder and stop Loki from killing him. However, that plan doesn’t succeed so Tyr and Thor must find some allies to fight the Ragnarok.

“Death Bunnies of Toxic Island” by Travis Heermann: Bunny Boo-Boo was the only thing Haley cared about. Since a hawk killed it, Haley has been inconsolable. But when she hears about a whole island full of rabbits in Japan, she knows she must go there. Of course, nobody tells the tourists that a dangerous opening has been found on the Rabbit Island.

Some of these stories have very interesting premise and I wouldn’t mind seeing more of the world, such as Heintzelman’s and Vagle’s stories. Owen’s story which is told from the aliens’ reports to their superiors and a scientist’s daughter’s letters worked surprisingly well. Over all, this was a good collection.

A short story and novella collection about exploring space, colonizing the universe, and first contact.

Publication year: 2018
Format: Audio
Running time: 28 hours 21 minutes
Narrator: Tim Campbell, James Anderson Foster, Mary Robinette Kowal, Karen Cass, and James Langon

This was a fine collection and I liked most of the stories. However, the vast majority of these stories are about the relationships between the humans who are in space, rather than first contact or colonization. Some of them also explore the world that the explorers left behind far more than what they encounter.

”A Jar of Godwill” by Tobias S. Buckell: The gedda are an alien race whose economics are based on patents rights on technology. Since they’ve previously developed tech that the humans use, they own the patents. Alex is a professional friend. A genetically engineered human (a hermaphrodite) whose job is to, essentially, keep humans sane in the vastness of space with empathy and touch (not necessarily sex). However, Alex’s account is overdrawn and his only chance is to take a job in an approaching space ship full of scientists. Alex’s job is to befriend a drone, another engineered human who is part of a hive mind but who is now far away from the hive.

In “Mono No Aware” by Ken Liu, a giant asteroid is on a collision course with Earth. Some governments have tried to build space ships. The narrator was a child in Japan and we see in flashbacks how the Japanese reacted. In the now of the story, he’s aboard the ship, working with others when a disaster occurs.

”Rescue Mission” by Jack Skillingstead: Michael and Natalie had a brief affair. Since they’re both single adults, that shouldn’t have been a problem. However, they’re assigned to the same mission of exploring a new planet. They’re the only crew. Things get really weird down there.

“Shiva in Shadow” by Nancy Kress is a story I’ve listened before in the collection Starship Vectors.

This story takes place in a deep space exploration ship the Kepler which has just three people; the Nurturer Captain Tirzah and two scientists Kane and Ajit. Tirzah’s duty is to keep the scientists focused on their work and working together. In order to do that, she has to constantly monitor them and she also has sex with both. They are exploring a black hole and to get data, the ship launches a probe which will send the data back to the Kepler. The probe has uploads of Tirzah, Kane, and Ajit. The story alternates between the crew aboard the ship and the probe.

In “Slow Life” by Michael Swanwick, three scientists explore the surface of Titan, especially it’s nitrogen/methane sea. Lizzie O’Brien enjoys her work immensely when she’s ballooning around inside her armored exploration suit, even when she must sleep inside it. But then her dreams turn weird.

In “Three Bodies at Mitanni” by Seth Dickinson humanity has sent seed ships into space. Much later, they have chosen three people who have been sent to evaluate the human colonies which have sprang from the ships. If the colonies might offer existential threat to humanity, they must be destroyed.

Anja-Hera, Tien, and the POV character have complex relationships and they must vote if the colonies will survive or if they will be destroyed.

“The Deeps of the Sky” by Elizabeth Bear: Stormchasers are space miners; they mine a gas giant in fragile little skiffs. When one of them notices an alien ship in trouble, he must decide if helping it is worth losing his potential mating rights with the Mothergrave.

I’m a fan of Rusch’s Diving universe so I’m very familiar with the next story, “Diving into the Wreck” by Kristine Kathryn Rusch. Boss has found an old space ship. It’s possibly several thousand years old. She and her crew of four are “diving” into the airless ship without knowing what they’ll find. They take a lot of precautions which might not be enough.

“The Voyage Out” by Gwyneth Jones: Ruth is a criminal condemned to death because she dared to speak out against the government, United States of Earth. She and more than a hundred other people are aboard a spaceship which is heading toward a habitable planet. They are going to be put down and start a colony without a possibility of coming back. None of the people are violent criminals but one young girl seems especially innocent.

This story feels like it could be a beginning of novel about the colony.

“The Symphony of Ice and Dust” by Julie Nováková: Kieran and Manuel are aboard Orpheus, looking for material for their next great symphony. On the planet Sedna, they find the remains of the previous expedition, 1100 years go.

“Twenty Lights to the ‘Land of Snow'” by Michael Bishop: 990 Tibetian Buddhists, and a group of others, have accompanied their Dalai Lama to exile to another planet. The Kalachakra is still on its way. Two young people are competing for the position of the next Dalai Lama: Jetson is Tibetian teenager and Greta Bryn is young Western woman. The story is seen through computer logs by Greta.

“The Firewall and the Door” by Sean McMullen: Argo is the only unmanned space probe sent about 30 years ago. Its information is sent directly to everyone’s living room. Its crew is on Earth and runs the drone from there. The main character is a magistrate, specializing in space law. When things go very wrong on Argo, he’s called in. In this world, stopping waste is the most important thing and no other spacecraft were ever built because it would have been too wasteful.

“Permanent Fatal Errors” by Jay Lake: the spaceship has just seven people but they’re all heavily modified: one can even withstand vacuum without a spacecraft. They’re also all immortal. When they find out something unexpected, they start to turn against each other.

“Gypsy” by Carter Sholz: When the US (or is that world?) economy tanked, Sofi was one of the people who had to take any job she could to survive. Her job isn’t terrible but in the end it can’t even support her and she must move to the company barracks. The world is full of hate and distrust. Governments and companies try to control everything and everyone. However, Sofi finds out that a group of people have built a spaceship and they’re going to escape the oppressive Earth. They’re heading to Alpha Centuri which should have a habitable planet. Sofi joins the crew happily. She should have spent the journey in hibernation but something goes wrong and she’s woken just two years into the journey. We also get to know Roger who came up with this project, called Gypsy, and many of the other people involved in and living in this hopeless world.

“Sailing the Antarsa” by Vandana Singh: Mayha is from the planet Dara, which was inhabited a few centuries ago. When the council of kinhouses decides to send someone to find out what happened to people who had left Dara a few generations ago, Mayha in the one who is chosen to go. Alone. She’s put in cryosleep but something happens and she’s woken too soon. She reminisces about her life in peaceful Dara.

“The Mind is Its Own Place” Carrie Vaughn: Mitchel is one of the pilots on starship Francis Drake. But then Mitchel wakes up in the neurological ward without memories of what happened. He’s told that he has a disease which affects a lot of pilots but he can’t accept that.

“The Wreck of the Godspeed” James Patrick Kelly: Adele volunteers to go aboard a starship which is looking for new planets to colonize. It has been doing that for a couple of thousand years, with changing crew but the same AI.

“Seeing” Genevieve Valentine: Marika is a scientist and one of the crew of three who are going to travel to Gliese 581. However, something goes terribly wrong.

“Traveling into Nothing” An Owomoyela: Kiu Alee is waiting to die. She was sentenced to death because she’s a murderer. Instead, an alien gives her a chance to live, if she becomes the alien’s pilot. The catch is that it’s a one-way trip to the alien planet. However, Kiu agrees and then finds out that she must deal with a neural interface she doesn’t like.

“Glory” Greg Egan: Two xenomathematicans travel to another star where there are two alien nations which are hostile to each other. The aliens know that they’re not alone in the universe because they have a founding culture which they think is actually alien. However, they’ve never seen or heard from actual aliens before. The (human) mathematicians are interested in that root culture and the mathematics that they came up with. However, that culture died out three thousand years ago so the two must rely on the two nation’s archaeology. The scientists have bodies which look and function like the aliens. Each scientist goes to one nation to encourage them to dig up more of those artifacts. The aliens have very interesting different biology but behave like, well, like USA and Soviet Union at the height of their paranoia.

“The Island” Peter Watts: In the far future, humans have left Earth. This group is traveling very long distances in space to explore. The crew is in deep sleep and only revived when necessary. When the ship encounter something new, it wakes up one of the humans from a very long sleep. To her surprise, she’s confronted by a boy she doesn’t know. He’s build partly from her genes so she’s unexpectedly a mother which doesn’t please her. The boy hasn’t been around humans and the ship’s AI, the Chimp, has been making independent decisions for very long.

“Gypsy” is mostly about the horrible, dystopian world the whole Earth has become. The next story, “Sailing the Antarsea”, is about the wonderful world of Dara that our explorer has left behind and the secrets it might yet contain. It was very interesting to read them one after the other. Many of the stories have spacecrafts where most of the crew is in cryosleep but one is awakened prematurely to deal with a threat. It’s interesting that the stories were still quite different.

I really liked the first story and I’m hoping Buckell will write more in that universe. Bear’s story was very interestingly different from the others and I liked it a lot, too. The same with Swanwick’s story

Of course, Rusch’s novella was also a favorite but I’ve already read the whole series.

While I was somewhat frustrated with some of the stories, overall I enjoyed the collection. The narrators were good and Kowal was very good, as usual

A short story collection of various genres.

Publication year: 2017
Format: ebook
Publisher: WMG Publishing

All of these 18 stories happen, mostly, in taverns or bars. Some stories are fun, others quite serious. This time I liked the funny stories more. Some of the stories are fantasy, some science fiction, and some contemporary or set in the past without any SFF elements, so this collection has a wide variety of genres.

“Quest for Beer” by Stefon Mears: As we roleplayers know, many quests and adventures start in taverns. Mysterious men and women, orphans with lockets, people talking in riddles… Tonight, Velec wants to avoid them all and just enjoy one night of peace and quiet and get laid. He’s trying to keep both himself and his three adventuring companions out of trouble. This was a great first story.

“Closing the Big Bang” by Michele Laframboise: The Big Bang is the most lavish tavern in existence. It can travel to any place in the galaxy. But some people just aren’t happy with the rich, powerful, and ruthless people who gather in it.

“Hero #8” by Ron Collins: McCaffrey’s is a firefighters’ bar. The main character is a firefighter but also a former soldier. When a sniper starts taking out people in front of the tavern, he springs into action, hoping that he can save people.

“Girls That Glitter” by Dayle A. Dermatis: The Glitter Room is a famous and popular bar for music and drag queens. The main character has just come out of rehab and she was clinically dead for a few minutes. Thanks to that, she can now see spirits. And it’s a good thing, too, because only she can help the owner of the Glitter Room.

“The Kids Keep Coming” by David H. Hendrickson: The nameless bar is only for black teenagers who have very specific past. The nameless barkeep is fated to greet them.

“One Last Round at Cozy’s Tavern” by Lisa Silverthorne: Sam is a police detective who used to be good but after years in the service and a divorce has become a drunk. His captain has given him one last job to get his head together: find the captain’s missing dad. Sam starts at Cozy’s Irish Tavern where he meets the strangest barkeep and piano player ever.

“Wider Horizons” by Diana Benedict: Emilio has just turned 18 and he wants to go to the local disco gay bar for the first time. Kelly is his best friend, so she goes with him even though she’s unhappy about the bar and about Emilio being gay. Will that change him and their friendship?

“Grounds for Dismissal” by Anthea Sharp: Julie Anne Lamont works as a barista at Caffe Profondo. She considers it just a job, but her employers take coffee and customer service far more seriously.

“The Next Dance” by Jamie Ferguson: Nelle works in a saloon. She gets men, mostly miners, to dance with her and buy drinks, but nothing more. The girls drink only sugar water. Then she starts to talk with one of the regular gamblers.

“Schrodinger’s Bar” by Kim May: Myla (and her semi-wild jungle cat Issan) are from the planet Rannia. She’s now a refugee on Jovian Station and hasn’t eaten in a week. But then the owner of Schrodinger’s Bar gives her an opportunity.

“The Gods Are Out Inn” by M. L. Buchman: In the Gods Are Out Inn, the deities, witches, and other immortals can’t hear the prayers and pleadings of the mortals, so more and more of them are coming in. But the goddess Freya has a problem.

“The First Ingredient” by Eric Kent Edstrom: Tyler is moderately successful sales man. Recently he realized that he needs a wife and he approaches dating as aggressively as sales. Somehow, that doesn’t seem to work and he wanders into Hamilton’s barn bar. There he meets another salesman.

“The Legend of Long-Bow and Short-Staff” by Brenda Carre: a ditty about the Hangover bar.

“Freedom Unbound” by Dory Crowe: Only 14, Clementine is an indentured servant at Franklin Turnpike Inn where a magistrate has come to judge cases. He brought the accused as well. While feeding the pigs, Clementine finds a young man at the stable. He’s trying to free his sister but needs help from Clementine.

“Killing Spree” by Brigid Collins: Spriegan has a dark past. She and her girlfriend came to the small town to start again. But now her girlfriend is dead and her past have come back to haunt her.

“The Hot Eagle Roadhouse” by Chuck Heintzelman: Jalinda Washington is a tall and strong black woman. She’s always felt out of place. But then she comes to the Roadhouse.

“Death at the Pines” by Annie Reed: The hostess of the Tavern in the Pines is found murdered. The tavern is part of a larger “divorce ranch” where women, and some men, stay so that they can get a quicker divorce. Deputy Cavanaugh is on the case.

Many of these stories are low-key character studies rather than high adventure. I liked most of them. “The Gods Are Out Inn”, “The Hot Eagle Roadhouse”, “Freedom Unbound”, and the first story are my favorites. However, in some of the stories, like the last one and “Hero #8” the tavern is only tangentially related to the story, could have been any place. “The Kids Keep Coming” is quite a moving piece but I suspect more so to USAians.

A nice collection of stories.

Next Page »