Category Archives: Short Stories and Novellas
I don’t often see space opera and indigenous resistance standing side by side, which is why Sky Gypsies, a short story in Philippine Speculative Fiction III, captured my imagination. The story is told from the point of view of Badjao indigenous characters and explores their relationship to space, interstellar mining and state power. I’m grateful to be joined here by the author, Timothy James Dimacali.
Caroline: I hear Sky Gypsies is being read in some high schools and colleges, congratulations! I’m impressed by how much world-building you’ve fit in seven pages. I’m also intrigued by the concept of a sea-faring Filipino/indigenous people becoming spacefaring cheap labour, and inspired by how you’ve conveyed their enduring strength and resistance. Where did the inspiration for Sky Gypsies come from? And are you developing this world further in another story?
TJ: Thanks for the kudos! I’ve always been a fan of space operas and I wanted to see something like that for ourselves, from a Filipino standpoint.
I chose the Badjao because I wanted a space opera that didn’t have clunky space suits in them, with characters that were more in harmony with their environment.
In most space operas, the characters’ relationship with space is really very Westernized: there’s a sense of conquering, of dominance and mastery of nature. I think it’s a throwback to the age of Western expansionism and the pervading philosophy of scientific reductionism that went hand-in-hand with it.
But elsewhere in the world, in Asian and Polynesian cultures in particular, you see a different world-view, a different sense of relationship with the physical world around us. Sky Gypsies was an attempt to project that zeitgeist, if you could call it that, into the future.
It’s been said that all good scifi, no matter how far into the future it’s placed, is still a projection of contemporary problems. I think that’s what Sky Gypsies is. It wasn’t a conscious thing for me at the time, but I think that’s how it turned out.
I was gripped by the idea of the Badjao, who live almost their entire lives at sea and yet are, even today, sometimes seen as foreigners and are ostracized outside of their own seaside settlements. I liked the idea of being naturally at home in this fluid place that, to everyone else, is strange and unfamiliar.
Writing Sky Gypsies was an interesting challenge, because I strongly wanted to be respectful of our collective culture (in general) and our indigenous cultures (in particular).
This was a problem because I felt like a stranger to our own indigenous cultures, in a manner of speaking: I’m a third-generation Manileño, born and raised in the urbanized capital.
There was the urge to want to completely submerge myself in research, to learn all I could about Badjao culture that I could —to actually live there, if possible. But my resources at the time were very limited, and I also realized that nothing I did short of being born a Badjao would ever make me understand the culture in its entirety.
Plus, of course, the fact that I had to get on with writing the story. And so, armed with what little knowledge I felt I had, I plunged headlong into the work. I just kept reminding myself to at least try to be respectful.
Since it was published, I’ve been deeply surprised and touched by people who come up to me and tell me that the story is being read in high school and college literature classes, both as an introduction to Filipino indigenous culture and the concept of “otherness”.
It’s also been adapted into a gorgeous comic by John Ray “JR” Bumanglag, a very talented young artist whose work is very innovative yet satisfyingly reminiscent of Filipino komiks masters like Francisco Coching and Larry Alcala. I’m currently working on a continuation of the story and will be working with JR on turning it into a full graphic novel.
I find the interesting challenge, at this point, is looking at how the little details that I wrote into the original story will unfold into the larger story arc (which I actually already have plotted out).
I feel like I somehow managed to cobble together a working clock. Now I’ve wound up the spring and am eager to find out what each cog does.
I already know how it’s all going to end, but it’s getting there that’s the challenge.
Caroline: Yeah, I love space opera too, and I also can’t get past some blind spots the genre has, especially with people’s relationships to resource extraction and development in space. How do you feel about having your stories published in books that are specifically for Filipino speculative fiction? Do you think there is a similarity of subject matter or themes between Filipino spec-fic authors? And what audience are these stories geared towards?
TJ: Those are interesting questions.
As a professional writer, I’ve always believed that you should target a specific audience with your writing; you should have a clear idea of who you’re talking to, and shape your words accordingly. This jives well with what I learned in advertising about the “unique selling point”: understanding that a good product or idea will always have many things going for it, but you should focus on one particular aspect that makes it stand out and resonate with your target audience.
But all of that, of course, begs the question: Who is the target audience of the PSF books? I can’t speak for the PSF anthology’s editors, Dean and Nikki Alfar (and Alternative Alamat’s Paolo Chikiamco), but I do know that they’ve always been passionate about promoting speculative fiction to Filipino readers, on the one hand; and to make international audiences aware that Filipinos can write stellar speculative fiction like the best of them, on the other hand.
I think it’s a dilemma that every Filipino author in any genre has to face on their own, but I personally erred on the side of addressing a primarily Filipino audience, regardless of geographic location.
I was driven by the understanding that there’s a very real need for us Filipinos to have our own speculative fiction —science fiction, in particular.
It’s a fact that we don’t yet have the means to produce our own high technology, and won’t be capable of doing so for at least a generation more to come, if at all.
This means that we’re completely at the mercy of whatever technology lands in our hands from first-world countries. Sure, they’re built and assembled in Asia, but the basic construction paradigms and even the basic marketing strategies stem from people who are of a different cultural milieu and world-view than ours.
And yet, we’ve proven time and again that we are capable of adapting these technologies to suit our needs and to use them in ways that the original designers never even thought of.
This happened a decade ago with SMS, and now with social media. But all of these are after the fact, merely reactionary to the arrival of foreign technologies.
So that’s where speculative fiction —particularly SCIENCE fiction— comes into the picture: it’s a way for us to dream our own future, to empower us with a vision of what we can become. So that we’re more than just blind adopters of foreign technologies.
Caroline: That’s a really fantastic point—that’s quote worthy! You’ve mentioned to me in an earlier discussion that there seems to be a zeitgeist in Filipino speculative fiction, there’s significantly more visibility for the writers and there seems to be far more interest from readers (both domestic and international). What would you say is the cause for this? The internet? Digital publishing? Demographic trends? Is there also a decolonizing process at work here? So do you think that the stigma against Filipino literature is still there, and if so, do you think it’s changing, and why is it changing?
TJ: Certainly, the internet and digital publishing have opened the floodgates —or, at least, lowered the barriers— to Filipinos wanting to get published. But there’s a lot going on under the surface.
Philippine speculative fiction seems to be at the same stage of development that Filipino literature in English was at in the middle of the previous century. Then as now, the challenge is to come to terms with ourselves and our collective identity even as we are learning to do so in a foreign language.
The crucial difference is that the struggle now has less to do with the English language per se and more with the conventions and paradigms of science fiction and fantastic fiction —both of which had a long time to develop in Western cultures.
So for us, on the one hand, there’s a sense of treading a well-worn path but, on the other hand, also the growing confidence that we’re doing it in a way that hasn’t been done before.
I say “growing” because there are still some birthing pains that need to be overcome, not the least of which are those echoes of colonialism that won’t just go away.
The bookstore layout that you mentioned is just a physical manifestation of this. On a deeper level, I remember Gaiman himself expressing surprise during one of his trips to the Philippines at the sight of so many people coming up to him and asking him to write about aswangs and kapres and manananggals and what-have-you.
To his credit, he politely declined, saying that Filipinos can do a far better job than he could —because it is, after all, our culture.
So here we are, in an age of literary exploration, slowly getting our sea legs in the wide specfic ocean. It’s important for would-be writers to just jump in and get their feet wet, and that’s where digital publishing comes into the picture: it makes that first dive if not more inviting then at least less intimidating.
Thanks to TJ for the wonderful interview! Sky Gypsies can be read in Philippine Speculative Fiction III, the comic adaptation is available as free download from Flipreads, and you can follow TJ on Twitter and Facebook.
Philippine mythology is full of images that ignite the imagination: gods of calamity and baldness, of cosmic time and lost things; the many-layered Skyworld, and weapons that fight their own battles; a ship that is pulled to paradise by a chain, and a giant crab that controls the tides… Yet too few of these tales are known and read today. “Alternative Alamat” gathers stories, by contemporary authors of Philippine fantasy, which make innovative use of elements of Philippine mythology. None of these stories are straight re-tellings of the old tales: they build on those stories, or question underlying assumptions; use ancient names as catalysts, or play within the spaces where the myths are silent. What you will find in common in these eleven stories is a love for the myths, epics, and legends which reflect us, contain us, call to us–and it is our hope that, in reading our stories, you may catch a glimpse of, and develop a hunger for, those venerable tales.
“Alternative Alamat” also features a cover and interior illustrations by Mervin Malonzo, a short list of notable Philippine deities, tips for online and offline research, and in-depth interviews with Professors Herminia Meñez Coben and Fernando N. Zialcita.
Alternative Alamat a fascinating read. I gained more knowledge about certain mythological figures (e.g. Maria Makiling, Tungkung Langit, Alunsina, Bernardo Carpio), but I feel like it’s just the beginning. There’s so much more to explore and retell.
Stories that stood out to me in particular are
-“The Alipin’s Tale” – a mythological retelling of Lapu Lapu’s fate and the changes after the Battle of Mactan. It is told like a folktale from the POV of his alipin (servant) and it concludes with a ballsy ending that’s like a punch in the gut. I also give it props for incorporating the intersection of race and class.
-“Keeper of My Sky” – the post-creation story of Tungkung Langit and Alunsina. This is one of the most bittersweet stories I’ve ever read. It’s simultaneously intimate and epic, both about the fate of two people and of the universe. If you’re prone to moisture in the eyes, maybe you shouldn’t read this in public.
-“Offerings to Aman Sinaya” – about a fishing village, their way of life, and their struggle to survive in the present day. It has moments of joy when young members master their birthright, but also of anguish as they continue to feel the negative impact of industrialization.
There’s also bonus content in the appendix: a list of notable Filipino deities and the region their stories originate from, interviews with two professors (specializing in folklore and anthropology, respectively) and a list of additional resources on Filipino mythology.
As a whole, this is not what I’d consider to be an uplifting or an escapist read. It raises more questions than answers, because many of these stories touch on contemporary issues that we don’t have an answer to yet. It’s unique and thought-provoking, but I’d recommend reading something lighter in alternation with this book when it gets too heavy.
This anthology is a rare gem, and it’s wonderful that it’s available as an ebook. I’d recommend it for those who are curious about Filipino mythology, or interested in mythology and folktales in general.
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Mythology and folktales; Philippine speculative fiction; short story anthologies; an intelligent read that is bittersweet, but rewarding
Are you prepared for what comes next?
Accustomed to a life of cosseted seclusion at home with his parents, Valentine is suddenly faced with making his own way in the world. His new life is quickly upended, however, when he’s mugged at gunpoint. Finding shelter at a mysterious inn run by the dour Mrs. Anna, he soon encounters a Bosnian woman with a hole where her stomach used to be, an American entrepreneur with a scheme to implant televisions into people’s foreheads, and a Catholic priest who attempts to lure him down inside a kitchen sink. Then things start getting strange…
In this story based loosely around the state of Bardo from The Tibetan Book of the Dead – an intermediate state where the dead arrive prior to rebirth – dying is the easy part. Getting out of Bardo and returning to the land of the living is a far more perilous proposition, and unless you know what you’re doing…you might never leave.
An odd, yet oddly touching tale of life, death, and the space in-between.
The End of the World is a contemporary fantasy novella with an offbeat sense of humour. Valentine is a sheltered teenager who is thrown out of the house by his parents, and subsequently finds himself in a bizarre inn named The End of the World. When I say bizarre, I really do mean bizarre. Priests emerge out of kitchen sinks, the next door guest is walking around with a giant gunshot hole in what used to be her stomach, and Valentine tries to make sense of it all.
I enjoyed parts of this book. There’s some hilariously awkward dialogue between Valentine and his parents, and the narrative is sprinkled with colourful off-hand comments that require a double take. The humour tends toward the weird, dark, or perverted, which is all fine by me because it was done consistently. There’s a number of well-written descriptions, and I liked the story’s core message.
The book doesn’t reach its potential due to too much telling and not enough showing. The end notes state that this is a novella adapted from a play, which explains the heavy emphasis on dialogue and the noticeable lack of atmosphere, setting, or character interactions beyond sitting around and talking.
The story’s overall trajectory is predictable. The main conflict of the story is about Valentine trying to figure out what the inn is and how to move on, but the book description already spoils that this inn is based off purgatory, and it’s not much of a stretch to figure out what happened to him. Valentine also doesn’t get into much adventuring or much else before the story ends, so it feels like the entire second act is missing.
The characters are theatrical but unconvincing–more like types rather than real people. Valentine gets into an argument with a Catholic priest about religion, and I thought that the dialogue was so utterly silly that I couldn’t read it without cringing. I didn’t find the argument funny or intellectually stimulating, and that was the case with most of the dialogue in this book.
The problem with the other guests is that they are only characterized by where they came from and how they died. Beheaded Afghan man. Bosnian woman with no stomach. There wasn’t enough humanity or authentic slices of life to make them convincing. It’s like they were pulled out of the evening news report of who-died-in-the-world-today. Characters don’t have to be realistic or sympathetic to serve their role in a story, but they were caricatures without being funny or really doing anything. They were talking props for Valentine, and that was it.
I like the story’s central message regarding life and death, but it hits you over the head with it over and over again in dialogue which makes it lose its impact. In the end, I’m looking for a story to engage me in one of two ways: make me feel, or make me think. The best stories do both. Unfortunately, The End of the World does neither.
I think Biss has storytelling skill, but this adaptation needs to read more like a book. It’s not dealing with the limitations of a play, so there should be more action, scenes, and characters to beef up the second act. The message should be delivered through the progression of events rather than as infodumps through dialogue. A book is not limited by budget, sets, or actors–the only limit is imagination. Perhaps I would have enjoyed the play, but as a novella, I’d give it a miss.
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Dialogue dialogue dialogue; quirky and ribald humour; agnostics and atheists; setting… what’s that?
A collection of eleven sci-fi short stories by Nancy Fulda. From computers that invent God to minds that travel through time, electronic ghosts to enigmatic extraterrestrials, these stories stem from a love of fiction and a fascination with the boundless possibilities of our universe.
This is a solid, well-written, and intelligent science fiction anthology. I’m giving the stories themselves four stars out of five. My main gripe is with the minor editing errors, but I’ll get to that later in this review.
The stories move fast and pack a lot of punch. This collection contains both action-packed and high-concept stories. It has thrilling race and chase sequences while it explores classic sci-fi themes such as artificial intelligence, cloning, and first contact.
It’s difficult to pick my favourites, but “The Breath of Heaven” has to be one of them. It’s about artificial intelligences gone “rogue” on the human space colonists. It turns several tropes upside down, and it’s told from the POV of a very sympathetic AI character. The ambiguity in the artificial intelligences’ directives leads them in the search for the ideal human operator, and consequently puts them in conflict with the imperfect colonists they’re supposed to be answering to.
I’m also fond of “Dead Men Don’t Cry” and “Backlash”. The former is a whodunnit murder investigation in the context of Earth vs. Colonies politics, and the latter is an action-packed time travel story with some interesting characters. “Monument” is a poignant reflection on first contact; while it’s a bit of a downer, I think it’s the most likely scenario. “A New Kind of Sunrise” is a set on a planet where human colonists have lost technology, and have become nomadic tribes who must cope with the extreme climate that comes with a brutally hot sun. The author has an upcoming novel set in this world, and I’d love to read it when it comes out.
Fulda’s writing is so tight that I think that you should only read this when you’re alert. The world-building and character histories she covers in one paragraph would require an entire page from other authors. This is evident in the first few pages of “Pastry Run.” So if you sample the book and the details fly over your head: get some sleep, then read it again. Trust me.
I received my review copy from Smashwords, and there could be improvements to the editing. I noted about 13 errors. It included some typos, line breaks within sentences, and dialogue that clumped together in a paragraph which made it difficult to figure out who the speaker was. Maybe I’m just picky, but I found these distracting enough to dock off one star. It’s possible Amazon copy does not share these, or that these errors have already been resolved, but I can only provide my rating from the review copy I received. Once the errors are fixed, consider this a four star review.
This is a solid sci-fi book and it’s definitely recommended. I’d just wait until a more polished version comes out before purchasing it at Smashwords.
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High-concept intelligent sci-fi; race and chase sequences; subversion of AI tropes
Several of the short stories featured in this collection are also available as standalones on Smashwords and Amazon. But this entire collection is currently on sale for $0.99 on Amazon, so why don’t you just get them all?
October 4 update: I received an email from the author stating that corrected versions are now up on Smashwords and Amazon.
Length: Multi-Author Short Story Anthology at 38,000 words.
Publication Year: 2011
This free ebook caught my eye because one of the fantasy authors I’ve reviewed for this blog, M. Edward McNally, has a short story up there. His story, “The Village of Those Who Touch the Dead”, is set in the Norothian Cycle high fantasy world. One review describes it as yakuza vs. demons. The other stories look pretty eclectic too.
I did a quick search on what the Indie Eclective is, and it appears to be a collective of nine indie authors who promote each other’s work. They write in various genres, but are more on the paranormal and fantasy side for spec-fic. They seem to share some of the promotion work, but don’t share the profits, so I wouldn’t call it a co-op. I haven’t seen that arrangement much, so that’s pretty cool.
I love short stories. They’re perfect to read after you’ve finished a sprawling epic fantasy doorstopper or an equally lengthy galaxy-spanning space opera adventure.
Science fiction and fantasy have the highest word counts compared to other genre fiction, and it’s nice to know that we can still get our genre fix in convenient bite-sized bits.
Here are a couple of online magazines with free short stories. Their names get mentioned in the SF/F blogosphere, so even if you’re not familiar with them, you can be assured that the internet approves of their editorial choices.
Free Online SF/F Magazines
Strange Horizons – covers all speculative fiction
Daily Science Fiction – covers all speculative fiction
Philippine Genre Stories – covers all speculative fiction and some crime fiction
Luna Station Quarterly – covers all speculative fiction written by up and coming women authors
AE The Canadian Science Fiction Review – focuses on science fiction, but sometimes branches into science-fantasy and slipstream
Kasma Science Fiction – focuses on science fiction
Ray Gun Revival – focuses on old school pulp-inspired sci-fi: space opera and golden age goodness
Pay-for SF/F Magazines with Some Free Short Stories Online
Fantasy Magazine – focuses on fantasy. Yes, the badass steampunk Napoleon picture on the top right is from their latest issue.
Light Speed Magazine – focuses on science fiction
And if you want even more free fiction, the good folks over at SF Signal always have their giant free fiction lists. Their lists cover everything free and fiction: online short stories, web serials, ebooks, podcasts, and more.
Don’t want to read them on your computer? Maybe give Instapaper a try.
Instapaper is a tool that saves and formats webpages for mobile devices. It does other stuff too, but it’s particularly well-suited for offline reading, like when want to read that short story when you’re on the subway or on a trip to the Wireless Great Beyond. To use it, you just go to the Instapaper website sign up for a free account, then you install a little “Read Later” bookmark on your browser. When you click on the bookmark, it sends that webpage to your Instapaper account.
When you have several webpages that you want to download for your reading pleasure, you log back into your Instapaper account, then you can download those saved pages either for printing, or as a .mobi file (Kindle), or as an .epub file (Kobo, Nook, Sony, etc).
For Kindle 3 users: They can do an automatic wireless delivery to your Kindle (yes, only for Kindle 3 users) by sending the .mobi to your @free.kindle.com account. You can choose between different delivery schedules (e.g. have unread articles sent to your Kindle daily).
For Google Reader users: The pages can be sent to your Google Reader feeds, and it even works on the Google Reader apps for iOS devices.
For iOS iPhone/iPad users: The developer wants to make money off you. The free Instapaper app has been phased out, but the full version is available for $4.99 and probably worth the price.
For Android users: The developer doesn’t want your money. They’re not even developing an app for Android. Your best bet is to use a .epub reading app and just download the .epub whenever you’re online.
Do you read short stories online? Do you have any other suggested SF/F sites? And how do you read these stories–in front of the computer or on a mobile device? Feel free to hit the comments and share.
Length: Short Story – around 6000 words each
Publication Year: 2011
If you’re familiar with God’s War by Kameron Hurley (if you’re not familiar with it I suggest you get familiarized), you’ll be interested to hear that she has several short stories up for free on Smashwords. I haven’t read them yet, but they’re set in the same universe, and they should be nice to tide us over until the release of Infidel in a month or so.
Is it just me, or is it really cool that an author from Night Shade is Smashwords-savvy?
“There is no greater drug than relationships; there is no sweeter death than love.”
Love is horrible. It’s ruthless, messy, mind-altering, and raw. It takes no prisoners. It chews you up and spits you out and leaves you for dead. Love is, you could say, very much like a zombie.
In this haunting short story collection, anything is possible—a dying musician turns to tea for inspiration; a police sergeant struggles with a very unusual victim; a young wife is trapped in a house hiding unimaginable evil….
With “Hungry For You”, A.M. Harte explores the disturbing and delightful in an anthology that unearths the thin boundary between love and death.
Hungry For You is a horror short story collection that explores the links between desire and decay through tales of zombie romance. The POV character is either a zombie, or someone who is attracted to one—so while readers may be experiencing zombie fatigue, A. M. Harte injects new life into the material. There isn’t just one type of zombie in this book. It takes a more general approach as it covers some people who are not traditional zombies, but exhibit the same bodily experiences of addiction and deterioration. All the characters are sympathetic individuals, no matter how many fingernails and ears fall off, and no matter what they hunger for.
I really enjoyed this collection. It’s engaging and heart-wrenching all throughout, and I finished it in one sitting. The simultaneous themes of passion and destruction are unique, resulting in some chilling prose that straddle the darkness between the two:
“It hurts,” she moaned, clutching at her side where I’d sunk my teeth into one of the love handles she so hated. The memory made my gums tingle. I took a step closer, could feel the growing hunger, the excitement, the urgency to eat and eat before her flesh went off.
The stories that stood out for me were the title story “Hungry for You”, and “Dead Man’s Rose”—which are respectively about a female police sergeant with an unusual zombie victim, and a young wife dealing with an abusive relationship. About the former, it takes some serious skill to write zombies as attractive beings while maintaining them as rotting corpses. It’s infinitely twisted and awesome. Although the subject matter in “Dead Man’s Rose” isn’t new (young wife has creepy husband; young wife is stuck in a house and creepy things happen), it’s written with such a touching sadness that it affected me emotionally like no similar story has.
I was hoping that the stories would add to a greater overarching theme, but they don’t. They could be read in any order and it wouldn’t affect your experience of this collection. While every word is absorbing, the stories feel more like samplers of bigger tales, so some ideas could be explored further.
Some of the characters could be fleshed out more in terms of personality and background—while they’re all in different states of rotting and non-rotting, there were some that I could only remember as hetereosexual and in their 20’s or early 30’s. Due to the similarity of subject matter and not-as-defined characters, there are a few stories that aren’t as memorable. But really, these are just my thoughts on how a great 4-star anthology could become an even better 5-star book.
Hungry For You is a captivating read. Although I felt like some of the stories could be expanded, every single one was emotionally moving, and I suspect that I’ll be re-reading several. If you’re interested in highly original zombie stories, or exploring the dark side of passion, I recommend this book. Reading the sample will give you a good idea if these stories will tug at your heartstrings. They certainly tugged mine, and I’m very interested in reading more books by this author.
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Zombies; the dark side of passion; horror that tugs at your heartstrings; hot zombies; zombie swans?
A.M. Harte wears many hats. She’s a speculative fiction author, the editor-in-chief of the independent Canadian publisher 1889 Labs, a book reviewer at Quills and Zebras, and a podcaster and such in the web fiction community. She has a separate day job in London too. That’s a lot of hats. I speculate that she is post-human, but definitely not a zombie.
Length: Novella – 27,000 words
Publication Year: 2010
Short Description: Her father-king wants war. Her messianic brother wants peace. The black god wants his due. She suffers all the consequences. King Vieri is losing his war against the lands of Pawelon. Feeling abandoned by his god, he forces his son Caio, the kingdom’s holy savior, to lead his army. Victory ought to come soon.
Comment: I admit that while reading the official description of the novella, my eyes glaze over and all I see is “epic fantasy means epic wars ‘n epic stuff”. But it’s hard not to get intrigued by this book when the cover is so damn good and a number of book bloggers that I trust gave very positive reviews. So while I haven’t read it yet, you might want to check it out.
This free novella was brought to my attention because of the blogger + twittersphere hype surrounding the recent release of the full standalone novel. Readers can try out the novella first, or go ahead with the novel. Grace Krispy over at the Motherlode Book Blog is having a giveaway of three ebook copies of the novel, and that giveaway is going on til August 20. So checking out Grace Krispy’s ebook giveaway is probably a good thing for you. If you don’t check it out, the chances of me winning the ebook just goes up higher =P
August 23 update: I just won the ebook giveaway. Told you that you should’ve joined :)
A radio station solicits story submissions from towns across Pennsylvania as part of a “small-town cultural preservation campaign”. In 2000 words or less, the submissions are to describe a specific event that characterizes the culture of their hometown. The stories received from a town called Uncanny Valley are a bit… different.
The Uncanny Valley is a collection of thirty-three short stories describing the events of a small town in America, all told from the first person point of view of the inhabitants, and they piece together an intriguing, charming, and yet unsettling place. I would describe them as horror stories go for the cute and creepy rather than all out terrifying. They’re on the tamer side of horror with ghosts stories and such, but it’s abundant with unusual deaths and unusual things that shouldn’t be living, so those basics are still covered.
The author masterfully captures the voice of characters from all walks of life: excited children telling secrets, musings from housewives, the wistful thoughts of old men–weaving together a collection that’s greater than the sum of its parts. Although the stories are 2,000 words or less, Miller manages to pack so much life and character in each one that their lengths just feel perfect.
My favourite pieces are “Don’t Tell!” (told from the point of view of a nine year old complete with misspellings) and “Best Kept Secret” (a submission from a jaded homemaker) as they both have a moving tenderness achieved through such strangeness. While this book intends to creep you out a little, at the heart of it, it’s about the daily dreams of Uncanny’s inhabitants and the magic they find in everyday life.
While the majority of the stories are strong and memorable, there were some I could go without. It may be subjective because my own taste in horror leans towards the visceral, but there were stories that were neither creepy nor moving enough for me. There’s a ghost story that felt like middle-grader-material without adding a worthwhile twist to the format, and scary faces on pumpkins just aren’t that scary. But the other stories are either creepy, poignant, or funny–and all full of soul, so I can easily overlook the ones that didn’t interest me so much.
My other nitpick with this ebook is that in this short anthology, it had over fifteen separate occurrences where words ran together. Maybe they add an authenticity to the stories as typewritten submissions in the paperback edition, but I found it distracting in the ebook.
Overall, The Uncanny Valley is a neat read. I recommended it if you’re looking for a quirky set of stories that are charming, creepy, and surprisingly touching. This is a strong collection, and I think Gregory Miller is an author to watch.
You might like this if you like…
Ghost stories; stories told from the point of view of a lot of people, including children; learning about an American small town that’s charming yet unsettling
The author seems to really dig the short stories format, and he has another slice-of-life short story collection called Scaring the Crows: 21 Tales for Noon or Midnight. Apparently Ray Bradbury mentored Miller with the stories on Scaring the Crows, and Piers Anthony reviewed that title on his newsletter, so that may also be worth a look.