Category Archives: Short Stories and Novellas
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.
Morris Payne lives alone, sleeps alone, works alone. It’s the only way to keep his agoraphobic panic attacks at bay. And he’s got plenty to panic about. His best employer isn’t hiring, rival hackers are nosing in on the only job he can get, and his virtual accountant has just told him he’s broke. But a blizzard in Detroit and its accompanying power outage are exactly the cover he needs to pull off the hack that will put him back on top.
Then the neighbors come calling.
Good Fences is a 8,700 word short story written by co-authors Margaret Yang and Harry R. Campion writing as M. H. Mead. Morris has agoraphobia, which means he has panic attacks in public places and social conditions that he perceives to be out of his control. The conflict revolves around Morris’ interactions with his unwanted neighbours while trying to pull off a major hacking job in the middle of a blizzard with the power going out. Most of the action takes place in Morris’ suburban house in the near future.
Good Fences is an excellent character study. Morris is characterized well and the reader gets a good grasp of the severity of his panic attacks. The neighbours and their backgrounds are also fleshed out. The character interactions feel very natural and they’re all sympathetic despite their conflict of interests.
It’s well-written, but I was personally expecting a bit more science fiction to enjoy it as a standalone story. There isn’t much that I learned about the world-setting beyond the confines of Morris’ home, and it doesn’t deal with any SF concepts beyond some futuristic household appliances and familiar hacker-related tropes. However, it is a great introduction to the protagonist, as the co-authors have a novel in the works with this main character.
Morris himself is an interesting character because he’s the antisocial hacker type taken to the extremes. Whether you’ll like him enough to read a full novel about him is quite subjective. Personally, I thought the neighbours were more memorable because they were a set of characters that I haven’t seen much of in science fiction. I’d be interested in reading a novel with them as the main characters, especially the young boy.
I recommend Good Fences for anyone interested in a character study and a quick read.
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Character development, hackers
The co-authors are are working on a novel called Fate’s Mirror with Morris Payne as the lead protagonist. If the premise of an elite hacker needing to hunt down an escaped artificial intelligence sounds interesting to you, you should check the the website to see when it gets released.
Mythik Imagination #1 is a collection of 3 scifi/fantasy stories written in the spirit of the pulp magazines of the 1930s and 1940s. Here are their descriptions:
A new inmate discovers an incredible secret in an ancient prison. But something about this prisoner is different. Find out what happens to those who see with Yesterday’s Eyes.
“The Figment of Doom”
What would you do if you woke up in an unknown city and encountered a mysterious stranger who claimed to hold the key to your existence? See what it is like to face The Figment of Doom.
“Ghosts of the Future”
A zombie, a ghost, and a phantom are on board the midnight flight of a B-17 bomber as it streaks over World War II France. But things are seldom what they seem when you are dealing with the Ghosts of the Future.
Mythik Imagination #1 is a set of whimsical shorts that are as far removed as possible from hard sci-fi. It’s best described as “pulp sci-fi” with its use of psychic powers and futuristic settings… including a story set during WWII, of course.
The stories are easy to get into, and they launch into their concepts right from the first paragraph. Here’s the beginning of “Yesterday’s Eyes”:
The blight of Prison made a whole world untouchable. It was a cesspool of nightmares; the one place the criminals and undesirables of two worlds feared like the bogeyman of a child’s fairy tale. It was much more than any common detention facility and had an entire world all to itself, isolated on the smallest of three moons circling a dead planet.
A planet called Prison where the other prisoners can kill you by channeling psychic powers of pure hate? Hard to get more pulp than that. These are concept-driven stories much in the style of The Twilight Zone. There’s not much in the way of interesting characters or action scenes and such, but I really enjoyed the novel concepts they explored and I felt satisfied with their length. The author skillfully conveys their distinct settings with the minimal use of detail, and I loved the overall tone as it authentically channels the pulp spirit. The “Ghosts of the Future” is the most enjoyable story in this collection.
On the other hand, “The Figment of Doom” is rather weak. I liked the premise, but instead of being whimsical, it just comes off as plain silly. It could have been a cute mind screw, but the amnesiac protagonist spends too much time making light of his situation before the reader could feel concern for him. I felt distant from him and never felt like he was in genuine danger, and that took away the ending’s punch. The protagonist’s self-conscious commentary could have worked in smaller doses, but instead it removed the suspense from the piece. I didn’t find this story witty or had any other reaction to it. I could give this story a miss, but the other two are still worthwhile.
While I didn’t appreciate all the stories in this collection, they’re unique and memorable. The author is adept at writing stories with wildly different settings structured around some really interesting and unusual ideas. Even though I’m giving this particular issue 3 stars for “good, but could have been more engaging”, I’m looking forward to the rest of the Mythik Imagination releases. Up next is a Weird West issue, and after that is Strange Sea Stories. Anyone who likes pulp would find this “Mythik” line of stories very intriguing and worth a look.
If you’re looking for hard sci-fi or pulp-action adventures, this isn’t the book. But if you want quirky high concept stories with pulp charm, this is a neat read.
You might like this if you like…
The Twilight Zone, retro pulp sci-fi, weird fiction, really intense psychic powers
Jon Mac has an ambitious release schedule for these Mythik Imagination stories, so expect plenty of pulp goodness to come. Mythik Imagination #2 is coming out in July 6 and it involves Weird West themes and a gunfight showdown with a Nazi officer. So if you’re like me and think that it sounds like a recipe for awesome, check the Mythik blog for updates.
The blog also has an enjoyable feature where you can learn interesting stuff about strange creatures, oddly-designed vehicles, unexplainable ruins, and other curiousities. If that’s interesting to you, get your fix of the bizarre and fantastic on Weird Wednesdays.
There’s also an interview with the author on Nicholas Olivo’s blog, with some insight on how he gets his Twilight Zone-esque concepts.