Tag Archives: Short Story

SS Review: Tag, You’re It by Melissa Mead (Daily Science Fiction)

Title: Tag, You’re It
Author: Melissa Mead
Link: http://dailysciencefiction.com/story/melissa-mead/tag-youre-it
Collection: n/a
Publisher: Daily Science Fiction
Release Date: This story was first published on Thursday, September 9th, 2010

 

….Something else rose out of the mist below the skylight. A lost soul, indistinct, almost translucent. The soul turned and smiled at the old devil.

“Let’s play Hide-and-Tag,” it said. It pointed over the edge of the storage platform at the blue-green dot of the Earth below. “You go down there and hide, and I’ll find you.”

 

One of my favourite Disney moments is from Sword in the Stone where Merlin and Mad Madam Mim challenge each other to a Wizards’ Duel with each trying to out transform each other.

Tag, You’re It takes on that same feeling of mental challenge as the two devise ways of hiding from each other as only a devil and a lost soul can. I enjoyed the mythic quality to it as well as playfulness of the ideas. Not a lot more I can say as it’s just about 700 words long but worth a read.

SSM Guest Review: A Woman Naked by Christopher Priest from Ian Sales

Title: A Woman Naked
Author: Christopher Priest
Collection: Real-Time World
Publisher: New English Library [now available from GrimGrin Studios – gav]
Publication Date: February 1976

Christopher Priest sold his first short story in 1966. A Woman Naked first appeared Science Fiction Monthly in 1974. Which makes it a relatively early piece. Certainly it is a far more obvious story than the novels for which Priest is now known, such as The Prestige or The Separation.

A Woman Naked is a simple but powerful story. It makes no effort to describe its world, or explain how it came about. The reader knows only “that men outnumbered women” and women are “accorded special treatment in society”. It could be our own world. Except the opening line of the story makes it clear that it is not:

“The crime was sexual promiscuity; the punishment was probation. Now she walked to the courthouse for her appeal, a woman naked.”

The protagonist of A Woman Naked is referred to using the “temporary name” Mistress L—-. Her crime was adultery: at a party, she had been given “illicitly-distilled liquor”, and then seduced. A week later, she was arrested. Someone at the party, she later realised, must have been a police informer.

The walk to the appeal is dangerous, as there is “no penalty for the rape of a woman naked”, but Mistress L— is protected by her brother. Not openly – that would be illegal; but he does his best to ensure his sister comes to no harm.

She eventually arrives at the court, to witness a young naked woman being ejected. She had lost her appeal. The procedure is explained to Mistress L—-. If her appeal is upheld – which depends entirely on whether her confession matches that of the prosecution witnesses – she will be given a “one-piece, grey dungaree, made of rough, badly-cut material” to wear when she leaves.

She enters the courtroom. “Everyone present was male.”

A Woman Naked is frightening in its simplicity, in the way it presents with no commentary, no histronics, the subjugation of a sector of society. Priest gives no argument, no justification or rationalisation, he simply recounts what happens to Mistress L—-. He describes a system so despicable the only hope of salvation for the victims requires them to collude in their victimisation. Mistress L—‘s crime is not adultery; her crime is being female, being a member of a minority that is different. The “seduction” was not the only rape she suffered; her entire life has been a violation.

And still the ordeal is not over: “She opened her mouth and started the account of her crimes. The rape had begun.”

Ian Sales is a man of many talents it seems – he is both writer and critic and you can find more about him in these places amongst others:

http://iansales.com/

A Space About Books About Space:
http://spacebookspace.wordpress.com/

Sferse:
http://sferse.wordpress.com/

SSM Guest Review: Dirae by Peter S Beagle from Amanda Rutter

Title: Dirae
Author: Peter S Beagle
Anthology: Warriors
Editors: George R. R. Martin and Gardner Dozois
Publisher: Tor US

When I read The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle, I was enchanted by the lyrical quality of the prose and the vivid imagination of the storytelling. It was a novel that stayed with me long after the last page had been turned, and, even though I’ve only read it once (something that needs rectifying), I recommend it fiercely as one of those fantasy novels people MUST read.

So, when Gav announced SSAM and I realised that the Warriors anthology contained a short story – Dirae – by Peter S. Beagle, I decided that this should be my contribution.

Over the course of 20 pages, Beagle introduces us to a strange character – someone who is dealing revenge and retribution, rescuing the needy and the weak, but who does not know their own name. This character fades in and out of darkness, always appearing where they are least expected and most needed.

The writing is superlative: starting off staccato and yet dreamlike in our first introduction to the character. We are confused alongside the main character – the “warrior” – as we wonder who this person is, why they are drifting through darkness, how they appear in different locations around the city. As each passage expands and our understanding grows, the writing becomes vibrant with unspoken anger and passion. Throughout the whole story, there is a sadness and distance which fits perfectly with the final few paragraphs.

Beagle has written a tight, taut story which can be enjoyed and savoured many times to find true understanding as to the nature of this character we spend all-too-brief a time with. Highly recommended.

Amanda is one of those infectious people whose passion from books really rubs off – I’m currently jealous as she’s read 5o books so far this year. She runs a mean blog at Floor to Ceiling Blogs packed full of treasures

SSM Guest Review: The Truth is a Cave in the Black Mountains by Neil Gaiman from N. R. Alexander

Title: The Truth is a Cave in the Black Mountains
Author: Neil Gaiman
CollectionStories – All New Tales Edited by Neil Gaiman and Al Sarrantonio
Publisher: Headline
Release Date: Out 15 Jun 2010 in Hardback

The Truth is a Cave in the Black Mountains is a remarkable short story that stands out from even the prestigious company it keeps in Stories: All-New Tales. Gav kicked off SSM in great style by telling you all about Roddy Doyle’s Blood, the stomach-churning dark comedy with which this anthology begins, but for me, the best tale of the bunch is Neil Gaiman’s aforementioned contribution.

Which comes as no great shakes: I’ve been a fan of the author since his Black Orchid days – a hot botanical superhero that sadly didn’t quite catch on in the way The Sandman did shortly thereafter – and it’s a real treat to see him returning to more adult fare after the likes of Odd and the Frost Giants and The Graveyard Book. Fine fictions in their own right, you’ll hear no argument from me, but however much I enjoy the all-ages fare Gaiman dreams up, I can’t help but wish he’d remember his older fans more often.

In many sense, it feels like he wrote The Truth is a Cave in the Black Mountains specifically for me. To begin with, it’s a step away from the whimsy he’s become so renowned for. Add to that the fact that it takes place in the barren highlands of Scotland hundreds of years ago and you’ll begin to see what I mean. I’m a Scotsman born and bred – a speculative one at that, as no doubt some of you already know – and the landscape hereabouts is spectacular. With ominous grey skies, vertiginous cliffs, verdant grassy inclines speckled with the lurid yellows and vibrant purples of gorse and heather growing wild, Scotland is a beautiful country, truly (it’s people often rather less so), with such an inherent sense of isolation that few places in the modern world can match it. It’s a perfect setting for fantasy or horror or what have you, ready and waiting for one writer or another to take advantage of its qualities, but wouldn’t you know it: practically no-one does.

Neil Gaiman does. In his lengthy contribution to Stories: All-New Tales, which he also co-edits, the author introduces us to a man, short, secretive and never named, who seeks “a certain cave on the Misty Isle” where it is rumoured a deathly spectre awaits to grant his heart’s desire, and a guide to take him to it. He comes upon Calum MacInnes in “a house that sat like a square of white sky against the green of the grass,” and after some bargaining, they venture forth into the ethereal landscape together. Having spent some time in the region himself, Gaiman does the highlands and islands justice, his exposition just florid enough to evoke their timeless attraction, yet retaining that essential component of such stories as this: an ever-present sense of mystery, of the unknown and the unknowable.

In fact, it is the unknown which elevates The Truth is a Cave in the Black Mountains above the other wonderful stories which grace this sumptuous anthology. Gaiman obscures much from the outset, yet his obfuscation never intrudes on the narrative, nor does it seem at all calculated – until an icy breath of revelation in the last act gives chilling context to all that has come before. This is a tale to be read and re-read immediately, so delicate is its construction, its climax so surprising and satisfying.

Neil Gaiman is a storyteller with nary a peer in this field, and though he’s been absent from adult fiction too long, “The Truth is a Cave in the Black Mountains” is such a tremendous read that Scotsman or not, you’ll be left chomping at the bit for the long-awaited successor to Anansi Boys.

N. R. Alexander is better known as @nailalot on twitter and for the blog The Speculative Scotsman, which sets itself apart from other like-minded blogs primarily by being Scottish and therefore sarcastic.

SSM Guest Review: Ten for the Devil by Charles de Lint from Liz De Jager

Title: Ten for the Devil
Author: Charles de Lint
Collection: Tapping the Dream Tree
Publisher: Tor US
Release Date: Out Now

Uch, it’s embarrassing really but I am such a huge fan of Charles de Lint’s books. I still fondly remember discovering a few on my “boyfriend’s” bookshelf (now husband) all those years ago and going: What’s this? And him going: You gotta read it. You need to start here. And then he handed me a copy of Moonheart.

Little did poor Mark realise that he was the creator of a monster.

I love the fact that CDL not only does long novels, he’s excellent at producing short story collections invariably set in and around the town of Newford (his own creation).

My short story I’m reviewing for Gav is taken from Tapping the Dream Tree (signed hardback edition, FYI). It’s the first story in the anthology called Ten for the Devil.

It centres on the musician Staley who is the owner of a very special blue fiddle that plays “calling up music”. Staley inherited the fiddle from her grandmother. She lives in a trailer on an Indian reservation and she’s tolerated as a guest. She spends summer there and travels south for warmer climes during winter. One night, she walks through the forest, playing her music when she spots a cowering rabbit beneath a hedge. She has a double-vision that the rabbit is in fact a scared boy. She picks up the rabbit, confused as to what to do. It looks malnourished and very scared.

Staley is a sensitive and senses that something other has been called near. And whatever it is, it’s not pleasant and it probably wants to eat the rabbit/boy that she’s holding.

We journey with Staley as she tries to figure out what’s going on. She goes to her friend William and explains to him what’s happened. William has not necessarily become used to in your face odd mystical goings on, but he has a plan and introduces Staley to Robert.

Robert is a character with bit parts in some other of CDL’s writing and he is a favourite of mine. I find his story beautiful and bittersweet and I hope he’s still jumping the groove out there.

With Robert’s advice, the three of them, head back to the trailer in the forest and Staley plays her fiddle, this time changing what she plays slightly, in order to jump the groove. As Robert and William watch, Staley disappears, as if stepping through a doorway.

Staley finds herself in the same place, but a different season. Also, there is someone else with her. He offers to play with her, in return for a kiss. Staley is obviously cautious because she senses something different about this hillbilly that’s turned up with his guitar in tow. As their dialogue continues, it’s revealed that it is in fact the devil himself who has turned up to tempt Staley into asking for something, a wish of some sort. What he doesn’t anticipate is someone like Staley. Someone so comfortable in their skin, that the devil has no hold on them and therefor no way to tempt them into asking for something: money, fame, love. And I love the fact that the devil goes off in a bit of a peeve at the end. Hurrah!

I love this story because of Staley. I love this story because CDL always makes me feel that magic is just right there. He makes me look at writers, artists and musicians and see the inspiration and magic behind their art.

Through his writings I’ve discovered a great many things: new artists and writers I never knew of and website such as Endicott Studios.

Through his stories I’ve rediscovered my love for myths and folklore.

If you’ve never tried any of his books in the past because you thought they were twee or maybe urban fantasy and it’s not your thing, rethink that. CDL’s writing is the grandaddy of the urban fantasy / magical realism sub-genre and no one, apart maybe from Terri Windling or Jane Yolen, can hold a candle against him.

Liz de Jager is a force of nature as powerful as she is lovely. She runs My Favourite Books along with her husband Mark. Her passion for the written word is exhausting. She attends events, supports authors and is a women of endless amazing connections. And I tip my hat off to her as she’s someone who, behind the scenes of this, keeps me going.

SSM Guest Review: The Sleeping Serpent by Pamela Sargent from Cara Murphy (@Murf61)

Title: The Sleeping Serpent
Author: Pamela Sargent
Copyright: 1992
Anthology: The Mammoth Book of Alternate Histories
Editors: Ian Watson and Ian Whates
Publisher: Robinson Publishing (25 Feb 2010)

When I read the first paragraph of The Sleeping Serpent I was slightly disorientated and confused…Franks, Mongols and Hiroquois? ‘Where on earth is this story set?’ was my initial reaction. But soon all became clear. This is a story of the European colonisation of North America, with a twist!

Europe was successfully conquered by Genghis Khan and his descendants generations before and the continent was divided into Khanates. This story tells of how Yesuntai Noyan, son of the Frankish Khan, comes to North America to enlist the help of the native people, the nations of the Long House. His aim is to get rid of the Inglistani presence in the region.

“They will come with more soldiers and muskets. They will pollute this land with their presence. The Khan my father will conquer their wretched island, and the people of Eire will aid us to rid themselves of the Inglistani yoke. My father’s victory will be tarnished if too many of the island dogs find refuge here. They must be rooted out.”

The Sleeping Serpent is told from the first person perspective of Jirandai Bahadur, a Frank, who as a young child sailed to the colony of Yeke Green with his father. He is the bridge between the two worlds, having spent many years living with the Ganeagaono of Skanechtade, also known as the Flint People. Jirandai is introduced to Yesuntai Noyan and the stage is set for a story which reminded me of James Fenimore Cooper’s Last of the Mohicans. There are battle scenes aplenty and no shortage of cruelty and ruthlessness.  But there are also insightful moments of introspection along with some clever political commentary.

At 42 pages, The Sleeping Serpent is a substantial read for a short story with lots of little details that I could translate to today’s world. For example, the settlement of Yeke Green is set on a small island off the east coast of the continent, which, before the arrival of the Franks was the home of the Manhatan people. I really enjoyed these nuggets of information that allowed me to compare the alternate history with what I know of the early European settlement of New York and the surrounding area. Here the Inglistani or English are largely confined to what we know as Long Island today and it is the Franks, or French, who are the dominant European force in the area.

This is the story of a war and how this affects our narrator. Despite being born into the Frank/Mongol culture and later being adopted by the Ganeagaono, Jirandai is an outsider. Although accepted by both, he is still unsure of his rightful place; is it with his birth culture or his adoptive one? We find the answer at the end of the story, a very satisfying conclusion, in my view. I thoroughly enjoyed The Sleeping Serpent and I have found another new author whose work I want to explore further.

About the author

Pamela Sargent studied philosophy, ancient history and Greek in college, after which she continued to live in New York State, creating an awesome oeuvre ranging from big novels about the terraforming of the planet Venus (“a new high point in humanistic science fiction,” said Gregory Benford) to Ruler of the Sky, a truly epic novel of Genghis Khan, told largely from the viewpoint of women, prefiguring the no less ambitious Climb the Wind, an alternative history novel in which the Plains Indians, akin to the Mongols under Genghis Khan, unite behind a strong leader to defeat an America weakened by the Civil War. Besides, she edited the landmark Women of Wonder anthologies of SF written by women about women, and authored several Young Adult novels, of which Earthseed was chosen as best book by the American ibrary Association. Along the way, she picked up the Nebula and Locus Awards.

Cara has been pulled into the blogging community after being a lurker – she now blogs at http://murf61.blogspot.com/ and http://speculativebookreview.blogspot.com/ and others.

SSM Guest Review: How to Make Monsters by Gary McMahon from Sharon Ring

Collection: How to Make Monsters
Author: Gary McMahon
Publisher: Morrigan Books
Published: Sept 2008

I originally read this collection of stories back in May 2009. It was one of my earliest introductions to Gary McMahon’s work. I’ve reviewed it once already but couldn’t resist the chance to have this collection added to Gav’s Short Story Month. I’ve edited the first review to add some more recent thoughts on the collection but have left much of the review intact. So, here follows most of the original review, closely followed by an additional thought or two.

I’ve read all the stories in this collection twice now and am already itching to read through them again. There are fourteen stories in all, some of which you may have come across in other publications, many of which are brand new to this particular collection.

What Gary has achieved in this collection is outstanding story-telling. He has peeked into the darkest recesses of our lives, spotted the monsters that lurk there and dragged them out for examination under a harsh spotlight.

There is plenty within the pages of Gary’s book to make even the most hard-hearted horror reader squirm uneasily. Some stories hit harder than others, but as with any kind of story-telling, this depends on the reader as much as the author.

Now for the hard part, picking out a handful of stories from this exceptional collection.

First up is Pumpkin Night, a seemingly quiet tale of a grieving husband. As he carves a Halloween pumpkin, he begins to reminisce about his wife and their life together. With ritualistic precision he completes the carving, revealing the darker side of their marriage and his plans for the future. For the first few paragraphs of this story, I felt I was reading something almost gentle in tone. I was expecting a spooky twist, but certainly nothing like the gruesome revelations that ensued. This is definitely one to read by candlelight this coming Halloween.

Next up is Owed, a story of debt and revenge. Owed covers the depths and limits of what debt can do to people with financial worries. A single mother finds herself with only one option left to help clear her debt to a loan shark. What follows is truly unpleasant and it does not make for easy reading. Where McMahon leads this tale though, makes the disturbing narrative all the more poignant, when the mother finds help from a most unexpected source.

Last up is the final story in the collection, A Bit of the Dark. It’s the longest of the tales and is easily one of the most unnerving short stories I’ve read in a very long time. The narrative is centred on three characters; father, mother and son. They’ve come to visit the site of a freshly demolished orphanage where Frank (the father) spent some of his early years. They were not happy years, and Frank is hoping that after seeing the demolished building he can begin to close the door on the horrendous troubles he suffered there. Nothing is that easy though; father, mother and son are swiftly pulled into a frightening battle. This is a genuinely creepy and disturbing story, with some intense imagery that will cling to your mind long after you’ve put the book down. It’s also heart-breaking in places, I cried more than once whilst reading this particular story.

Read this book. Be troubled by it. Be scared by it. Most of all, be safe in the knowledge that British horror writing is alive, kicking and screaming, in the very capable hands of Gary McMahon.

The three stories I chose to focus on in the original review each revolve around a family. This is a theme which crops up in many of Gary’s short stories; something he explores at great length and with consummate skill. Grieving families, broken families, dysfunctional families; he shies away from none of it. His short stories, often set in the most urban and suburban of locations, take the reader into the darkest of territories and explore many of the most frightening and disturbing aspects of family life. In the original review I said that “British horror writing is alive, kicking and screaming, in the very capable hands of Gary McMahon”. I stand by this; Gary is far and away one of the most outstanding and disturbing writers of the British horror scene.

You can see more from Sharon on her blog –  http://darkfictionreview.net

SSM Guest Review: The Turing Test by Chris Beckett from David Hebblethwaite

Title: The Turing Test
Author: Chris Beckett
Link: http://www.chris-beckett.com/short-stories/168/the-turing-test-2/
Collection: The Turing Test
Publisher: Elastic Press
Release date: 2008 (originally published in Interzone, 2002)

One of Chris Beckett’s great strengths as a writer is his capacity for capturing the human story behind the science-fictional situations he creates. The title story of his Edge Hill Prize-winning collection The Turing Test is a fine example of this.

The Turing test is a means of assessing whether an artificial intelligence can convince as human when interacting with a person. The virtual p.a. which arrives in gallery manager Jessica’s inbox one day passes the Turing test disconcertingly well, and causes Jessica to ask uncomfortable questions about her life.

‘The Turing Test’ is a simply superb character study. Jessica is shown as being insecure in herself, despite her success (one of her first actions on being presented with this image of a beautiful young woman is to change its avatar into “a likeable looking woman of about my own age, bright, sharp, but just sufficiently below me both in social status and looks to be completely unthreatening”); and disconnected from the real world in some ways – for example, Jessica will happily explore the immersive virtual worlds offered by her computer, even the sinister Night Street with its “sense of lurking danger”; but she has no desire whatsoever to spend time in a real street of that kind.

Jessica’s life is full of this kind of distancing: her gallery displays work containing human body parts, but she can be dismissive of the feelings of those related to the deceased (“What was [the human head used in one sculpture], after all, once removed from the context of a gallery, but a half kilo of plasticised meat?”); she lives in a “subscriber area”, tucked away from people who haven’t been cleared of being a security risk; she has a trophy boyfriend, but there’s no real substance to the relationship. In the end, Jessica’s greatest fear – though Beckett never says this in so many words – is not that an AI could pass the Turing test too well, but that she herself may not be able to pass it at all.

‘The Turing Test’ is a rich, rewarding piece of fiction that merits re-reading (I’ve read it three times now, and each time I have found something new in it), and a clear demonstration of why Chris Beckett’s work deserves your attention.

Follow the Thread: David Hebblethwaite’s blog about books.
Views, reviews, and more…
http://davidhblog.wordpress.com/

SSM Review: From the Lighthouse by Garth Nix (Across the Wall)

Title: From the Lighthouse
Author: Garth Nix
Collection: Across the Wall
Publisher: HarperCollinsChildren’sBooks
Release Date: Out Now in pb

A boat arrives on the island of Lisden bringing with it the islands new owner. A One of the islands decides that it’s better off to polite rather than point out the invalid nature of his claim but that’s before she realises the danger he might be.

Again like The Wizards of Perfil by Kelly Link there is so much more here than is presented to the reader and Garth Nix says as much in his introduction.

The plot itself has builds but it’s the ideas like the car and the pigeon and the setting that are captivating. And it shows off his imagination.

I wonder what he’d do with a longer tale set in this place if he had the chance? Maybe it’s better off as tease of ideas rather being fleshed out.

A nice story of be careful of the locals…

SSM Guest Review: At Reparata by Jeffrey Ford from Paul Charles Smith


Title: At Reparata
Author: Jeffrey Ford
Collection: The Fantasy Writer’s Assistant and Other Stories
Publisher: Golden Griffon Press
Release Date: 2002

Castle Reparata is a refuge for those on the fringes of society, criminals, madmen, and orphans alike, all given an extravagant title and position by the jovial King. But when his Queen dies, he descends into a dark depression, and the ragtag group of misfits who make up the Royal court have to find some way to cure him of his grief, the outcome changing all of their lives forever.

I first read this story in the VanderMeer’s New Weird anthology, and it was my favourite story in the collection. It has a really strong premise, a great cast of eccentric characters, and deals with conventional themes in a complex way.

At Reparata is many things; it is a tale about subversion of common tropes, and also about transformation, a story about loss, and a story about love. It begins in the fantastical and ends in the normal. Ford is a real master at crafting stories that are full of wonder and originality.

There is also something psychological about the story, as a King who deals in the fantastic is only cured of his grief by the deconstruction of his world and goes on to live a normal life.

At Reparata is a wonderful short story, a highly imaginative fairy tale in reverse, and yet more proof as to why many of his peers consider Ford to be not only one of the best writers in speculative literature, but also one of America’s best living writers of fiction.

Paul Charles Smith writes a wonderful blog called EMPTY YOUR HEART OF ITS MORTAL DREAM and is currently re-reading The Gormenghast Trilogy.