Lexifabricographer For when the right word just won’t do…

November 13, 2013

TMoRP Day 17 – Short stories of April

This is not going to be easy to pin down. According to my spreadsheet, I read 98 short stories in April 2013.

Ninety. Eight.

There would be very few times in my life when I would have read more short stories than that in a year, let alone in one month. In terms of the short fiction form, I guess this is my golden age. That’s almost entirely down to having ready access to a wealth of anthologies through the Kindle, although I’ve supplemented my library by picking up a lot of collecvtions by Australian writers in particular.

Anyway, this month the bulk of my reading came from four main sources:

  • Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine (specifically issue 56) – a mildly quirky Australian quarterly magazine of science fiction and fantasy short stories. I like it a lot, although the fondness with which I respond to it varies from issue to issue, probably according to which member of its shadowy collective/cabal is sitting in the editorial big chair that month. Your mileage will likely vary.
  • Daily Science Fiction – a site that emails subscribers a new science fiction or (more often) fantasy short story every day. many of these are flash-fiction lengths i.e. around 1000 words. I recommend it, because despite the fact that I only think about half the stories are good (and very few are great), it’s a steady source of new material, and it doesn’t take much time to read them. The stories almost never exceed 4000 words.
  • Thoraiya Dyer’s Twelve Planets collection Asymmetry, about which I blogged earlier in the year. It’s good.
  • Stoneskin Press’ anthology (edited by Robin D Laws) of Aesopian fables for the modern world The Lion and the Aardvark. I didn’t do a full review, but here’s what I said on Goodreads.

Anyway, with that many stories, it’s impossible to narrow it down to just one or two. Here’s the ones I thought stood head and shoulders above the others.

‘Spirit Gum’ by Mike Resnick and Jordan Ellinger in Daily Science Fiction is the story of a stage illusionist who becomes a professional debunker, with tragic consequences.

‘Illegal’ by Pete Aldin and Kevin Ikenberry in ASIM 56, a police procedural, set in the outer solar system, about stateless refugees – three flavours that mash together to moving effect in this case.

‘The Wisdom of Ants’ by Thoraiya Dyer, on the Clarkesworld Podcast. She won the Ditmar for this at this year’s awards ceremony. It’s good, just go and read it. Then feel free to speculate on who genetically engineered the weird-arse metal-eating ants and why anyone would do that.

‘The Blind Pig’ by Lyn Battersby is a creepy fantasy set in a Prohibition-era speakeasy. I wish there were a version of it online, I’d love to chat about that one.

‘After Hours’ by Thoraiya Dyer in Asymmetry. This was the werewolf one. I’m a sucker for werewolf stories. This was an outstanding example of finding something new to do with them.

There’s about sixty stories in The Lion and the Aardvark, most of them of flash-fiction length. I particularly liked: ‘The Loquacious Cadaver’ by Kyla Ward; ‘The Minotaurs and the Signal Ghosts’ by Peter M Ball; ‘The Coyote and the High-Density Feed Lot’ by Greg Stolze (great name for a story!); ‘The Stray Dogs Learn Their Lesson’ by Nick Mamatas; and ‘The Unicorn at the Soiree’ by Rich Dansky. But come on, there’s sixty stories in this volume. There are at least a couple fo dozen more that are almost as good as the ones I mentioned.

The wealth of great new short stories out there is almost too rich to contemplate. This is just a smattering of what apepals to me.

What are you putting through your eye-jellies at the moment? What do you recommend? What will I be reading after I finish reading this unnervingly tall to-be-read pile?


October 23, 2013

TMoRP Day 7 – Magic for Beginners by Kelly Link (February)

My favourite short story from February was a novella, ‘Magic for Beginners’, from Kelly Link’s short story collection of the same name. I had a bit of an iffy relationship with the collection as a whole – Kelly Link’s stories (or at least the ones collected in this volume) are rambling, discursive and usually quite surreal narratives. Her language is beautiful. Her imagery is surprising and delightful as often as it’s dark. But the stories too often veered in unexpected and even random directions for me to completely satisfy me. On more than one story I liked where it started and disliked where it ended up. Admittedly most of them turned out to have quite strong story logic when I stopped to think about them, but that didn’t help during the act of reading.

‘Magic for Beginners’ is one such story, nesting layers of narrative inside one another so that each element seems to be a meta-commentary on the others. The thing is, what I found distracting in a number of the other stories was utterly compelling in this one. It’s the story of a boy named Jeremy who, along with his friends, is obsessed with a strange, surreal television program called The Library.

The show follows the adventures of Fox and the oddball inhabitants of the titular library, who encounter magician-pirates, magic books and the underground sea on the third floor. The episodes are broadcast out of order, most of the cast are never played by the same actors twice and the kids never know when the program will be shown. It’s compelling event television, in a way that probably won’t exist in a few years and consumes the lives of its young audience.

There’s much more to the plot of the story – the relationships between Jeremy and his friends, the thoughtlessness of his writer-father, a journey with his mother to wind up the affairs of a dead relative. Woven into all of that is the consuming mystery of what’s going on with The Library and what it might mean for Jeremy.

It’s a captivating, magical story that nails the way relationships build and change around (slightly obsessively) shared interests. How stories – especially beloved television shows, but any stories really – can provide an anchor when real life becomes overwhelming and confusing. It’s a story about how caring about stories can help you to care about people (and what can happen when they don’t). It’s amazing.

You can read ‘Magic for Beginners’ by Kelly Link on the old F&SF site here (or buy the collection, why not?)

My runner-up choices for best story from February were:

  • Either ‘Isles of the Sun’ or ‘Significant Dust’ by Margo Lanagan, which I talked about in my review of her Cracklescape collection
  • Nick Mamatas’ ‘Hideous Interview with Brief Man’, which is a piece of cold, brutal Lovecraftiana that I think Doctor Clam would get a kick out of (from Fiddleblack #8)
  • ‘On the Arrival of the Paddle Steamer on the Docks of V—-‘ by Peter M. Ball, now no longer available on the sadly defunct Eclipse Online website, nor anywhere else as far as I can tell. You’ll just have to take my word for it that it was pretty great.

July 6, 2013

Review – The Mammoth Book of SteamPunk

Very quick review of something I bought on a whim a few weeks ago, because I don’t have much of a sense of what counts as steampunk. I figured that something called The Mammoth Book of Steampunk (edited by Sean Wallace), ought to give me a good feel for it. The short answer is: anything goes, pretty much. If you think it’s steampunk, then it probably is… (I got a hardcopy, but the kindle version is a surprisingly good bargain)

As the name implies, this is a massive volume showcasing the broad possibilities encompassed by the term ‘steampunk’. There are dirigibles as far as the eye can see, certainly, as well as mad inventors, clockwork animals and steam-powered limbs, as you might expect.

There are also supernatural horrors, gear-filled monsters, spring-driven thieves and a couple of surprise castrations. There’s derring-do, whimsy, and drama; there’s alternate history, historical fantasy, provocative science fiction and angry political thrillers. I doubt it would qualify as a particularly accessible introduction to the core conceits of steampunk, but it certainly serves as an excellent overview of a popular subgenre.

Of particular note are N.K. Jemisin’s outstanding “The Effluent Engine”, about the machinations of a Haitian spy trying to preserve her country’s newfound freedom; Aliette de Bodard’s “Prayers of Forges and Furnaces”, depicting an advanced Aztec empire; Caitlin R. Kiernan’s “The Steam Dancer (1896)”, a drama concerning a unique performance artist; and Nick Mamatas’ “Arbeitskraft”, in which a wealthy revolutionary builds an artificial Karl Marx with which to inspire the proletariat. That last one’s a bit horrific, by the way.

As with most large anthologies, there are a few stories here which are not to my tastes. But considering the size of it – thirty stories in all – that’s an impressive hit rate. However, in answer to Doctor Clam’s excited enquiry I must report with the heaviest of hearts that this particular volume contains no mammoths whatsoever, steam-powered or otherwise.

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