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?

 

July 9, 2013

AWWC 2013 Review – A Trifle Dead by Livia Day

This is my sixth review for the 2013 Australian Women Writers Challenge. I picked up this particular volume at Conflux 2013 back in April, shortly after the book’s launch.

I don’t read a heap of mystery stories – I enjoy reading them but I like fantasy and science fiction more, so I tend to relegate crime and mystery fiction to when I need a change of flavour and when I have some free reading time. Basically never, in other words. But I was all a-quiver with anticipation for A Trifle Dead for a few reasons: one, because it’s the first release from the new crime imprint from Twelfth Planet Press, who have produced some exceptional speculative fiction in the last couple of years. Two, because the author behind the Livia Day pen name has a fun, witty body of work (some of which I may have reviewed at one time). And three, because although I am quite fond of Hobart, it has always struck me as somewhere where murder is probably popular. It just seems like the sort of place where the charming, somewhat sleepy facade conceals a streak of bloodthirstiness and taste for the macabre. Maybe that’s just me.

Tabitha Darling is the proprietor of a trendy Hobart cafe that might be doing better business if not for the gaggle of overprotective policemen making up most of its clientele. She isn’t having much luck convincing her recently-deceased father’s colleagues to try the modernised menu, her somewhat-disreputable co-owner has gone missing and she’s struggling to sort out her feelings towards a charming-if-taciturn police detective who seems to think of her as his little sister. As if that were not enough, the publicity-hungry band living upstairs discovers a body suspended in a net in the spare room. For no particular reason other than intense curiosity, Tabitha can’t help but try to solve the murder.

Tabitha is a delightfully fun character, obsessed with food, vintage clothing and the Eurovision Song Contest, endlessly inquisitive and amusingly snarky. She has no particular aptitude for detecting, other than possessing a stubborn persistence, a wide social circle and the willingness to use baked goods as bribes. A Trifle Dead is definitely a cosy mystery – there’s comparitively little bloodshed and mayhem, and much of the book is taken up with Tabitha’s navigation of her complex social life. In fact, that’s something of the genius of A Trifle Dead – it’s impossible to tell from one moment to the next which parts of the story are plot-related, and which parts are relationship-drama red herrings. In Tabitha’s mind they’re wholly indistinguishable. I spent most of the book expecting (and dreading) that one particular character would turn out to be behind everything, only to have the revelations of their dark secrets be innocent and of significance only because of Tabitha’s keen interest.

A Trifle Dead is great fun. Tabitha may appear light as a souffle and obsessed with quirky pop culture, but she has an appealing streak of businesslike determination that carries the story. The supporting cast are a likeable crowd of trendy hipsters, baffled coppers and slightly scurrilous crims, all of whom are connected in odd and unexpected. The way that Day has knit these characters together so intricately that the murder plot is effectively camouflaged at the same time that it sits front and centre is a very neat trick. I found it a fun modern murder mystery with none of the grim forensic details so often prevalent in this genre. Oh, and I really can’t let the review pass without noting the striking cover by Amanda Rainey, which is a gorgeous piece of iconic design a little bit reminiscent of Saul Bass – it’s perfect!

 

June 10, 2013

AWWC 2013 Review – Asymmetry by Thoraiya Dyer

This is a review for the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2013. It’s apparently only my fourth review, which is a bit slack, since I know I’ve read more than four books that meet the criteria. But nearly all of my writing time lately has gone into novel writing, so I’ve allowed a bit of a backlog to emerge. I’m going to try to deal with that by writing a few – gasp – shorter reviews. That’s the plan, anyway.

By now it should be obvious to anyone who reads my reviews that I have complete faith in the Twelve Planets Series from Twelfth Planet Press. This volume – Asymmetry – presents four new stories from Thoraiya Dyer, whose short story ‘The Wisdom of Ants’ (first published by Clarkesworld Magazine) was the winner for Best Short Story at the 2013 Ditmar Awards for Australian science fiction and fantasy. I wouldn’t be surprised to see any of the stories in this collection in the running next year.

Asymmetry is excellent. If there’s a unifying theme, I’m not up to the job of identifying it, though Nancy Kress takes a good stab at it in her introduction. Then again, I’m quite content with no theme at all, if the stories are this good. I’m going to do my best not to spoil any of them.

‘After Hours’ is the story of a veterinarian assigned to treat security dogs on a military airbase. She struggles to cope with the military mindset of her patients’ handlers, only to discover that their belligerent, obstructive attitudes have an uncanny explanation. ‘Zadie, Scythe of the West’ is a military fantasy about a character trying to escape the rigid expectations of her family, society and religion – and the costs of taking shortcuts. In ‘Wish Me Luck’, a man begs and borrows luck from sympathetic passers-by so that he can be reunited with his lost love. (It may not sound like hard science fiction, but it is). Finally, in ‘Seven Days in Paris’ a woman is subjected to what seems like a pointless and grotesque social experiment, but her impatient handlers have a desperate purpose.

‘After Hours’ is probably my favourite story ever of its kind, though I won’t say what kind that is (even if the back cover blurb does kind of give it away). However all four stories are excellent (and the sample chapters from Dyer’s novella ‘The Company Articles of Edward Teach’ are an intriguing bonus).

Like the rest of the Twelve Planets books, Asymmetry does a fantastic job of showcasing the talents of a remarkable Australian speculative fiction writer. I am comfortable adding Thoraiya Dyer’s name to my list of must-read authors on the basis of this collection.

May 2, 2013

Conflux Roundup – Bookswag

“Come for the chat, leave with an excessive stack of new reading materials,” said absolutely nobody at Conflux 9 over the weekend. But they should have, because dammit there were a lot of book launches happening. I think I was present for at least four, and I’m pretty sure there were a couple that I missed as well. And on top of that, abundant intriguing material was available in the dealer’s room and at a special one-day marketplace. *SO MUCH STUFF*!

Of course love of books – reading them, touching them, completely failing to control the impulse to own them – seems to be what gets most people into writing in the first place. (At least, I don’t think the converse is more common: “Wow, this whole thing where you make meaningful shapes with a crayon is *so cool*. I wonder if anyone else has ever made protracted sequences of meaningful shapes, preferably in third-person past tense?”)

So here’s what I ended up with:

Loot!

A tiny fraction of what I wanted to buy

A Trifle Dead by Livia Day – Livia Day is the not-particularly-secret crime writing pen-name of Tansy Rayner Roberts. I’ve been waiting to see what Twelve Planets Press would put out under a crime imprint for a while. This seems like it will be a fun romp with cakes and capers and bloodthirsty Hobart-based killings. I will, of course, report back once I’ve finished it.

Siren Beat by Tansy Rayner Roberts/Roadkill by Robert Shearman – Back to back novellas by the aforementioned Tansy and Robert Shearman, who wrote (amongst other things) ‘Dalek’, one of the best episodes from Chris Ecclestone season of Doctor Who. I know absolutely nothing whatsoever about either story, but Twelve Planets head honcho Alisa Krasnostein pointed out that it was cheap with any other purchase SO THERE YOU GO. (Also I have a collection of Shearman’s short stories in the to-be-read folder on my Kindle, so what’s one more story for the stack? Even if it doesn’t have *any* Daleks in it, I might very well still like it).

One Small Step is a short story anthology edited by Tehani Wessely of Fablecroft Press (great name!) Funny story: the theme for One Small Step is along the line of ‘journeys of discovery’, a theme that (arguably) fits my short story Imported Goods – Aisle Nine’. I almost submitted that story to this anthology instead of Next. As it turns out One Small Step became an all-women volume, so I’m glad I changed my mind. But it looked like an enticing project then and I’m keen to see what it’s turned into.

Next – is an anthology or something. I will probably blog about it soon.

Leviathan – My buddy Evan attended the Clarion South intensive writing workshop some years ago and he often mentions Scott Westerfeld as one of the tutors who made the biggest impression on him (along with Mrgo Lanagan, Sean Williams, etc etc bastard). As steampunk was one of the big themes of Conflux, and an area in which I am deeply unschooled, I finally gave into temptation to pick up the first volume in his alternate WWI YA steampunk series. Didn’t get a chance to get him to sign it though, which in retrospect is a bit of a pity. Did enjoy hearing Evan recount the story of how Westerfeld has decided not to continue beyond the third book in the series because his decision to fund the luscious illustrations by Keith Thompson proved to be prohibitively expensive. A shame, because from the first paragraph alone – which mentions Australian cavalry, diesel-powerted walking machines and armoured zeppelins – I *know* I am going to enoy this book.

The Bone Chime Song and Other Stories by Joanne Anderton was launched at the con along with One Small Step and the Thoraiya Dyer volume of the Twelve Planets Series, entitled Asymmetry. (I didn’t pick that one up, since I already have the ebook and read it with great relish on my holidays. Review coming soon). The titular ‘The Bone Chime Song’ was among my favourite stories from 2012 (and probably the best entry in the excellent Light Touch Paper Stand Clear anthology, which I reviewed here). It was deservedly up for a Ditmar Award for Best Short Story, although as it turned out it lost to one of Thoraiya Dyer’s, ‘The Wisdom of Ants’. I listened to it read on a podcast a couple of weeks ag. It’s pretty good too.

This is all getting a bit tangled and interwoven, isn’t it? Anyway, those were just the books I picked up. There were others launched and/or available at the con which I would love to have added to that stack, if finances constraints and the threat of spinal damage had not prevailed upon me to see sense. These are a few of them:

In Fabula-Divino – This was an anthology project that Nicole Murphy put together, at the same time that she was being one of the co-chairs of Conflux 9! The goal was to foster new writers, working with one a month for a year to get their first work into print. The project was unfortunately interrupted during the year, but happily various other members of the spec fic community stepped in to help Nicole flesh the book out and get it into print. I already had my e-copy for supporting the project through crowdfunding, but I am still tempted to get a physical copy for the pretty cover…

Dark Rite – A supernatural thriller by Alan Baxter and his podcasting and writing partner David Wood. I meant to get this and just completely forgot at the end of the weekend, when energy levels were low and I was slightly overcaffeinated.

 Fragments of a Broken Land: Valarl Undead by Robert Hood – Don’t know much about it, but (a) I’ve read a couple of Hood’s stories recently and they are suitably creepy and action-packed, and (b) I like the Lovecraftian monster on the cover. This was another book that was launched at the con. I missed the launch and they were all gone by the time I arrived – but screw it, I just checked and it’s available on Amazon, so I’ve bought and downloaded it since I started typing this sentence.

(Did I mention that one of the panels I was on was about instant gratification through digital books?)

February 16, 2013

Review – Cracklescape by Margo Lanagan

As with everything else, I’m already behind on the 2013 Australian Women Writers Challenge. Stupid self-imposed deadlines, why must you constantly mock me? Anyway, I’ve managed to do a bit of reading lately, so let’s get straight into it. This is the second book I’ve read for the AWWC13 and is my second review.

Cracklescape is award-winning fantasist Margo Lanagan‘s contribution to the Twelve Planets series from Twelfth Planet Press. It’s a collection of four short stories. The stories are unconnected, though the introduction rightly points out that they are all essentially ghost stories, albeit unusual and diverse examples of them.

‘The Duchess Dresser’ is a strange tale that seems to be more of a reflection on lifestyle and relationships in inner city apartment dwelling than it is about a piece of haunted antique furniture. The supernatural presence is a puzzle more than a threat, and most of the characters treat it as a mild curiosity when they think of it at all. I found the situation in the story a perfect expression of the routine accommodations that have to be made in living in close proximity with others that – when viewed from the outside – looks inconvenient at best and crazy at worst.

‘The Isles of the Sun’ is wonderful, a dreamy exaltation of  the power of children’s imagination on the one hand and a chilling plumb of the depths of parental fear on the other. Alternating perspectives between Elric, a young boy, and then his mother Jenny, Isles has a sense of dreadful inevitability that never quite lets the reader go, even after the point where it seems like it should.

‘Bajazzle’ is probably my least favourite of the four stories in Cracklescape (‘Isles’ is my favourite, or maybe ‘Significant Dust’). It’s a solidly told tale, but there’s something lurking behind the narrative that I don’t quite grasp. In the first half, a boorish middle-aged train commuter’s encounter with a group of young women staging an odd protest prompts him to reflect – not to his credit – on his marriage and unsatisfying sex life. In the second half he is served a supernatural comeuppance of a sort. It’s an engaging story, but I didn’t grok how the two halves fitted together or why the ending happens. The unpleasant sexist pig of a narrator probably didn’t help.

Finally, ‘Significant Dust’ rounds out the collection with, if not a bang, then a remarkably accomplished piece. It’s the story of a young woman who has fled her terrible reputation in her home town. She finds anonymous refuge among the human flotsam who have accumulated at a highway truck stop. There are ghosts and UFOs in the story – well, there might be – but the centrepiece is the slow, merciless revelation of what Vanessa did, its consequences and what she and others sacrificed in order for her to leave. There’s a cold horror to the way that the story refuses to end with the tragedy but carries the reader through the aftermath as well. ‘Significant Dust’ is powerful and accomplished.

I had been getting used to the Twelve Planets series having a strong sense of interconnectedness between the stories, but Cracklescape‘s stories (like the Kaaron Warren collection) are linked by themes rather than plots. Cracklescape continues the series’ impressive run of showcasing the talents of remarkable writers at the height of their powers. I didn’t care for a couple of the stories, but there was never a moment reading them that I was not certain that Lanagan knew exactly what she was doing and what she wanted to accomplished. Cracklescape is confident storytelling.

 

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