Tag Archive | short stories

Book reviews: Dreamsongs, Vol. 1, by George R. R. Martin

Dreamsongs Volume I (Dreamsongs, #1)Dreamsongs Volume I by George R.R. Martin

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Every time I read an anthology, I kick myself for not making notes along the way of the stories that kick me in the teeth. And it would have been so easy to do so in this one because I read it as an e-book…

Regardless, here’s the gist. George R.R. Martin is gifted. The stuff he published in his early 20s is far better than anything I could write at that age (or today, even, and better than stuff some of his contemporaries publish today, as well). It’s enlightening and just plain fun to read these stories in the (more or less) chronological order of their publication; the chance to study the evolution of Martin’s talent is priceless.

Although I didn’t make notes, I do recall the titles of a few stories that really struck me. “With Morning Comes Mistfall” and its capitalist-vs-environmentalist theme is still relevant 40+ years later; “A Song for Lya” broke my heart; “The Ice Dragon” sets a new bar for the children’s “fairy tale”; and “Nightflyers” is simply stunning.

I picked this up from Amazon a few weeks ago because the Kindle edition was on sale for $1.99. Of course that means I must now pay full price for Volume 2.

It will be worth every penny.

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Book review: Trigger Warning by Neil Gaiman

Trigger Warning: Short Fictions and DisturbancesTrigger Warning: Short Fictions and Disturbances by Neil Gaiman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Is it a sufficient enough review to say Neil Gaiman is a genius? No? Didn’t think so.

He is, by the way. At least to my way of thinking. He writes the kind of short stories I love: stories that are odd and creepy and disturbing and off-kilter. Is it too much to say I consider him the man who now sits on Ray Bradbury’s throne? No, it isn’t. That’s a fair non-hyperbolic assessment.

The stories in this collection are mainly reprints gathered from various anthologies published over the past few years, with one brand new story in which we revisit the world of American Gods. I had read only one of them before; fittingly, that was “The Man Who Forgot Ray Bradbury” from Shadow Show: All-New Stories in Celebration of Ray Bradbury, a collection that I encourage everyone to read right fucking now. Well, you can wait until after you read Trigger Warning. But I digress.

Yeah. This book. It’s mostly short stories, with some bits of poetry intermingled here and there. Like all anthologies, some tales resonated more than others, but there isn’t a clunker to be found. Here are a few of my favorites:

  • “The Thing About Cassandra” explores the ramifications of telling your friends about your imaginary girlfriend.
  • “The Truth Is A Cave In The Black Mountains” is all about consequences of past actions.
  • “Nothing O’Clock”, a story of the 11th Doctor and Amy Pond and a monster hidden inside Time.
  • “The Return of the Thin White Duke”, about a monster in search of a heart.

And several others. But the stories I loved won’t necessarily be the stories you love. You should have the joy of discovering them yourself. So go out and do that. Right now.

Thank you to LibraryThing’s Early Reviewers program for the opportunity to read this book.

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Book review: Get In Trouble by Kelly Link

Get in TroubleGet in Trouble by Kelly Link

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I had forgotten this was a collection of short stories, so when I pulled it off the shelf of the books waiting to be read, I was a little apprehensive. Most of the modern short stories I’ve read, especially those by authors I don’t know, present people in situations without conflict or resolution, just the guy at the bus stop in the rain, musing about the things he sees while standing under the shelter, and they end when the character gets on the bus. That’s a writing exercise, not a short story. You see, I want my short stories to tell me a story, like Shirley Jackson or Edgar Allen Poe or Ray Bradbury.

I’m happy to say Kelly Link has succeeded in that regard. In fact, I’d even compare her stories to those of Ray Bradbury or Shirley Jackson or Neil Gaiman. They have that little touch of oddity, of you-are-not-quite-safe, that I love so much. They’re eerie and disturbing and creepy and altogether lovely.

The standouts, to me, were “The Summer People”, in which a teenager takes on the task of tending to a vacation home for some unseen and decidedly odd visitors; “I Can See Right Through You”, in which a movie star visits the on-location set of his former lover’s reality TV show; and “Two Houses”, in which the crew of a spaceship tell each other ghost stories as they continue on their journey without their companion ship. My least favorite was “The Lesson”, in which a couple attends the wedding of a friend while awaiting the birth of their child by surrogate mother.

This is a collection that I’ll keep for a while to re-read.

Thank you to LibraryThing’s Early Reviewers program for the opportunity to read this book.

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Book review: The Innocence Device by William Kowalski

The Innocence DeviceThe Innocence Device by William Kowalski
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

In the near future, the United States is divided into prisons, and the majority of the men in the country — especially men of color — are prisoners. The majority of the women serve as guards. People are sentenced to prison for the most minor of infractions committed as children, and then sentence after sentence is piled on top of the already-incarcerated individual for things like insubordination (i.e., talking back to a guard), theft (i.e., taking an extra food allotment), or any number of other potential crimes. Here’s the rub, though: virtually everything is a crime. This is “zero tolerance” run wild.

Within the prison, a hierarchy has evolved that determines where one lives and what sort of privileges one may receive. Our hero, 24-year-old Chago, is a poor laborer whose only goal involves seeing his son (by one of the prison guards) as often as he can. When the warden of the prison announces the invention of new technology that can determine one’s innocence or guilt, Chago is eager to step through the Innocence Device. He knows he didn’t do anything really wrong — in fact, he’s not entirely sure why he’s in prison; he only knows he was about six or seven when he was first sentenced — and he’s certain the Innocence Device will set him free. Alas, all is not as it seems, and when a prison riot begins, Chago’s entire world is thrown into chaos.

Great premise, right? It’s why I signed up for this book through the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program. Sadly, the writing itself failed to live up to that premise. This short novella — hardly more than a short story, really — can’t seem to make up its mind whether it was written for an adult or a YA audience. The language is simple, perhaps written at about a fifth- or sixth-grade level, but the protagonist is an adult in his early 20s. The copy is printed in large type with widely spaced lines, which is why I say it’s hardly more than a short story. Had it been printed in normal-sized book type with normally spaced lines, its length would have most likely been around 50 or so pages: a lengthy short story, yes, but still a short story. Plot development is minimal, character development is somewhat better (for Chago, at any rate), both of which generally can be forgiven in fiction of this length. However, there’s a gaping plot hole in the last few pages that, combined with the simplistic grade-school language, left this reader deeply dissatisfied. This plot hole almost feels like the author wrote something else in between the last chapter and the epilogue that he later took out, but he didn’t go back and smooth out the edges of the excision.

The premise of The Innocence Device is one I would enjoy seeing rewritten in adult-oriented language, and greatly expanded with more plot development, more character detail, more of the whys and the hows, the politics and the social disorder that must have led to such circumstances as exist within this novel. As I read through it (which took about 40 minutes — really, it’s just that short), I could almost see the full-length novel lurking in the shadows of each paragraph, waiting for someone like Hugh Howey, maybe, or Ben H. Winters, or (be still, my heart) China MiĆ©ville to flesh it out and bring it to life.

Too bad one of them didn’t think of it. Hey, Mr. Kowalski! Will you sell this idea to China MiĆ©ville and make me a happy woman? No? Two stars for you, then.

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Book review: A Vacation on the Island of Ex-Boyfriends by Stacy Bierlein

Two of five stars

In this collection of short stories, Stacy Bierlein examines women’s relationships to their men, their children, their parents, each other, and the world at large. Her tales are sexually graphic, funny, philosophical, poignant, and — to me — somewhat annoying.

Maybe it’s modern short fiction that bothers me. A piece in which a character muses about the things he sees while waiting at the bus stop, and then ends when the character gets on the bus is a writing exercise, not a short story. Not that this particular collection contains that exact scenario, but it’s a “for instance”. Where’s the growth of the character in such a piece? Ms. Bierlein’s collection contains several such writing exercises — beautifully done, with lovely words and startling imagery, but not meeting my idea of what a short story should be: something with a beginning, a middle, an end; situation, conflict, resolution.

This is what happens when one is raised on Edgar Allan Poe, Shirley Jackson, and Ray Bradbury: expectation of a certain rigidity of form. Maybe one day I will let go of those expectations and be a little more flexible. Until then, I think I’ll stick with novel length fiction. Or short stories by the above-mentioned authors.

Many thanks to LibraryThing’s Early Reviewers program for the opportunity to read this collection.

Book review: Red, edited by Kris Goldsmith

Three of five stars

When editor Kris Goldsmith saw a red scarf abandoned in the road one day, she wondered what its story was. And, like any good editor at an independent press, she put that question to several of her authors. This collection of short stories is the result.

It’s a rather hit-and-miss collection, I think, but mostly hit. The first story, “Like Smoke” by L.G. Fitzgerald is the big miss, taking the most obvious path to the misplaced scarf. Interesting enough, but with an utterly predictable outcome. “Sober Lake” by Shauna O’Connor provides a darkly funny and startlingly different perspective on the making amends part of a twelve-step program. In “A Fear of Flying” by J. Allen Scott, a young man faces a difficult choice as the plane carrying him and his partner is about to crash. I liked this one a lot, possibly because I kept thinking “‘Nathan Burgoine could have written this!” “Trying Too Hard” by Rebecca Gale has the worst title but the most intriguing concept — when does one draw the line in acquiring knowledge? And finally in “Superhero” by Justin McLachlan, we meet a bartender who knows exactly when he will die, and therefore becomes a fearless crime fighter.

I enjoyed the afternoon spent reading this collection enough to re-read the stories I liked best several times over the next few days. Nice job, Boxfire Press. And thank you, Goodreads First Reads program, for the opportunity to read this book.

Book review: The Red Garden by Alice Hoffman

Three of five stars

In a series of chronological vignettes, Alice Hoffman gives us the story of Blackwell, a fictional Massachusetts small town, from the time of its founding in the mid-18th century to the present day. Each story stands alone, but builds on the previous stories, with characters descended from or otherwise connected to people we met earlier. Some stories are straightforward, some are mystical, and some are just a little frightening. All are beautifully written, with Ms. Hoffman’s trademark lyricism and eye for pertinent detail.

Thank you to Goodreads’ First Reads program for the opportunity to read this book.