Tag: short stories


Review – Dangerous Women (Part III)

Posted 19 May, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Dangerous Women ed. G.R.R. MartinDangerous Women, ed. Gardner Dozois & G.R.R. Martin

Overall, the whole collection is pretty disappointing to me. The stories might fit the theme of ‘dangerous women’ on a technicality, but few of them feel genuinely dangerous. Usually the twist is that, surprise! She’s not a good girl after all! Righto.

‘Some Desperado’, by Joe Abercrombie — One of the better ones in the collection. The main character is, indeed, a desperado, and things don’t go too well for her — but she defends herself and keeps on running.

‘City Lazarus’, by Diana Rowland — I’ve kind of avoided Rowland’s work since I saw her on a panel at a con and all she did was sell her work, and this didn’t really change my mind. The writing is okay, but lord, the set-up is so typical and the twist so obvious.

‘Hell Hath No Fury’, by Sherrilyn Kenyon — The title doesn’t even make sense, since the ‘woman scorned’ is actually driven out of a village she helped to found, not just scorned. She lays a curse on the land, people with cameras come in long after and try to film a paranormal exposé, she rips ’em to shreds. Yawn. Isn’t this an episode of Supernatural?

‘The Hands That Are Not There’, by Melinda Snodgrass — For a female author, wow does she cater to the male gaze. I didn’t get through the bar scene.

‘Caretakers’, by Pat Cadigan — This kind of… fizzled, for me. It was slow and it took a long time to get where it was going, and once it got there, it wasn’t such a shock at all.

‘Nora’s Song’, by Cecelia Holland — It’s Eleanor of Aquitane, it should be completely badass. Didn’t work for me, though.

‘Bombshells’, by Jim Butcher — Skipped entirely, with a side-eye at the spoiler for the Dresden Files in the intro. I get that it’s been out a long time, but maaaan.

Rating: 2/5

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Review – Dangerous Women (Part II)

Posted 15 May, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Dangerous Women ed. G.R.R. MartinDangerous Women: Part II, ed. George R.R. Martin and Gardner Dozois

This volume had more fantasy/SF than the first one, with just one story that wasn’t — and that was historical fiction, which often has the same sort of social structures and so on, and thus feels somewhat akin to fantasy. It’s a bit of a stronger collection than the first part, to my mind; I enjoyed it a bit more.

‘Neighbours’, by Megan Lindholm — Quite fun; I kinda called it before the end, but it still worked. I found the stuff with the elderly woman and her kids a bit harrowing, honestly; the trouble is, when someone gets to that point where everything seems to be going wrong, they’re no longer making clear decisions… what do you do? The kids in this book didn’t handle it great, of course, but they’re not wrong that at some point you need to take responsibility.

‘The Girl in the Mirror’, by Lev Grossman — I hoped this was unrelated to The Magicians and its sequels; I didn’t enjoy the first book that much, and didn’t read the others. Unfortunately it was, and given that Quentin appeared, I’m guessing it had some relevance to those stories? Eh.

‘A Queen in Exile’, by Sharon Kay Penman — Felt a little bit like a summary or a historical biography at times, but I enjoyed it; it’s nice to see a dangerous woman of history celebrated.

‘Pronouncing Doom’, by S.M. Stirling — Honestly… I get that modern Wicca is a thing, but the tangle of Irish words and Welsh mythology and modern Earth Mother stuff left me pretty cold.

‘Lies My Mother Told Me’, by Caroline Spector — This is from G.R.R. Martin’s Wildcards ‘verse, if I’m not mistaken; it’s pretty clear what’s going on, even if you haven’t read those. I liked it; weird powers and all.

‘Name the Beast’, by Sam Sykes — I’m… honestly not sure what was going on through half of this. Not a fan.

I didn’t read ‘Virgins’, by Diana Gabaldon; it’s set in her Outlander world, in which I have no interest.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – Dangerous Women (Part I)

Posted 11 May, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 4 Comments

Cover of Dangerous Women ed. G.R.R. MartinDangerous Women: Part I, ed. George R.R. Martin & Gardner Dozois

I expected this to have more fantasy stories in it, given Martin’s involvement, the cover, everything I’d heard about it. But nope, four of the seven stories in this volume aren’t fantasy — even one I thought would be, since I know the author’s fantasy work.

‘The Princess and the Queen’, by George R.R. Martin — Reads like a summary of a story he couldn’t be bothered to write, heavily cribbed from English civil wars. I ended up skipping it, since I’m not actually a Martin fan and haven’t read A Song of Ice and Fire yet.

‘Raisa Stepanova’, by Carrie Vaughn — I kept expecting the SF/F here, but nope; this is a historical story set in World War II. I didn’t really get into it, perhaps because it wasn’t what I was expecting.

‘Second Arabesque, Very Slowly’, by Nancy Kress — Your fairly typical women-are-breeders spec-fic future, with some kids getting all hooked on ballet, enough to kill so they can run off and do it for fun. Didn’t really work for me, because every beat was predictable, and even if I sympathised with their need to get away, I didn’t enjoy the characters’ methods.

‘I Know How To Pick ‘Em’, by Lawrence Block — Gritty noirish short story, sex and murder, exactly what you expect going in.

‘My Heart is Either Broken’, by Megan Abbott — I wasn’t sure where this was going, and I’m not sure it quite got there, but it got hold of me. I wanted things to come out okay; I feared that things would never be the same for the characters if they did.

‘Wrestling Jesus’, by Joe R. Lansdale — Another fairly predictable one. Not my genre, either. The dangerous woman of the anthology’s theme is, in this case, a nasty woman who likes playing around with people; yay… I’d kinda like to see more dangerous women who aren’t morally dubious. Speaking of which…

‘Shadows for Silence in the Forests of Hell’, by Brandon Sanderson — Probably my favourite of the bunch, though I guess that isn’t saying much considering my feelings on some of the above. This is actually fantasy, the world is fascinating, and you get sucked in by the character’s problems and what they need to do to survive.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – Wicked Wonders

Posted 10 April, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Wicked Wonders by Ellen KlagesWicked Wonders, Ellen Klages

Received to review via Tachyon

I was really interested to read more of Klages’ work after reading Passing Strange. I think I’ve read one or two short stories before — one of the stories in here was definitely familiar — but I hadn’t consciously connected the author to them, if that makes any sense. Klages is a careful writer, as her afterword shows: she moves the words around until they’re just right, pays attention to pace and rhythm and all of that. It works: her stories are all readable and all seem to fit perfectly within the form.

There’s something eerie and wistful and tender in almost all of these stories, bar one or two that are more mischievous than anything. I was pleased to meet some of the characters from Passing Strange again, particularly, and get some more detail on the paper-folding magic which is alluded to there. But my favourite of the stories was probably the least speculative: ‘Woodsmoke’, which features two girls on the cusp of adolescence, at a summer camp. I won’t say too much about it, but it felt real and wistful, and the ending avoided any kind of saccharine sweetness, touching something real instead.

It’s a good collection of stories, and I also enjoy the fact that there’s a section included on where each story came from and giving more details. There were one or two bits I hadn’t noticed about the stories, which is always fun to learn.

If you enjoy short stories, this is definitely a good collection; if you enjoy Ellen Klages’ work, doubtless you know what you’re in for. Either way, Passing Strange is also worth a look…

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Ayiti

Posted 12 January, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Ayiti by Roxane GayAyiti, Roxane Gay

I find myself not sure what to write about Ayiti. It’s a collection of short stories set in Haiti, or with Haitian characters. It evokes Haiti as a place of both beauty and struggle, the sun and the salt of the sea and the stench of blood. The inevitability of kidnap, of beggars, of hunger, of a need to leave. The stories are sensual, some sexual; packed with feeling and meaning.

It’s such a small collection that I feel like all I can remember of it is a cluster of sense-memories: sweat, sugar, blood. For me, it just seemed purely evocative, calling up a Haiti both beloved and hated, with a surprising vividness. If this is the quality of Roxane Gay’s writing, I’m definitely down to read some more.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – The Assassin’s Blade

Posted 11 January, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of The Assassin's Blade by Sarah J. MaasThe Assassin’s Blade, Sarah J. Maas

The stories contained in this volume are much more meaningful if you’ve already read at least the first book of the series, Throne of Glass. They fill in details referenced in Throne of Glass about Celaena’s background, and how exactly she came to be in the position she’s in at the start of that book, but they have more impact if you already know Celaena. If this was your first outing with her, you probably wouldn’t get to know her well. Each story is connected and leads fairly logically from the previous one, though it doesn’t quite have the cohesive feel of being a novel — it’s definitely episodic.

If you enjoy Celaena, it’s worth picking up; it fleshes out details about her past and gives more weight and meaning to some of the things she says and does in Throne of Glass. It’s an easy read, too; for all that it’s 450 pages worth of storytelling, it seems to fly by.

The books themselves… I’ve never been quite as in love with them as a lot of YA bloggers are, or were, so the collection remains exactly what I expect of Maas: an entertaining story (or in this case, set of linked stories), with an engaging but not perfect female character. (Come on, though; Celaena’s a highly trained assassin, yet she trusts the wrong people, she can be spoilt and petulant, etc. Sam Cortland, I think you deserved better.)

Rating: 3/5

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Review – Dark Tales

Posted 5 January, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of Dark Tales by Shirley JacksonDark Tales, Shirley Jackson

Received to review via Netgalley; publication date 6th October 2016

Dark Tales is an interesting little collection of uncanny stories — not stories which are openly horror, but ones with that creeping sense of unease, or that little twist. Like the man who finds someone stalking him all the way home, does his best to avoid him, and when he eventually gets home… his wife calls someone up to tell them she’s got him. Twists like that, and moments where it feels like the story took a left turn from expected normality all of a sudden.

Shirley Jackson was a fine writer, and these stories are really well done in terms of structure and content: there’s just enough in each one, but not so much that it makes things too obvious or belabours a point.

My only issue reading these was that the Kindle version received as an ARC wasn’t properly structured, so you couldn’t jump to a particular story, and the stories weren’t actually separated from each other. I’m sure that’s not the case in the printed work, but you might want to preview an ebook to make sure they did fix that.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Everything Belongs to the Future

Posted 28 November, 2016 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of Everything Belongs to the Future by Laurie PennyEverything Belongs to the Future, Laurie Penny

Received to review via Netgalley

I found this a pleasant short story on a fairly familiar theme, which never really got past the point of being readable and good enough to while away some time with. I think my problem was that I essentially knew where it all was going, and the social commentary was pretty obvious. Thus, I find that I have correspondingly little to say about it. It’s competently written, and the conflict of the central character between his deceit and his love was perhaps the best thing about it. His mixed feelings and confused decisions made sense and seemed very human, which is always important to root any story into reality, and especially useful with something speculative.

Overall, I wasn’t incredibly impressed, but I wasn’t bored either — I’d read more by Laurie Penny, though probably not more set in this world. I think the story said all that needed to be said about this concept.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – How To Traverse Terra Incognita

Posted 23 October, 2016 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of How To Traverse Terra Incognita by Dean Francis AlfarHow To Traverse Terra Incognita, Dean Francis Alfar

I can’t remember why exactly I picked this up, ages ago, but it’s an interesting sampling of stories from a writer from the Philippines; at first, I expected the stories to all be around a theme in the sense of being set in the same world, but while they all explore unknown worlds in some way, they aren’t linked one to another. I wasn’t specially wowed by some of the stories — in a way, I expected the endings they had, despite the sense of them being intended to be clever/surprising. They were definitely competently written, all of them, and some of them were more than competent, but I didn’t really get drawn in or mesmerised by the words in any of the stories.

The range is interesting, and given that I did enjoy the collection while not finding it exceptional, I’m going to put the author’s other anthology on my list — Goodreads reviews suggest people, in general, preferred Kite of Stars.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – Stories of Your Life and Others

Posted 25 September, 2016 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Stories of Your Life and Others by Ted ChiangStories of Your Life and Others, Ted Chiang

I’ve been meaning to read Ted Chiang’s stories for ages, since his work is clearly adored by a lot of writers I admire and whose taste I trust. And I wasn’t disappointed at all: there’s a reasonably formal feel to the writing in these stories, something careful and precise, and for me that makes them particularly engaging. I guess other people might find that makes them fall rather flat, but to me it added to the poignancy.

My favourite stories of the bunch, by far, were ‘The Tower of Babylon’ and ‘Story of Your Life’. The others explore some interesting ideas, but those two interested me the most. ‘The Tower of Babylon’ is just a fun what-if — what if the Tower was real? What if the world was shaped differently to ours? And also, what kind of expertise and building would be needed to make this tower? How long would it take, and how would people cope? Examining all of this fascinated me, because Chiang obviously thought it through.

‘Story of Your Life’, well. I’m not sure how Adams and Renner’s film Arrival is going to deal with it, because for me the whole point is the narration, the calm regret and acceptance of the narrative voice. I’m not sure about the idea of language working that way (i.e. the different perspective to time being an aspect of the language, not of the structure of the aliens’ brains, and one which is transmittable to another species). But emotionally, the story really works, and of course it also leaves you wondering about the aliens, about what exactly they intended, what they wanted from humanity, and whether they got it.

Rating: 4/5

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