I’ve been meaning to try Hoffman’s books for literally years. Not sure how long this one has been on my TBR, but long enough. Short stories aren’t always my thing, so perhaps it wasn’t the right place to start: nonetheless, it’s what came up on my Kobo first and I thought, well, why not?
I ended up bailing, I’m afraid; it’s competent enough writing, but I didn’t get hooked on the stories or characters, and one of the stories was just unbelievably gross, with a ton of rape and rape culture. I’m sure it wasn’t intended to be approving of rape, but it’s just not a sort of story I’m interested in, and the obsession with rape in that particular story turned me off all the others. I’ll definitely try some of Hoffman’s novels, but her short story writing seems to be unequivocally not my thing.
Sum is a slim book, just 100 pages long, with 40 different views of what the afterlife might be like. Some of them feel too glib and flippant for me (though no doubt the same stories would make others smile), but there are some that are really inventive, bittersweet and clever, and some that just have really good lines. Like this one:
There are three deaths. The first is when the body ceases to function. The second is when the body is consigned to the grave. The third is that moment, sometime in the future, when your name is spoken for the last time.
Yow. That’s just true in a sad way: the only afterlife everyone can be sure of is when people speak of them once they’re gone. There’s definitely poignancy in the idea of waiting for that last time your name is spoken before you move on.
I found some of the stories a little too similar in tone or basic idea, but it’s still a creative collection.
Almost all of these short stories worked for me, which is a wonder (I can be picky!). Each of them had some really fascinating ideas, and the only one that left me cold was ‘Love, Caycee’ (and even then, I liked the idea, it’s just I don’t think it quite came together into a story I found fun to read). Of course, one of my favourites is the one featuring Isabella Trent, particularly for the last letter in the narrative. Of course Isabella would get herself arrested over a matter of science!
But the others are all worth the time too, and I particularly liked ‘Once a Goddess’, the first story of the collection. Brennan is really great at atmosphere, as these stories show; each of them evoked its own landscape in my head.
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Received to review via Netgalley; publication date 3rd October 2017
I’ve been a fan of Heyer’s Regency romances and adventures for a while now, so when I saw this was ‘Read Now’ on Netgalley, I confess I pounced. It’s actually the collection Pistols for Two (which I hadn’t read yet) but with three extra stories from early in Heyer’s career.
While Heyer’s short stories aren’t precisely what I like in a short story — something with a twist, something maybe a little unpredictable, something packed into as small a space as possible — they’re fun little stories, very much like her longer works but compressed. The same types of hero and heroine, the same sorts of love scene and the same sort of happy ending abound, along with Heyer’s usual wit. If you enjoy the banter between her characters and the sparkle of her writing, all of that is in evidence here. If I had to call the collection anything, I might call it Miniatures!
If you don’t love Heyer’s work, well, this won’t be for you. It’s very much typical of her, and she doesn’t have the space to make her heroes and heroines distinctive. And if you’ve never tried Heyer, well, I’d start with The Talisman Ring instead, if I were you.
Received to review via Tachyon; publication date 30th January 2018
It’s no secret that I love Jo Walton’s work, and I’d better add here that I’ve spent time with her as well — I’d call her a friend. Still, I knew her work first, and this is a fun collection. Jo may say she doesn’t know how to write short stories, but all the same everything here works pretty well. I only knew ‘Relentlessly Mundane’ and some of the poetry before, I think. It was nice to re-encounter the poetry here and spend some time with it — reading it online wasn’t the same at all. I hadn’t read the play, either, ‘Three Shouts on a Hill’; entertaining stuff.
My favourite of the short stories… hmm, possibly ‘Sleeper’, and I liked ‘What Joseph Felt’ a lot too.
Really, I never know quite how to review short story collections: suffice it to say that I enjoyed it, and I think it’s worth it, especially if you’re already a fan of Walton’s work. I’m glad I got to read it ahead of time.
Outer Space, Inner Lands is the second of two volumes collecting together the best of Ursula Le Guin’s short fiction. It’s also the one containing all the SF work, or at least all the less realistic work, and it contains stories like ‘Those Who Walk Away from Omelas’, one of Ursula Le Guin’s most famous stories (at least among people I know) — though not my favourite, as I think the moral is obvious from the beginning.
As always, Le Guin’s writing is clear and strong, and the stories chosen here span her career and showcase all kinds of different ideas and different phases of her work. I prefer it to the first volume, because I find Le Guin’s speculative fiction more accessible.
Dangerous 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.
Dangerous 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.
Dangerous 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.
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…