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A Few Short Notes On Some Short Fiction 2

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A sequel to that other post:

  • Jonathan McCalmont has started reviewing the stories making up Sisters Of The Revolution, edited by Ann and Jeff Vandermeer. This makes me want to return (in a much more rigourous way) to my own read through of The Space Opera Renaissance. But it hasn’t happened yet.
  • McCalmont also appears, as usual, in the latest Interzone which didn’t have a great issue for fiction. I don’t think Rich Larson has ever written a bad story but ‘Lotto’ was too abbreviated to be great. My favourite story probably wasn’t as good as ‘Lotto’ though. ‘Spine’ by Christopher Fowler is a Seventies throwback to the age of Peter Benchley which is a pure nostalgia rush.
  • You might also remember I picked up Interzone’s sister magazine, The Third Alternative, in actual paper at Mancunicon. Turns out, if its not on my Kindle, I don’t read it (and if it is on my Kindle, I usually still don’t read it).
  • My discovery of the month has been Kelly Robson (I know, I know, I’m late). ‘Two-Year Man’ reminds me a bit of A Day In The Deep Freeze – a crushing dystopia made all the more horrific for being so modest and the story made all the bleaker by the inextinguishable spark of humanity still present. ‘The Three Resurrections Of Jessica Churchill’ is equally well-written but a lot blunter.
  • I also enjoyed ‘Between Dragons and Their Wrath‘ by An Owomoyela and Rachel Swirsky which pulls off the trick of being Weird but not arbitrary and ‘The Sincerity Game’ by Brit Mandelo is one of those stories that doesn’t need the SF element (it is an acutely observed relationship story with some fiercely brilliant writing) yet it isn’t superfluous and adds an extra bit of flavour. Not as good as those but worth a read is ‘The Plague Givers’ by Kameron Hurley, published on her Patreon. It also makes me a bit sad as Hurley could’ve been the saviour of epic fantasy but modern publishing has made that impossible by pushing her into a succession of unnecessary trilogies.
  • ‘The Plague Givers’ will be reprinted in Uncanny #10 which will also contain stories by JY Yang and Alyssa Wong so that looks like it will be pretty good. And Uncanny and Wong are up for Hugos (well, the Campbell in Wong’s case) so that is pretty good too.
  • The Hugo short fiction categories are not pretty good because once again they’ve been hijacked by the Puppies. In Best Short Story, the most interesting looking title is Space Raptor Butt Invasion by Chuck Tingle which tells you everything you need to know. I’ve no intention of reading the shortlist (as I did last year) but I have read ‘Asymmetrical Warfare’ by SR Algernon, a terrible bit of flash fiction which is still too long and essentially retreads Terry Bisson’s ‘They’re Made Out Of Meat’, and ‘If You Were An Award, My Love’ by Juan Tabo and S. Harris. I won’t link to the latter both because it is on Vox Day’s website and because it has no redeeming features whatsoever. It is essentially an offensively personal attack on John Scalzi which is dressed up as ‘If You Were A Dinosaur, My Love’ by two people who don’t understand what that story was about, don’t understand what a parody is, don’t understand what a pastiche is and basically don’t understand anything at all about writing. It is purely an attempt to poison the well and confirms that any higher motives the Puppies claimed to have were all lies.
  • I thought at first I might read some of the Best Novelette shortlist because ‘And You Shall Know Her by the Trail of Dead’ by Brooke Bolander and ‘Folding Beijing’ by Hao Jingfang, translated Ken Liu, are both published in real venues. However, the Bolander is just a written version of this song so I’ve lost interest. It was also nominated for the Nebula, a reminder that not everything bad in SF can be laid at the door of the Puppies.
  • The Best Novella shortlist only contains one joke entry and two stories that I’d actually like to read: Binti by Nnedi Okorafor and Slow Bullets by Alastair Reynolds (although vexingly the latter isn’t published in the UK for another year). And – shock, horror – I’ve already read one of the nominees! As the author readily admits, it is a joke premise (what if an anthropomorphic animal story was written for adult SF fans?) and the problem with a joke premise is that it rapidly becomes tiresome over this length, particularly since there is a real sense that Polansky is doing a lot of padding.

Written by Martin

29 April 2016 at 07:35

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A Few Short Notes On Some Short Fiction

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I’ve done surprisingly well at reading short fiction this year but unsurprisingly badly at writing about it. I am also currently on paternity leave which means I have very little free time and I’m also in withdrawal from my day job which mostly consists of writing bulletpoint lists. So here is a very quick summary of my reading:

  • Last year I reviewed the Puppy-stuffed Hugo shortlist for Strange Horizons. It is very bad. Last month I read the Nebula short story shortlist. It is also pretty bad (with the honorable exception of ‘Hungry Daughters Of Starving Mothers’ by Alyssa Wong). Reading both it is clear that despite the chaff, the difference between the two is purely political. In particular, ‘Damage’ by David D. Levine (acquired and edited by Patrick Nielsen Hayden and published by Tor.com) is basically the same story as ‘Turncoat’ by Steve Rzasa (acquired and edited by Vox Day who views PNH and Tor.com as the Antichrist).
  • If I was writing about that shortlist, I’d probably want to link it to this Ethan Robinson review of The Weave by Nancy Jane Moore. Robinson also has some more direct thoughts here.
  • I have also started reading Interzone for the first time in a decade. Somethings don’t change; Nick Lowe is great on The Force Awakens in the latest issue. As always, the fiction is a mixed bag but the stand out story is ‘Empty Planets’ by Rahul Kanakia who I wasn’t previously aware of.
  • Also new to me are JY Yang (‘Song Of The Krakenmaid’ and ‘Secondhand Bodies’) and Kelly Robson (‘Two-Year Man’) who I have discovered through a secrit short fiction pusher who has got me hooked. The latter reminds me a bit of A Day In The Deep Freeze by Lisa Shapter which I’d love to write a bit more about.

 

Written by Martin

5 March 2016 at 14:03

Posted in sf, short stories

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Hugo Nominations – Best Novella

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“With only ten days left before the Hugo nominating deadline, I’m cutting these posts a little close.” So begins Abigail Nussbaum’s draft ballot for the Hugo short fiction. I think it is safe to say she is miles ahead of me. However – unusually – I’ve read a clutch of very interesting novellas, all of which I would recommend voters check out.

I might manage to post some other short fiction recommendations here too but I thought I’d focus on the long ones first. If you need other suggestions, Nussbaum’s post is an excellent source of tips (even if she does have ‘The Husband Stitch’ by Carmen Maria Machado ‘bubbling under’, the big wronghead).

Written by Martin

3 March 2015 at 19:53

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Beneath Ceaseless Skies

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Last year, in order to make nominations for awards, I relied on other people reading extensively and making recommendations. This yea, I thought maybe I should do some of the hard work. So I’ve just read the first six months of Beneath Ceaseless Skies which I picked because it gets less coverage than some of the other online magazines, I appreciate its specific remit and I’ve clicked with their stories before. Turns out that the three best stories published were from the usual suspects:

If you are looking for award fodder, these are the ones to read and I think the Lee is the best. But whilst it is obviously no bad thing that this generation of young, talent writers are regularly turning out high quality work, all three stories share a mythic, poetic tone that is quite a way from the magazines strapline of “Literary Adventure Fantasy” and could easily have appeared in other magazines such as Strange Horizons. As well as this type of story, what I also want from BCS is the best sort of epic fantasy novel condensed into short form. The beginning of the year saw a trio of strong core genre stories that nearly fit the bill and I’d particularly recommend the Austin:

I’d also love to see a really well-executed pulp appear in BCS. Sadly the two pulp pastiches present, ‘Sweetwater Notion And The Hallelujah Kid’ by KC Ball and ‘The Goddess Deception’ by Dean Wells, are almost fun but ultimately fall flat on their faces (Wells has another much worse story in another issue).

Reading the stories in one go also makes it easy to identify two editorial weaknesses. Firstly, a fondness for Americana. Partially this is just a matter of taste as I really don’t care for it but I do think the bar is set a bit lower for these stories just because they scratch an editorial itch. ‘Engine Song’ by Nathaniel Lee and ‘The Use And The Need’ by M. Bennardo are truly terrible (although Lee has a much better story in another issue). Secondly and more fundamentally, far too many of these stories are just too short. This isn’t necessarily a question of word count but rather that they are simply slices of larger stories. Time after time, stories either stop abruptly or reach the next, non-existent, chapter. Short fiction is hard and making a satisfactorily self-contained story is hardest of all.

Written by Martin

18 October 2014 at 06:42

Hugo Voting – Fiction

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When I posted my votes for the Hugo short fiction categories yesterday, it generated a bit of chat on Twitter suggesting that I was wrong to rank works below No Award. This is the view set out in a Weasel King post that got a lot of coverage but is less clear than it might be on the fact there are two different voting philosophies when using Instant run-off voting.

The first is that you only vote for what you want to win. This is the purist’s philosophy. Under these circumstances, it makes no sense to vote for anything below No Award as they are all equally lacking in merit. In addition, if you only partially complete your ballot, it might have unintended consequences. This is what the body of the Weasel King’s post addresses.

The second is that you rank everything on the ballot from most want to win to least want to win. This is the realist’s philosophy. Under these circumstances, No Award is simply one preference in your hierachy of preferences and it is completely valid to rank those underneath. The Weasel King only belatedly acknowledges this in the comment.

I think it is important to use No Award because we need to be honest with ourselves that no, most of the nominated stories don’t deserve. But this is a symbolic protest; No Award is never going to ‘win’ the category. Under the purist’s philosophy, that would be the end of my involvement in the awards. Fair enough but, since it is unlikely, why engage with the Hugos in the first place? The reason I subscribe to the realist philosophy is that I’ve gone to the trouble of engaging with the awards and reading the shortlists so want to be able to say most of these stories aren’t award worthy but even within these, some are better than others.

So that is the basis on which I’m voting. Here are my votes for all the fiction categories with some adjustments to the ranking of No Award (on the grounds that if I’m making a symbolic protest, I might as well make it as loudly as possible) and asterisks indicating works I feel are ineligible.

Best Novel

1) No Award
2) Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie (Orbit US / Orbit UK)
3) Neptune’s Brood by Charles Stross (Ace / Orbit UK)
4) Parasite by Mira Grant (Orbit US / Orbit UK)
5) Warbound, Book III of the Grimnoir Chronicles by Larry Correia (Baen Books)
6) The Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson (Tor Books / Orbit UK) *

Best Novella

1) No Award
2) “Equoid” by Charles Stross (Tor.com, 09-2013)
3) The Butcher of Khardov by Dan Wells (Privateer Press)
4) “The Chaplain’s Legacy” by Brad Torgersen (Analog, Jul-Aug 2013)
5) “Wakulla Springs” by Andy Duncan and Ellen Klages (Tor.com, 10-2013) *

Best Novelette

1) No Award
2) “The Truth of Fact, the Truth of Feeling” by Ted Chiang (Subterranean, Fall 2013)
3) “The Waiting Stars” by Aliette de Bodard (The Other Half of the Sky, Candlemark & Gleam)
4) “The Lady Astronaut of Mars” by Mary Robinette Kowal (maryrobinettekowal.com / Tor.com, 09-2013)
5) “Opera Vita Aeterna” by Vox Day (The Last Witchking, Marcher Lord Hinterlands)
6) “The Exchange Officers” by Brad Torgersen (Analog, Jan-Feb 2013)

Best Short Story

1) “Selkie Stories Are for Losers” by Sofia Samatar (Strange Horizons, Jan-2013)
2) No Award
2) “The Water That Falls on You from Nowhere” by John Chu (Tor.com, 02-2013)
3) “The Ink Readers of Doi Saket” by Thomas Olde Heuvelt (Tor.com, 04-2013)
5) “If You Were a Dinosaur, My Love” by Rachel Swirsky (Apex Magazine, Mar-2013) *

Written by Martin

24 July 2014 at 08:14

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Hugo Voting – Short Fiction

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Here is what I nominated. Here is what I’m voting for:

Best Novella

1) “Equoid” by Charles Stross (Tor.com, 09-2013)
2) No Award
3) The Butcher of Khardov by Dan Wells (Privateer Press)
4) “The Chaplain’s Legacy” by Brad Torgersen (Analog, Jul-Aug 2013)
5) “Wakulla Springs” by Andy Duncan and Ellen Klages (Tor.com, 10-2013)

Obviously ‘Wakulla Springs is better than either of the two stories above it (indeed, the Torgersen is one of the worst stories I’ve ever read) but I don’t see how it is eligible for an SF award. Equally, I’m sure ‘Six-Gun Snow White’ by Catherynne M. Valente is both better and eligible but Subterranean Press have supplied it as a PDF so I’ve not read it. And, to be honest, I almost put No Award first since moederately fun as the Stross is, it is hardly award worthy.

Best Novellete

1) “The Truth of Fact, the Truth of Feeling” by Ted Chiang (Subterranean, Fall 2013)
2) “The Waiting Stars” by Aliette de Bodard (The Other Half of the Sky, Candlemark & Gleam)
3) No Award
4) “The Lady Astronaut of Mars” by Mary Robinette Kowal (maryrobinettekowal.com / Tor.com, 09-2013)
5) “Opera Vita Aeterna” by Vox Day (The Last Witchking, Marcher Lord Hinterlands)
6) “The Exchange Officers” by Brad Torgersen (Analog, Jan-Feb 2013)

All read and all eligible but really, I don’t want to vote for any of them. But Chiang’s weakest story is still a Chiang story.

Best Short Story

1) “Selkie Stories Are for Losers” by Sofia Samatar (Strange Horizons, Jan-2013)
2) “The Water That Falls on You from Nowhere” by John Chu (Tor.com, 02-2013)
3) “The Ink Readers of Doi Saket” by Thomas Olde Heuvelt (Tor.com, 04-2013)
4) No Award
5) “If You Were a Dinosaur, My Love” by Rachel Swirsky (Apex Magazine, Mar-2013)

As with the Duncan and Klages story, I’m not sure why the Swirsky is eligible for an SF award. The Samatar is the only story on the entire ballot that I think is actually award worthy. However, whilst I don’t particularly like either of the Tor.com stories, at least they are RUMIR and have their heart in the right place.

In a word: depressing.

Written by Martin

23 July 2014 at 20:42

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Spun

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A double apology. Firstly, I should have congratulated Nina Allan for winning the BSFA Award for Short Fiction with Spin when the awards were announced. Secondly, I should have reviewed the novella but – as with Ian Sales’s BSFA Award-winning novella last year – I failed to get round to it. I was reminded of this by Daniel Libris’s recent review so go and read that then go and buy Allan’s book.

Congratulations to all the other winners and commisserations to the others on the short fiction award shortlist:

Written by Martin

30 April 2014 at 10:43

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