Wednesday, November 11, 2015


I've decided that maybe I don't want Daniel Craig to make any more James Bond movies.

If you know me, you know this is an almost heretical statement. I am not exaggerating when I say that I love Daniel Craig as James Bond. In fact, he is the only Bond I've ever taken seriously, the only Bond for whom I always see the movie in the theater (and often on opening weekend). The only other Bond I found interesting was Timothy Dalton, because I felt his face showed more character and emotion than our other smooth-faced heroes. To be fair, Daniel Craig has had the benefit of excellent writing, whereas most Bonds got little more than bad puns and over-the-top villains. But still, I really do feel that Daniel Craig was made for this part.

But back to the point: the reason I would be OK with Daniel Craig calling it quits is because Spectre very nicely completes a four-film arc encompassing both plot and emotional development. Questions are answered. Old friends and foes are revisited, even the ones who are dead.


As a brief summary, soon after the movie opens we learn that Bond had received a video message from M (the Judi Dench one) upon her death, directing him to kill a certain man and be sure to attend his funeral. At said funeral, Bond befriends the widow (Monica Bellucci, from the second and third Matrix movies), whose life is in danger because she knows too much about her dead husband's secret organization. Bond gets her to safety and infiltrates Spectre, a group that indulges in human trafficking and also engineers terrorist attacks to get governments to willingly give up the keys to their intelligence offices. Bond is shocked when the group's leader, Blofeld, turns out to be someone he knew long ago and believed dead.

Shortly thereafter, Bond travels to a remote snow-bound chalet where he finds a dying Mr. White, whom we saw in both Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace -- the very man behind the blackmail that got Vesper killed. White is disinclined to give Bond information about Blofeld, until Bond agrees to find and protect White's daughter, Madeleine Swann (Léa Seydoux). Who, as it turns out, is less than happy to be reintroduced to a way of life she thought she left behind.

In the course of navigating a number of captures and escapes, James and Madeleine sleep together, but it's different than Bond's usual encounters save one: Vesper. Madeleine isn't Vesper, but it's no accident that her and James's mutual attraction first becomes apparent during a formal dinner aboard a train, or that Madeleine asks the same kind of penetrating questions that Vesper once asked, about choices and what compels a man to kill for a living. However, before Bond goes off to try and save the world yet one more time, Madeleine says goodbye, saying that she can't go back to an existence filled with violence, but she also knows she can't change him. Without words and not even very much in the way of facial expression, Craig still manages to convey just how heavy a blow this is for James. But he is 007, and he still has a job to do.

I won't go into too many more details, except to point out one other parallel between James's relationships with Vesper and Madeleine. Both women serve as a direct reason that James decides not to kill a villain when he could. In Vesper's case, it comes at the end of Quantum of Solace (which is my opinion is simply the second half of Casino Royale). James finally gets to confront the man who pretended to be Vesper's boyfriend so that Mr. White's organization could control her, yet James leaves this man alive. He does so in part because the man has important information, but I think he also does it because he knows Vesper wouldn't want him to kill when he doesn't have to. The same thing happens in Spectre; James can kill Blofeld in the end, but realizes what he actually wants more is to walk away with Madeleine, who is now willing to be with him because she sees this change as it happens.

I love the circular nature of these four films.

Other thoughts, in no particular order:

  • I adore the fact that we get to see more of Moneypenny (Naomie Harris), M (Ralph Fiennes), Q (Ben Whishaw), and Tanner (Rory Kinnear). Perhaps my memory of earlier Bond movies is sketchy, but it seems to me that previously, Q and Moneypenny existed to serve up humor and provide a vehicle for Bond's innuendo, respectively. But they have so much more to contribute in the new films! And I like both Judi Dench and Ralph Fiennes as their respective M's. I'm not 100% sure I understood this correctly, but it sounded to me like the Fiennes M not only has more field experience than most people know, he either was or still is a double-O. (Although I have to admit that it does seem odd to me that nobody would know this -- everyone knows Bond is one.) And how wonderful that Q finally got a little field action, albeit not intentionally.

  • I enjoyed Andrew Scott as C in this film. In the U.S. at least, Scott is best known as the BBC Sherlock's Moriarty. For me, that character occasionally goes a little too far over-the-top, but here, we get the intelligent menace without crossing that line.

  • While I liked Blofeld's connection with Bond's past, I actually thought it was going to be even closer than it turned out to be. Basically, Blofeld is the son of a man who took Bond under his wing when Bond was orphaned. Presumably unbeknownst to James, the slightly older Blofeld became consumed with jealousy because he thought James was taking his place. James had always believed that Blofeld died in the same avalanche that killed Blofeld's father, but it turns out the son murdered the father and faked his own death.

    So, where I thought this was going was that Blofeld was going to be James's biological brother, and that it just hadn't been mentioned that the older brother was killed along with James's parents. I probably wouldn't have had this misconception if I'd been able to get a closer look at the guardianship papers James received among his personal effects from Skyfall, but I couldn't read quickly enough, and I also struggled with spoken names in this film. (If I see a movie I really like, the first thing I do is buy the DVD and watch it with subtitles, which always clears up a bunch of things I missed the first time around.) Ah well, Blofeld as Bond's real brother probably would have been too much for me, but a part of me wonders.

  • I'll be interested to see where this franchise goes next. I suspect it will be very difficult to top these past four films, especially when taken together as a whole, but I'm willing to keep an open mind.

  • Calling it now: if the films are still being produced twenty years from now, I think Matthew Lewis, who played Neville Longbottom in the Harry Potter movies and who I think of as a young Clive Owens, could certainly play the part.
Hmm, I wonder how long until this comes out on DVD. I feel a marathon coming on.

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Friday, October 30, 2015

Short Fiction - October 2015

[Clip art courtesy of Dover's weekly free samples.]

Short Fiction - October 2015

In addition to some favorite Halloween-themed fiction that I've read recently, here are my favorite stories that I read in October.

As an aside, I'm up to almost 400 short stories read this year, and I'm not even remotely getting tired of my one-a-day goal. On days when I'm pressed, I can always read flash, after all. And I am always interested in hearing what stories my friends have read and liked, so I'm getting great recommendations that way.

"Virtual Blues" by Lee Budar-Danoff

I've seen a lot of stories that deal with "wired society," in which people interact almost exclusively via virtual interfaces, but I think this was the first story I've seen in which some people's bodies simply reject the implanted interfaces in spite of anti-rejection drugs. And if the rejection doesn't happen immediately, a person may quickly get used to being wired, and then have to live without. Can you imagine your life without the Internet now? Probably not, or not easily, and this kind of "wired" goes significantly beyond what we have today. Imagine the eerie silence of a crowded public space in which nobody is interacting with anyone else who is physically there.

But what makes this story special is that it's also about creating and playing music, and the bond created between a performer and a live audience. I found it quite moving, and I felt like the author completely "gets" jazz, as well as music and performing in general.

Published in March 2015 in Diabolical Plots (read here).

"James and the Prince of Darkness" by Kevin Lauderdale

This humorous "deal with the devil" tale shows that sometimes, it's all in the story's execution. James, a Wodehouse-style valet, proves very resourceful when he learns that his employer displayed a serious lack of judgment whilst drinking at his club the night before. This story's tone is pitch perfect and wonderfully consistent, with some truly funny lines.

This was published in Third Flatiron's 2015 anthology Ain't Superstitious, and is available for purchase here.

"The Demon of Russet Street" by Jessica Reisman

This story, at about 5,500 words, is so incredibly rich that I'm experiencing world-building envy. It's slightly steampunkish and slightly godpunkish, yet filled with other little odds and ends too -- I loved, for instance, how bits and bobs from the sea were incorporated into everyday life. The story follows a farrago named Rusk, who was bequeathed autonomy and wealth when his deviser passed away. Rusk is asked by the authorities to look into the "disassembling" of another farrago -- murder, really, but under the law, the only penalty for someone who destroys a farrago is compensation to its owner. The author incorporates magic, some amazing technology, and creature rights in a way that made me want to see a lot more stories set in this world.

Dare I say that I was even reminded, flavor-wise, of Ted Chiang's work? And that's not something I would say lightly. There was just a sort of fearlessness in the world-building, if that makes sense.

Read in the September 2015 issue of Three-Lobed Burning Eye here.

"Every Other Emily" by Joseph Sloan

Published in the September 2015 issue of One Teen Story, this mainstream YA piece consists of Emily's e-mails to Paul, who has gone off to Yale. Emily vents to Paul about the $600 per hour IQ coaching her parents have forced her to take. They want her to get into an exclusive school for a "gap year" after high school graduation, all so she can get into a college good enough to be suitable for their lifestyle. Emily also writes about how much she misses Paul, and says that he represents the only thing she ever decided on her own that she wanted.

This is beautifully written. I wasn't surprised at the turn the story took (although I didn't know what the details would be), but I was satisfied with the resolution.

I also want to mention again how much I like this publication. One Teen Story publishes a single story per issue, delivered in a little print chapbook. I've read eight issues so far, and I've rated half of them at 4 out of 5 stars or higher, which I suspect is a much higher average than I get for most other publications. We all have a limited amount of money we can spend on subscriptions, but this little magazine is one I really look forward to getting in my mailbox each month. It's an offshoot of One Story, which has the same one-story-per-issue concept, but has a much more adult literary feel. I like One Story, but it's much more hit and miss for me than One Teen Story.

Available from the magazine's website here.

Other stories read in October 2015:

(alphabetical by author)

- "A Marriage" by Kiik A.K. (original 2014; reprint 2015)
- "The Great Old Pumpkin" by John Aegard (2004)
- "The Half-life of Chocolate" by Nancy Fulda (original 2011; reprint 2015)
- "The Last Book" by Guanani Gomez (2015)
- "8 Steps to Winning Your Partner Back (From the Server)" by A.T. Greenblatt (2015)
- "Possessed of a Fierce Violence" by Alexis A. Hunter (2015)
- "Genie From the Gym" by M.K. Hutchins (2015)
- "Message from Beyond" by José Pablo Iriarte (2015)
- "Something Wicked This Way Plumbs" by Vylar Kaftan (2007)
- "Dis-Orientation" by C.I. Kemp (2015)
- "And in the End, They All Lived Happily Ever After" by Michelle Ann King (2015)
- "Spirit Board" by D.J. Kozlowski (2015)
- "Crystal" by Ken Liu (2015)
- "The Devil Is Beating His Wife Today" by Sandra McDonald
- "The Cats' Game" by Michelle Muenzler (2015)
- "The Burger Bargain" by Wendy Nikel (year unknown)
- "Bloody Mary" by Norman Partridge (2013)
- "When the Circus Lights Down" by Sarah Pinsker (2015)
- "The Mirror Man" by Andrija Popovic (2015)
- "Summer in Realtime" by Erica L. Satifka (2015)
- "Super-Parents Last All Childhood Long" by Erica L. Satifka (2013)
- "The Librarian's Dilemma" by E. Saxey (2015)
- "Night Witch" by Shawn Scarber (2015)
- "Bump in the Night" by Linda M. Scott (2015)
- "Stalked by Night" by Michael Seese (2015)
- "The Terrible" by John Wiswell (2015)
- "The Grim Rufus" by Peter Wood (2013)
- "Have You Heard the One About Anamaria Marquez?" by Isabel Yap (2014)
- "Grim Hunter" by Tina Yeager (2015)

List of the sources from which these stories came:

(alphabetical by anthology title, magazine title, website name, etc.)

- Ain't Superstitious (anthology), edited by Juliana Rew, September 2015
- Daily Science Fiction, various dates
- Every Day Fiction, various dates
- Expanded Horizons, October 2015
- Fantastic Stories of the Imagination, July/August 2015
- Havok 2.4, October 2015
- Nightmare, October 2013; March 2014
- One Teen Story, September 2015
- Page & Spine, October 2015
- QuarterReads
- Shimmer, Halloween 2007
- Strange Afterlives (anthology), edited by A. Lee Martinez, 2015
- Strange Horizons,
- Three-Lobed Burning Eye, September 2015
- Uncanny, March/April 2015
- Unlikely Story: The Journal of Unlikely Academia, October 2015

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Friday, October 23, 2015

Pumpkin Time: Recommended Halloween Short Fiction

[Image of pumpkin made from a book by Anthology on Main, an Etsy seller specializing in book page "flowers" for weddings and upcycled book holiday centerpieces. Photo used here with permission. Click here to view the Anthology on Main Etsy shop.]

The idea for this post came about by accident; one day in early September, I had about fifteen minutes to spare while waiting for my husband so I went in search of a short podcast by clicking on the "miniatures" tag on the Podcastle website. The story that caught my eye was "We Clever Jacks" by Greg van Eekhout, and it put me in such a Halloween mood that I decided to go out looking for more Halloween fiction. The stories below were some of my favorites. They're not all creepy or scary -- some are funny or even moving instead, but for me, they all say "Halloween" in some way.

[Alphabetical by author]

"The Great Old Pumpkin" by John Aegard

This was published back in 2004 in Strange Horizons, and I remember being delighted by it then just as I was upon rereading it now. Part of the joy in this story is realizing just what this parody mash-up consists of; the clues come quickly, so it won't take you long. I don't want to say more than that, but trust me, this story is funny and wickedly clever. (And I really wish I could draw well enough to whip up an illustration for it!) Read here.

"The Scream" by Nancy Fulda

This is a horror story (some might call it dark fantasy) about a boy named Pete. His brother Kody, who has a troubled past, sticks his knife into a pumpkin in order to carve it for Halloween, only to release an evil psychic scream that takes up residence in Kody's head. I found the resolution uncomfortable, but that was kind of the point. This story, at approximately 3,900 words long, is very well-written, and I recommended it for those who like the darker stuff.

This was published on and is available here.

"Night Witch" by Shawn Scarber

This story isn't as Halloween-oriented as the others, but for me, it still has the right feel for this time of year. And it technically is about a witch, so there you go. In this story, the "Night Witch" refers to a Russian female bomber pilot during World War II; they were so called for their tactic of silencing their engines right before a bombing run. A German Bf 109 squadron encounters a Night Witch, and there's more to her than initially meets the eye.

I first heard this story read aloud at a writing event earlier this year and have been meaning to go back and read it ever since I heard it had been published. It perfectly suited my mood for this month, with just the right amount of creepy atmosphere. I also thought the aerial battle was particularly well written. This appears in a 2015 anthology titled Strange Afterlives, edited by A. Lee Martinez.

"Strong as Stone" by Effie Seiberg

This is a sweet, beautifully written story about a girl made of stone, who spends much of her time in the hospital while doctors study her condition and try to deal with some of the unique physiological problems that she faces. She begs her parents to be allowed out on Halloween, assuming she will finally fit in since that's the day everyone deliberately tries to look and be different. Alas, she discovers that Halloween is not a holiday from cruelty, but she also learns, with the help of a new "neighbor" in the hospital, to appreciate her own strength and beauty.

This story appears in an unusual venue for fiction: a fashion magazine that describes itself as "edgy." The story is "illustrated" with stunning photos of a woman looking at roughly humanoid figures made of stone. In a way, the photos don't go with the tone of this story, but at the same time they didn't feel wrong, if that makes sense. I was glad the photos were there, because they're gorgeous to look at -- but I'd also love to see this story specifically illustrated for children.

This link goes to a PDF that is a portion of the magazine issue; just click forward through a few pages to get to the story.

"We Clever Jacks" by Greg van Eekhout

And last but not least, I absolutely loved this story. And although I think I would have loved just as much if I'd read it as text, for me it's one of those stories that just begs to be read aloud. Here, reader Marshal Latham infuses the story with wry humor, and the background music adds yet another layer of quirky creepiness. The story is narrated by a Jack, a Halloween pumpkin. He (I'm going with he because they're all named Jack, although of course they don't all have to be male) goes through a roll call of the neighborhood Jacks, including Laughing Jack, Shrieking Jack, Happy Jack, and Wailing Jack. But it's Grimacing Jack who has big plans for the "holiday" this year.

This is a perfect Halloween story for kids, because it's delightful and creepy but not at all gory or violent. It's not scary, really, just very atmospheric. (Podcastle rates it as "PG.") This was originally published on the author's blog here in 2007, and reissued as a podcast by Podcastle in 2012 here.

* * *

I know there are likely to be all kinds of great new Halloween stories published this week, but I didn't want to wait until Halloween to talk about Halloween fiction -- I love the time leading up to holidays, but once the day itself passes, I am very much done with that holiday until the next year! In the meantime, I'll be posting at the end of the month as usual, about some favorite stories read during October that don't happen to be Halloween-themed. In the meantime, Happy Trick-or-Treating!

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Monday, October 19, 2015

October publications

October has been a big month for me publication-wise, with three stories just out and one more to launch on October 31. Funny, I just realized that three are sort of love stories -- does that mean I'm a romantic? The fourth is a piece of Halloween flash fiction.

"My Eyes Molly Brown"

Eric's miniature horse, Molly Brown, isn't just a pet; she's a companion guide animal that helps Eric navigate through an increasingly challenging near-future world. And she's also his best friend.

"My Eyes Molly Brown" appears in A Quiet Shelter There, an October 2015 anthology edited by Gerri Leen. Read the Publishers Weekly review here; order the print book from Amazon or directly from the publisher, Hadley Rille Books. E-book editions should be available soon in a variety of formats.

"Dressing Mr. Featherbottom"

When AnnaBella Frostwich insists on dressing her robotic companion, Mr. Featherbottom, in the latest fashions, her mother doesn't know what to think! This will appear in the Robotica anthology, edited by Elizabeth Hirst and published by Pop Seagull Publishing, to be launched on Halloween weekend at Can*Con in Ottawa. I'll be there for the launch party, along with several of the other authors.

Unlikely Patron Saints, No. 5" (podcast)

When an unmarried Chinese daughter dies too soon, her parents may follow the tradition of minghun, or arrangement of an afterlife marriage. But what if that daughter doesn't want a husband, even in death? This story originally appeared in Strange Horizons in 2007; it has now been re-issued as a podcast, read by S. Qiouyi Lu. Listen free in the October 7, 2015 issue of Glittership here.

"Dear Editor"

A concerned citizen expresses his doubts about a certain demonic practice that has had . . . unintended consequences. This micro-story appears in Havok 2.4 (October 2015), which is their special "Shivers and Screams" Halloween issue. Available for purchase here.

Click here for a complete list of my fiction publications.
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