Thursday, June 30, 2016

Short Fiction - June 2016

[An 1886 illustration of the kineograph, from Wikipedia]

Short Fiction - June 2016

Before I start talking about specific stories, here are some half-year stats. As of today, I've read 201 short works this year, ranging from microfiction to novelettes. I've also been keeping track of word counts this year (using sample page counts for print books when necessary), and have read more than 667,500 words of short fiction in the last six months.

Because I like to skip around so much in terms of story length and genre, I rarely read an entire anthology straight through, but I made an exception recently and was rewarded with two of my four favorite stories of the month. The anthology is Summer Days and Summer Nights: Twelve Love Stories, and is full of original young adult stories edited (and in one case written) by Stephanie Perkins. I chose this anthology on the strength of her earlier editorial effort, My True Love Gave to Me: Twelve Holiday Stories, which I started last year and plan to finish during the upcoming holiday season.

Naturally, not every story in either anthology appeals to me. But overall, I really like what she's doing in these books.

"The Map of Tiny Perfect Things"
by Lev Grossman

Length: 13,200 words (est.)
Category: Novelette (YA / fantasy / science fiction)
Where Published: Summer Days and Summer Nights: Twelve Love Stories (anthology), edited by Stephanie Perkins
When Published: 2016
Link (book purchase)

In this story, which I'm not sure whether to call fantasy or science fiction, high school student Mark realizes he's living August 4 over and over, ala Groundhog Day. He's coping fairly well for the most part, and then meets Margeret, a fellow repeater. They get to know each other slowly, and together make it their mission to find and map all of the perfect moments that they can find.

I really enjoyed this story. I give it extra points for openly referencing the movies Groundhog Day and The Edge of Tomorrow while not being too similar to either one. I also liked the way the Abbott's Flatland is referenced. But then again, Lev Grossman, who wrote the Magicians trilogy, is particularly good at incorporating formative popular culture into his fiction.

I got this book at the library, but I'm tempted to buy my own copy just so I'll own this particular story.

"A Thousand Ways This Could Go Wrong"
by Jennifer E. Smith

Length: 12,200 words (est.)
Category: Novelette (YA)
Where Published: Summer Days and Summer Nights: Twelve Love Stories (anthology), edited by Stephanie Perkins
When Published: 2016
Link (book purchase)

In this story, Annie runs into Griffin, a shy boy she's had her eye on for a while, and asks him on a maybe-a-date/maybe-not-a-date outing to an arcade. {MINOR SPOILERS AHEAD} When Annie gets stuck late at the camp where she works while waiting for an autistic boy's mother to pick him up, Griffin comes by and gets along with the little boy remarkably well. It takes Annie longer than it does the reader to put two and two together, but Griffin finally tells her that he has Asperger's (which he notes they're now calling autism).

This is one of the better fictional treatments of the subject that I've seen. It's not played for laughs (ala Big Bang Theory), nor is it from the point of view of someone with more severe autism, like The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime. It's just a thoughtful look at what it might be like to navigate the beginnings of a romantic relationship when one of the two people has a harder time with cues. I also thought the characters were very well developed for such a short story.

"One More Bite"
by Michelle Muenzler

Length: 800 words
Category: Short story (horror)
Where Published: Daily Science Fiction
When Published: 2016-06-09
Link (free)

There aren't many authors who can make me actually look forward, with pleasure, to reading a dark, creepy story. Michelle is one of those authors. This short story, at 800 words, is really all atmosphere, since we don't find out terribly much about how this ... let's call it a "process" ... works. But that atmosphere is so beautifully constructed that it's delightful (and delightfully creepy) to read.

by Caroline M. Yoachim

Length: 581 words
Category: Short story (science fiction)
Where Published: Daily Science Fiction
When Published: 2011-07-18
Link (free)

In this super short story, a woman keeps her husband company as he remembers his impending death, even though he doesn't seem to remember anything else about their life together. I'm not entirely sure what is happening in this story, but it's not simple Alzheimer's. Whatever is happening, the tone of the story is lovely and sad, and that's what mattered to me.

Other stories read in June 2016:

(alphabetical by author)

- "The Arrangements" by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (2016)
- "On Discovering a Ghost in the Five Star" by Peter M. Ball (2016)
- "Head, Scales, Tongue, Tail" by Leigh Bardugo (2016)
- "Sick Pleasure" by Francesca Lia Block (2016)
- "Last Stand at the Cinegore" by Libba Bray (2016)
- "Don't Read This Story" by K.T. Bryski (2016)
- "The Exterminator's Daughter" by Meg Cabot (2007)
- "Brand New Attraction" by Cassandra Clare (2016)
- "Good Luck and Farewell" by Brandy Colbert (2016)
- "Time and Space Died Yesterday" by Brandon Echter (2016)
- "Souvenirs" by Tim Federle (2016)
- "The Weight of Kanzashi" by Joshua Gage (2016)
- "Pencils, Rules, Bones, Heart" by JT Gill (2016)
- "Department of Truth" by Jennifer Rose Jorgensen
- "Going Deep" by James Patrick Kelly (original 2009; reprint 2011)
- "The First Confirmed Case of Non-Corporeal Recursion: Patient Anita R." by Benjamin C. Kinney (2016)
- "The End of Love" by Nina LaCour (2016)
- "Turkey Shoot" by Tom Lavagnino (2015)
- "The Greyhound" by Dafydd Mckimm (2016)
- "Irma Splinkbottom’s Recipe For Cold Fusion" by Janene Murphy (2009)
- "The Job" by Bob Page (2016)
- "In Ninety Minutes, Turn North" by Stephanie Perkins (2016)
- "The Day the Future Invaded" by Beth Powers (2016)
- "Failed Interview with the International Convocation of the Damned" by Luc Reid (2016)
- "Inertia" by Veronica Roth (2016)
- "Useful Objects" by Erica L. Satifka (2014)
- "Little Dead Girl" by C.M. Saunders (2016)
- "Love is the Last Resort" by Jon Skovron (2016)
- "America, America" by Okafor Emmanuel Tochukwu (2016)
- "After the End" by Damien Angelica Walters (2016)
- "Created By..." by David Wardrop (2016)

List of the sources from which these stories came:

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

- Daily Science Fiction, June 2016
- Diabolical Plots, June 2016
- Flash Fiction Online, Nov 2009; Jan 2016
- The Mammoth Book of Nebula Awards: SF (anthology), edited by Kevin J. Anderson, 2011
- Nature, Oct 2014
- The New York Times Book Review, June 2014
- Prom Nights from Hell (anthology), 2007
- Strange Horizons, June 2016
- Summer Days and Summer Nights: Twelve Love Stories (anthology), edited by Stephanie Perkins, 2016
- Trigger Warning: Short Fiction with Pictures, 2015; 2016

Read more!

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Story reprint (first time online) - Suicide Club

I promise this blog will return to mostly reviews in the very near future, but I wanted to mention that one of my short stories, "Suicide Club", has just been reprinted in Trigger Warning: Short Fiction with Pictures, and I couldn't be more thrilled! This is the first time I've had a story illustrated, and I think artist John Skewes really did the story justice -- I just love his style.

The story is short, at only 1,500 words. In light of full disclosure, please be aware that "Suicide Club" is not a cheerful story. However, aside from a little profanity, it's not graphic. (And it's also not autobiographical!) If you want to find out what the first rule of "Suicide Club" is, click here.

Last but not least, there's one aspect of the story that people tend to interpret in different ways. To get a better idea of where people stand on that, I've created a very brief, three-question survey here. I'd appreciate your feedback!

Read more!

Thursday, June 16, 2016

New short story - "Daisy, Cactus, Porcupine, Ghost"

My short story "Daisy, Cactus, Porcupine, Ghost" was published today on Zetetic: A Record of Unusual Inquiry. Got two minutes? It's only 600 words! Read it for free here.

Read more!

Thursday, June 9, 2016

The Grand Tour: A Piece of Flash Re-inspired by a NASA "Travel Poster"

Earlier today I came across a post about these lovely retro-style "travel" posters created by the design studio at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Labs. The Jupiter poster is my favorite by far, but the "Grand Tour" poster reminded me that not long ago, I had played with creating a flash fiction story with that exact title. So I just peeked back at the story, made a few little tweaks, and present it here, just for fun.

[Image by Jet Propulsion Labs Design Studio]

The Grand Tour: A Silly Flash Story in 1,000 words


Amy Sisson

Three weeks into the twenty-five month voyage, Stacey had to admit it to herself. It wasn't the Grand Tour she'd wanted, exactly. It was being able to say that she'd done the Grand Tour.

It had sounded so exciting: fly-bys of the Moon, Mars, Ceres, and Jupiter. Stacey remembered the fuss everyone had made when that Bobby kid returned from the first Grand Tour. He was sixteen when he'd left, but turned eighteen en route -- that was the cut-off; you had to be of legal age by journey's end. He was the first kid on a long-duration voyage, and the world treated him like a rock star.

Stacey read about the upcoming second tour. It would take longer than the first, due to orbital mechanics, whatever those were. So at not-quite-sixteen, she would be younger than Bobby when he'd left, but could still make the cut-off. She immediately started petitioning her grandparents to buy her passage. It took more than money, she knew, but Gramps was connected. That was easy, actually; getting her parents' approval was something else. But Stacey was good at getting what she wanted. She reminded them that only one other teenager had done it, so she would practically be guaranteed admission to any college on the planet when she got back.

And here she was, stuck in this tin can for the next two years. What had she been thinking? She was the only one on the ship younger than thirty-five. She'd known it was silly, but Stacey had secretly hoped for a dazzling interplanetary romance -- that really would have gotten some attention.

So yeah, this whole thing pretty much sucked.

To be fair, some of the passengers were okay. Sofia was a composer, for instance, and even though she mostly did classical stuff, she'd worked with some famous pop stars and didn't mind sharing the juicy rumors. And Gerald, a doctor, seemed happy to have Stacey onboard, even if it was only because she provided a little age variety for his research. In return for his promise of a kick-ass recommendation letter, Stacey agreed to be one of his guinea pigs.

Stacey's favorite, though, was Alina, who had a slight Russian accent and looked young enough to be Stacey's sister. Alina took Stacey seriously -- well, mostly. She did call Stacey "rich girl" but not unkindly. And she could be kind of blunt.

"You're bored? What did you expect?" Alina said. She was painting a still life of the engine room, of all things. Alina planned to capture the entire voyage in acrylics, and had been given a special weight allowance for supplies.

"I thought there would be more . . . social life," Stacey said.

Alina snorted. "There's plenty of 'social life,'" she said. "The weekly poker game . . . no, you're not ready for that. But come to our book group. We read all kinds of things, and eventually we'll let you choose the book. But maybe not Vampire Werewolves on Mars, okay?"

"Very funny," Stacey said. But she read that week's book, and the next. She was shy about venturing her opinion at first, but then she realized they all teased each other. That's what made it fun.

It wasn't enough, though. The next time Stacey and Alina had the exercise room to themselves, she asked Alina when she'd decided to become a painter.

"I didn't decide," Alina said, panting slightly. "My mother gave me paints when I was six. She said I was already a painter before that."

"But how did you know that's what you wanted to do? And why come out here? Except for the fly-bys, the scenery won't change much."

"Always the questions," Alina said, smiling. "I'm capturing the voyage, the journey. Photographs, they're not the same. I will show the world how I see it. Sofia, she captures the journey in music. Gerald pins down the science. The others, I don't know well yet. But why are you here?"

Stacey sighed. "You can't tell anyone, but I think maybe I ... just wanted the attention." It was hard to say that out loud, even to Alina.

Alina didn't laugh. "It's okay," she said. "You just find a new answer for why you're here, and make it true. Keep asking questions. We have how many months left? Before we're done, you learn every person on this ship."

"Get to know them, you mean?"

"Yes, and more. I do my portraits -- the passengers, the ship -- and Sofia does hers, her way. You will do this too -- you make a ‘portrait’ of everyone on this ship."

"But Alina, half of them won't even talk to me," Stacey protested.

"You make them talk. You find out about them ahead, then ask them good questions. They'll talk." Alina looked hard at Stacey. "Don't wish this away, rich girl. Ten years from now when you are a person, you don't want to realize you wasted this trip."

Stacey thought about that. What did Alina mean, when Stacey was a person? What was she now?

She looked up her shipmates. The communications lag back to Earth was noticeable now, but the ship had a cached version of the Net. These people had actually done some interesting stuff. Captain Tomlinson, for instance, had been the first person to set foot on Europa, before she'd left NASA for space tourism.

But maybe Stacey should start with someone less intimidating. The next morning, she poked her head into the hydroponics lab where Landers -- Alina was trying to nickname him "Sprouts" but it hadn't stuck yet -- was poking around with some seed trays. He was a kind-looking man with gray hair at the temples.

"Knock knock," Stacey said.

Landers looked up, confused until his mind switched gears. "Oh. Stacey. Can I help you?"

"I was just wondering," Stacey began. "If maybe you could tell me about your plants?"

"Sure," Landers said. He actually looked glad for the company. "C’mon in."

- The End -

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Monday, June 6, 2016

Short Fiction - May 2016

Short Fiction - May 2016

I'm a few days later than usual posting about my monthly reading, but here are my favorite stories read in May.

by Gary Emmette Chandler

Length: 1,000 words
Category: Short story (science fiction)
Where Published: Flash Fiction Online
When Published: 2016-05
Link (free)

This is a lovely short piece about brothers and flying -- not inside aircraft, but wearing a suit fitted with wings. I don't want to say too much about it, but my favorite line was "What sort of Sparrow hesitates before the fall?" I also liked the pacing and use of flashbacks, which felt perfect even at this short length.

"The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas"
by Ursula K. Le Guin

Length: 2,817 words
Category: Short story (science fiction)
Original Publication: New Dimensions 3 (anthology), edited by Robert Silverberg, 1973
Link: (see notes below)

A recent conversation with one of the professors at the community college library where I'm temping convinced me that I needed to finally read this famous story. And although I spent the first half of it thinking "this isn't really a story" (not that that's a crime), by the end of it I was completely sold. I would have liked to have the text broken up into a few more paragraphs for ease of reading, and sometimes the story tries a little too hard, but where it succeeds it does so at a level that's kind of off the charts.

I'm not posting a link to this story because I feel that doing so in this case would be supporting a case of copyright violation. The fact that the professor and I were able to pull this story up on the internet so easily -- the very first Google hit was a PDF obviously put online by a professor somewhere -- sparked an interesting copyright discussion. In my opinion, posting this story freely online for one's students is a violation of fair use, unless you're the author. The posted version uses 100% of the work (as opposed to an excerpt), it's posted it in a way that's not limited to the students in that class, and it's very likely the professor is using it over and over again from semester to semester. In addition, it could possibly be shown to be causing financial loss to the creator. Even if the professor were photocopying it on paper for his/her whole class every semester (as opposed to posting it publicly on the Internet), that would still be a violation unless the educational institution cleared/paid for the use. That's why professors put things on reserve in the library instead. People tend to think because the purpose is educational means that anything goes, under the guise of "fair use," but that's not so.

On the other hand, as my professor points out, if he uses a college textbook anthology of short stories and teaches 10 of the 50 stories, with the students paying $50 for that textbook, well, it's creating a real hardship for them. And while he himself wouldn't post the story online, since he knows it already is online, he can just tell his students to find it. (Does it make a difference if he tells them exactly where to find it, or if he tells them to just Google it? In a way I think it does.)

In any case, I'm not posting the link. For anyone who would like to read it, you can find it in anthologies and collections and, well, on the Internet.

"The Long Fall Up"
by William Ledbetter

Length: 7,794 words
Category: Novelette (science fiction)
Where Published: F&SF
When Published: 2016-05
Link: N/A

I read two amazing stories this month that have to do with child-bearing, and this novelette is one of them. A pilot is sent after a woman who is harboring an illegal zero-g pregnancy in order to prove that healthy children can be born in space. The company that employs the pilot, however, is less than forthcoming about its true motivations. This story works hard to get the science right even though it really isn't about the science, and it pushed all the right emotional buttons for me.

"The Right Sort of Monsters" by Kelly Sandoval

Length: 3,682 words
Category: Short story (fantasy)
Where Published: Strange Horizons
When Published: 2016-04-04
Link (free)

And this is the other story about child-bearing. A village woman desperately longs for a child, and has to decide whether to take the same drastic measures her own sister took to have a child that some might call a monster. The plot went in a direction I did not expect, which I enjoyed, but most of all, I loved the way the author revealed the specific details of this world so gradually and naturally.

I don't have children and have never wanted them, so it takes a lot for a story to make me understand that someone would feel the way this woman did in the beginning of the story. I do feel very protective of small creatures (including human children!), however, so by the time I got to the end of the story, the author had completely "spoken" to me. In that regard, for me reading this was akin to reading Mary Doria Russell's The Sparrow as an atheist, and getting a glimmer of emotional understanding of the concept of sainthood.

Other stories read in May 2016:

(alphabetical by author)

- "Stacy and Her Idiot" by Peter Atkins (year unknown)
- "The Gambler" by Paolo Bacigalupi (original 2008; reprint 2012)
- "Getting Dark" by Neil Barrett Jr. (original 2009; reprint 2012)
- "17 Amazing Plot Elements... When You See #11, You'll Be Astounded!" by James Beamon (2016)
- "Ice and White Roses" by Rebecca Birch (2014)
- "Bodyshop" by Graham Brand (2016)
- "Fence to Fence" by Jennifer Cox (year unknown)
- "Last Round" by Paul Crenshaw (2016)
- "The Reality Machine" by Karl El-Koura (2016)
- "One Last Smoke" by Alex Granados (2016)
- "A !Tangled Web" by Joe Haldeman (original 1981; reprint 2012)
- "The Promise of Space" by James Patrick Kelly (original 2013; reprint 2015)
- "Best Friends Forever" by Michelle Ann King (2016)
- "The Poet with Fishhook Eyes" by Michelle Knowlden (2016)
- "The Summer of Rotting Lasagna" by Zack Kotzer (2015)
- "The Man Who Didn’t Believe in Luck" by Preston Lerner (year unknown)
- "The Finite Canvas" by Brit Mandelo (original 2012; audio reprint 2014)
- "The Fountain and the Shoe Store" by Paul Steven Marino (2011)
- "Swift, Brutal Retaliation" by Meghan McCarron (original 2012; audio reprint 2014)
- "Bridesicle" by Will McIntosh (original 2009; reprint 2012)
- "A Brutal Murder in a Public Place" by Joyce Carol Oates (original 2011; reprint 2012)
- "The Black Kids" by Christina Hammonds Reed (2016)
- "Bird Watching" by Anton Rose (2016)
- "Will It Fly?" by Cheryl Wood Ruggiero (2016)
- "After the Coup" by John Scalzi (original 2008; audio reprint 2014)
- "The Box" by J.T. Sharp (2016)
- "Fortune for Your Freshman Year" by Lucy Silbaugh (2016)
- "To Give Birth to a Dancing Star" by K.B. Sluss (2016)
- "Night Watch" by Nancy Sweetland (2016)
- "Portrait of Lisane da Patagnia" by Rachel Swirsky (original 2012; audio reprint 2014)
- "Across the Terminator" by David Tallerman (original 2013; reprint 2015)
- "Chit Win" by Deborah Walker (2011)
- "Heating Up" by Daniel Wilmoth (2016)
- "Fried Chicken You Can’t Refuse" by Peter Wood (2016)
- "The First Snow of Winter" by Caroline M. Yoachim (2016)

List of the sources from which these stories came:

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

- Black Dahlia & White Rose (collection by Joyce Carol Oates), 2012
- Clarkesworld Year Seven (anthology), edited by Neil Clarke & Sean Wallace, Wyrm, 2015
- Daily Science Fiction, Dec 2011; Apr 2016; May 2016; June 2016
- Every Day Fiction, Jan 2016; Apr 2016; May 2016
- Flash Bang Mysteries, Spring 2016
- Flash Fiction Online, May 2016
- Freeze Frame Fiction, year unknown
- The Mammoth Book of Nebula Awards: SF (anthology), edited by Kevin J. Anderson, Robinson, 2012
- Luna Station Quarterly, June 2016
- Nature, Nov 2014
- One Teen Story, Apr 2016; May 2016
- Perihelion, Apr 2016
- Pinball, Spring 2016
- Punchnel's, May 2016
- Strange Horizons, Sep 2011; Apr 2016
- Selected Original Fiction, 2008-2012 (audio collection, Brilliance Audio, 2014)
- Trigger Warning: Short Fiction with Pictures (year unknown; Mar 2016)
- Vandercave Quarterly, 2015

Read more!