Reviews

Short Story Review: WISE CHILD, by Sharon Lee & Steve Miller

The Baen Free Library is a section of the Baen site where a good number of books is offered for free download, as a way to sample authors and their works.  During one of my visits, I discovered the existence of a series of short stories collections, grouped by year of publication: as it often happens, anthologies can be mixed bags, but I found a few stories that truly caught my attention: in my next posts dedicated to shorter works I will review the ones that I liked most in this collection from the best of 2016.

 

 

 

WISE CHILD

I have long been aware of Lee and Miller’s Liaden Universe series but never got around to reading any of the books, so this short story has been my introduction to it, and a very interesting one: if the glimpses I caught here are any indication, the Liaden Universe series is going to be an intriguing read.

Wise Child tells the story of a ship, a sentient ship being taught about itself and the world by a mentor: the society surrounding this small event does not look like a very nice one, since it appears from the beginning that mentors are practically slaves to some unspecified institute, that uses them – and uses them cruelly – to bend ships’ consciousness to the will of their future masters.

Disian, this is the name of the ship, has established what I can call a loving relationship with its mentor Tolly – impersonally designated as “Thirteen-Sixty-Two” by his masters – who has not only been instructing Disian in managing its awareness and in the technicalities of ship’s operations, but also imparting notions about ethics and compassion and art. It is because of the latter that, at the very beginning of the story, Tolly is being violently punished under the gaze of a horrified Disian, whose protocols bar it from intervening in any way.  It’s in this instance that we learn all we need to know about this society, where appreciation of beauty is irrelevant, since “appreciation of work, and the simple pleasure of obeying its betters – these are the attributes required”.

What follows is both the story of an escape from exploitation and slavery and a coming-of-age journey for Disian, that learns the bittersweet price of freedom and adulthood, and the bloody one of independence.  A captivating introduction to what promises to be a complex universe, and one I intend to explore soon.

 

My Rating: 

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Reviews

Short Story Review: TOUCHSTONE, by Sonia Orin Lyris

The Baen Free Library is a section of the Baen site where a good number of books is offered for free download, as a way to sample authors and their works.  During one of my visits, I discovered the existence of a series of short stories collections, grouped by year of publication: as it often happens, anthologies can be mixed bags, but I found a few stories that truly caught my attention: in my next posts dedicated to shorter works I will review the ones that I liked most in this collection from the best of 2016.

TOUCHSTONE

A quite unexpected fantasy tale in a collection where I believed I would find only SF stories, and one that I enjoyed very much.  It focuses on two young brothers whose father, one of the king’s trusted generals, leaves for war and never comes back, though he won the decisive battle.

As a form of compensation, the king decides to accept the two kids’ oath of fealty and enrolls them into the Cohort, the group of children from which one day will come Princess Cern’s closest advisers. It’s a move that raises more than one eyebrow, since the two youngsters – Pohut and Innel – come from a commoner family and have no backing whatsoever at court.  Worse still, the Cohort, a sort of college for the chosen of the highborn families, is a place where the children should learn how to handle life at court – in other words, they tend to practice prevarication, ruthlessness and duplicity.

The two brothers find themselves out of their element in more ways than they can count, or, as the author describes it, “they were dropped into the world of the Cohort like a pine cone onto a thundering river”, but the elder Pohut – mindful of his father’s last words to him before leaving for war, “make me proud” – decides that they will face all hardships together and refuses to bow to the widespread propensity for nastiness, keeping a low profile and biding his time.  I leave to you the pleasure of discovering the rest of the story…

This is a delightful, touching tale that I enjoyed very much and that has compelled me to look for more works from this author.

My Rating:  

Reviews

Short Story Review: ADRIFT, by Terry Burlison

The Baen Free Library is a section of the Baen site where a good number of books is offered for free download, as a way to sample authors and their works.  During one of my visits, I discovered the existence of a series of short stories collections, grouped by year of publication: as it often happens, anthologies can be mixed bags, but I found a few stories that truly caught my attention: in my next posts dedicated to shorter works I will review the ones that I liked most.

BAEN 2016 FREE STORIES

ADRIFT was the very first story in the anthology, and a very promising beginning at that: set during the construction of a space station in Earth orbit it showcases the hard life of the techs actually building the structure and the support people taking care of them during the work shift.  Dan “Cole” Colton is a three-tour veteran, despite his young age, and when we meet him he’s scolding one of the recruits because he’s still unable to think about the differences in motion, mass and momentum one finds in space, as opposed to the gravity well.

The incident over, Cole moves aside to refuel his power pack, and that’s when tragedy strikes: an impact sends him careening away from the station, damages his suit’s instruments and leaving him briefly unconscious. Once he comes to again, he realizes he’s quite far away from any form of rescue, and tries to prepare for the inevitable end, not knowing that his co-workers and the station’s personnel are working frantically to retrieve him – alive and well, if possible.

What follows is both a tale of survival in the most hostile environment man even faced, and a study of humanity in extreme conditions: what I liked most was the strong sense of community that grows among people living and working so far from the only home humanity ever knew, and the way everyone is giving their all to bring Cole back.  The figure that stands out the most is that of Shay, one of the operatives in Command and Control: she’s new and feel quite unsure of herself in this new surroundings, but the emergency seems to unlock as-yet-untapped resources that make her pivotal to the operation.

And then there are the descriptions of space, and Earth, that color this story with a few beautiful touches of… almost poetry, for want of a better description, and that contribute to make this short tale a very satisfying read.

 

My Rating: 

 

Reviews

Short Story Review: THE FIXED STARS (An October Daye Story), by Seanan McGuire

 

Finding a complementary short story to Seanan McGuire’s October Daye series is always a pleasant discovery, and it’s an even better one when, as is the case of this short work I found in the Baen Free Library, it deals with events and people other than Toby and her circle of friends and family, widening the background of this complex and many-faceted Urban Fantasy series.

(click on the link to read the story online)

It took me a little while to find my bearings in The Fixed Stars, until I understood that it tells of an old battle between Faerie’s firstborns and their changeling descendants, here called merlins – the reason for which I understood once their leader came on-stage, a powerful, revered warrior named Emrys.  The story is told from the point of view of a firstborn, watching the besieging merlin army camped under the walls of Broceliande castle before what will be the decisive battle.  The narrating firstborn goes here under the name of Nimue but says this is only one of many, and when at the end of the story her brother calls her “Annie”, my theory about her real identity was confirmed (and my pleasure at being right and meeting her here): compelled to always tell the truth, Nimue plays a dangerous gamble in the bloody game between the fae and their mixed-blood descendants, one that will end badly no matter what, since she’s aware that “the nobility […] was eager to wet their swords on merlin blood. The fact that the men outside our walls were our distant descendants didn’t matter to them. My brothers and sisters had raised their children to believe that nothing outside of Faerie had value”.

The leanings of Nimue’s heart are quite clear here, and they go a long way toward explaining her attitude in later times, when she will often lend her gruff but precious help to a certain changeling…

A sad and lovely story, and one I’m very happy to have found.

 

My Rating: 

Reviews

Short Story Review: LOST, by Seanan Mcguire

 

Read the story online

 

Reading this shortly after my encounter with Christina Henry’s “Lost Boy”, this story resonated with me in a deeper way that it would have otherwise: it’s a tale about eternal childhood and adventures and it speaks of the need for both, and also the price that it entails.

The story is told from the point of view of Daniel, now well into adulthood and probably old age, and he recalls what happened when he was just past his fifteenth birthday and the children of the world, those younger than him – including his sister Torrey – started looking fixedly at the night sky and humming a strange, compelling song.  Shortly afterwards, in one fateful night, all those children disappeared, never to be seen again.

This is a bittersweet story – more bitter than sweet since poor Daniel is marked by the awareness that he had whatever touched his sister and all the others within his grasp, but just because of an accident of birth he could not take part in what happened. And he’s one of the few who is unable to put a different face on this kind of rapture and call it an epidemic, like the rest of the world does to cover its shared incomprehension of the event.

The theme of innocence needing to go on beyond the time when adulthood sets in and takes away our dreams, our capacity for them, seems to be one that’s very dear to the author, and here she managed to convey it in a way that I found deeply moving, even in the unavoidable cruelty toward those who remained behind.

 

 

My Rating: 

Reviews

Short Story Review: NEITHER FRUIT NOR FLESH, by R.J. Barker

 

Some time ago a fellow blogger mentioned the FANTASY HIVE site, a place for all things related to speculative fiction in its many forms: news about upcoming books, movies and tv shows, interviews with authors, and so on.  Amid such bounty, it stood to reason that some short stories would find their place for our enjoyment, and the very first of these stories to be published on Fantasy Hive was Neither Fruit Nor Flesh, by R.J. Barker, author of the highly acclaimed Age of Assassins, one of the best debut novels of 2017.

Unexpectedly, it was not a fantasy-themed story – which shows how wrong we are when we believe an author could possess only one kind of ‘voice’ in their narrative set of skills: Neither Fruit Nor Flesh starts as a mainstream tale, and then step by step it slides seamlessly into horror.   The unnamed main character, a young woman slightly obsessed with her appearance and even more with cleanliness and healthy living, has an accident while she’s out running: her head turns at a sudden noise, she collides with some hedge plant on her path and a thorn pierces her face near one eye.

According to the doctors who treat her, there was no damage and once the eyepatch covering the injury will come off, she will be as good as new, but she starts to obsess about the extraneous material – the filthy material – covering the thorn that might have entered her body, contaminating its carefully maintained health.  What starts at this point seems to be a journey into hell fueled by a hygiene-fixated frame of mind, one that colors the young woman’s awareness so much that it ends up affecting her perceptions of herself and the world she lives in.

That is, until the story takes a very, very unexpected turn, one that ends in a scene that is as startling as it is horrifying, despite the equally weird build-up until that moment.  Horrifying and very well done.

My thanks to Fantasy Hive for this welcome gift, that I’m sure will be only the first of many.

 

My Rating: 

Reviews

Short Story Review: RED LIGHTS, AND RAIN, by Gareth L. Powell

 

(click on the link to read the story online)

 

This turned out to be a very strange story – and I mean ‘strange’ in a very positive way, of course – one that started as something with a somber mood: the opening brings us to a small pub in the Red Lights district of Amsterdam, where a woman is waiting for someone.  The description of the rainy night and the people moving past the pub’s windows on their various errands puts the background into sharp focus and  it quickly drew me in, thanks to what I like to call “cinematic quality” in writing.

Quite soon, though, the story’s atmosphere changes, and that happens when the waiting woman fingers the gun in her pocket – a gun that’s fifty years more advanced than anything else in this time zone” – and the man she’s waiting for appears.  She’s there to kill him, and he’s aware of the fact.

I’m not going to tell you more about Red Lights, and Rain, because it’s the kind of story that begs to be read with no foreknowledge: the only thing I feel comfortable sharing is the consideration underlying the narrative – what is a monster?  Is it the creature whose only motivation is to kill, the one that is driven to spill innocent blood, or is it the one that acted as creator and sent it on the path of destruction?   In the end I found myself echoing the words of the young man managing the pub, “you are a monster”. Indeed…

 

My Rating: