Reviews

Short Story Review: HOMECOMING, by Seanan Mcguire

Oh, what a surprise! Another Seanan McGuire story!  🙂
Bear with me, I do like her writing…

 

CLICK ON THE LINK TO READ THE STORY ONLINE

 

 

This was an incredibly weird story, one that had me puzzled until the very end when everything became clear – still the weirdness was deeply compelling and never for a moment I thought about not seeing it through until I understood what it was all about.

It all starts in a locker room where two groups of cheerleaders prepare for their show of support to their respective football teams: it’s the night of THE big game, and they are both nervous and excited. Nothing strange about it all, until the girls reach the playing field and we see that the players of both teams are wearing white, non-descript uniforms, nothing like the red and rust of the Falcons or the blue and silver of the Ravens, as the girls are wearing.   More stranger still, the players start wearing more proper uniforms only when their names are given, and as we learn that they are transported to the stadium on the moment of their death…

I’m loathe to say more, because this is the kind of story that must be read – and appreciated – with a minimum of prior information: what I can safely share is that it’s a deeply compelling story, one that drew me in like a spell, and let me tell you that it was a powerful one since it kept me glued to the pages despite the core theme, that of team sports, which holds little or no interest to me…

On hindsight, I believe that only someone as talented as Seanan McGuire, whose storytelling skills often border on the uncanny, could have taken hold of my imagination in this way and kept it there until the final, poignant reveal.

Quite a ride, indeed…

 

My Rating: 

Advertisements
Reviews

Short Story Review: EACH TO EACH, by Seanan McGuire

 

(click on the link to read the story online)

 

 

Those who have read “Drowning in the Deep” and/or “Into the Drowning Deep” by Seanan McGuire, will probably something more intriguing in this short story than readers who never encountered the author’s version of the mermaid myth. Still, I would recommend it to all her fans and even to those who have not sampled her works yet, because I believe it’s a good, engaging example of her storytelling style.

The premise for “Each to Each” is that global warming has caused water levels to rise so that dry land has become scarce and humanity turned to the sea to try and create a new living environment, while seeking as-yet-untapped resources in the depths.  To do so, and to be able to live underwater, some drastic physical changes are necessary, and a literally new breed of sailors is enlisted to survey the oceans in a way that baseline humans would be unable to: this marks the launch of Project Amphitrite, also known  as Mermaids for the Military – the recruits being all women.

The choice is made at first because the genetically mutated humans would be living in submarines, and women are statistically more tolerant of restricted living conditions, very rarely – if ever – resorting to violence when suffering from ‘cabin fever’. Yet with time another reason for the choice comes to the fore: these women are the pioneers for what might be the future of humanity, and to present that future in the best possible way, to convince ‘drylanders’ that they must accept the change, that inevitable choice must be given a pleasant face and a compelling look, no matter how that might clash with mutated physiology, or an individual’s discomfort:

 

“we’re living advertisements for the world yet to come […] still they see us as fantasies given flesh[…] How easy is it to fear something that you’ve been seeing in cartoons and coloring books since you were born?”

“All this work, all these changes to the sailors, and they still can’t change our required uniforms – not when we still have things that can be called “feet” or “legs” and shoved into the standard-issue boots or trousers.”

 

Yet such drastic changes as these women undergo – changes that bring along pain and suffering for the body and profound adjustments for the mind – lead to an inevitable alteration in outlook and mindset, and little by little these pioneers feel detached from baseline humanity and progressively unable to tolerate the surface world from which they come, or the rigid rules imposed on people that have little or no connection with the beings they used to be, or the organization that enlisted them – because, as the narrator says,  “the chain of command dissolves under the pressure of the crushing deep.”

I found this to be a deeply emotional tale, even though McGuire, as usual, keeps her narration very terse and never gives in to easy sentimentality: this is the kind of story that stays on my mind for a long time after I finish reading it, and one I will not forget to easily.

 

My Rating: 

Reviews

Short Story Review: ESCAPE TO OTHER WORLDS WITH SCIENCE FICTION, by Jo Walton

My continuing search for short stories to read between full-size books continues, and this time I’m not writing about stories I’ve read online, but about a few I found in an anthology (THE MAMMOTH BOOK OF BEST NEW SF – 23, edited by Gardner Dozois): the authors’ names I saw on the table of contents for this one were enough to pique my curiosity, either because I already read them in the past, or because they were writers I was eager to sample.   As it often happens with anthologies, there were good stories, so-and-so stories and works that did not “speak” to me at all, and I’m sorry to report that the overall impression was not a very encouraging one, despite the presence of many talented authors in the list.

Still, there were a few stories that did reach out and leave a lasting impression, and here is another one that truly caught my attention, and what’s more important made me think.

 

§

 

Jo Walton is an author who features prominently in my “must read” list, thanks to the enthusiastic comments about her works I read from other fellow bloggers, so I was thrilled at the opportunity of sampling her writing in this anthology: if this is a good example of her style and narrative voice, I know I will enormously enjoy her longer works.

In the alternate world depicted here, the Great Depression never truly ended and things went from bad to worse with time: even the events of World War II developed quite differently from established history, and the USA at the time in which the story runs are in a very sorry state indeed.

The tale is told in brief flashes alternating newspaper headlines and points of view from various characters, and the overall impression is that of a place where survival is often attained at great price: we see people being overworked under the threat of losing their employment; long queues at soup kitchens; news of strikes and insurrections being mercilessly dealt with, and there’s an often-repeated hint about people being taken away from the soup kitchens’ queues, loaded into trucks and disappearing forever.

Interspersed with these quite appalling scenes are the newspaper and television ads for miracle products like hair regrowth or for the new blockbuster movie from Hollywood, a quite creepy “The Reichsmarshall” starring Marlon Brando: these snippets of information convey more than anything the real state of affairs in this alternate world, one where a man might choose to take his lover not on a dinner date but to a political rally, an event sporting “…rallies and torch-lit parades and lynchings, beating up the blacks as scapegoats for everything. It didn’t help at all; it just made people feel better about things to have someone to blame”.

As an oasis of hope in this very bleak background, now and then a listing for a new science fiction novel or story pops up, the only apparent means of escape from this miserable, depressing world…

To say that this story made quite an impact on me would be a massive understatement.

 

My Rating: 

Reviews

Short Story Review: NO SOONER MET (An October Daye short story), by Seanan McGuire

Illustration -Old locomotive at night seeing moon and smoke

Readers of Seanan McGuire’s October Daye series all agree on their appreciation of Tybalt, King of Cats and – for some time now – Toby’s love interest, a relationship that has grown and matured over the course of several novels, developing in a delightfully organic way.  It was therefore a lovely surprise to discover this short story, available for free download on the author’s site, focusing on October and Tybalt’s first date.  You can find the story HERE (it’s the sixth down the page, and you can download it in various formats).

This being Seanan McGuire, you will not find a saccharine-laden tale of two people enjoying a romantic dinner, there will be no overly sweet, cringe-worthy dialogue between them, nor rainbows and unicorns and all the tropes that could apply to such a situation.

No, this dinner between Toby and the King of Cats, their first foray into the outside world since they acknowledged their mutual interest, is carried out on the strength of intelligent humor, on the interplay between two people who have been friends and allies before becoming lovers, who have learned to know each other’s strengths and weaknesses, and how to play them to mutual advantage.

Oh, and there’s an attempted assassination as well, but I guess that’s all part and parcel of who they are, too…

What I most enjoyed here was the juxtaposition of Toby’s more modern point of view and Tybalt’s centuries-old courtly attitude, a contrast made clearer by the fact that the story is told from his point of view (a welcome change from the Toby-centric narrative of the rest of the series).  Tybalt’s earnestness is both the product of his own character and of the times he was born in, and it results in a delightful speech pattern that lends more depth to the concepts he expresses.  There is a passage in the story that’s a good example of that, and is worth quoting:

“I won’t pretend that you do not have the capacity to break my heart. The fact that I would trust you enough to risk the breaking of it is a compliment […]  Would I sulk for a time, years perhaps? Yes. I am only a man. But I would return to you with my hat in my hands and ask that my friend take me back, even if my lover had journeyed forever into that strange and distant country known as ‘Memory,’ where never a living soul may go.”

Even someone as little romantically-inclined as myself can’t remain indifferent to such intense, and yet contained, emotions: in less skilled hands, the concepts expressed by Tybalt might have come out as stuffy or hyperbolic, but here they sound just… perfect.  As perfect and balanced as this story – a must-read for all Toby admirers.

What are you waiting for?

 

My Rating: 

Reviews

Short Story Review: SEVENTH FALL, by Alexander Irvine

My continuing search for short stories to read between full-size books continues, and this time I’m not writing about stories I’ve read online, but about a few I found in an anthology, THE MAMMOTH BOOK OF BEST NEW SF – 23 (edited by Gardner Dozois): the authors’ names I saw on the table of contents for this one were enough to pique my curiosity, either because I already read them in the past, or because they were writers I was eager to sample.   As it often happens with anthologies, there were good stories, so-and-so stories and works that did not “speak” to me at all, and I’m sorry to report that the overall impression was not a very encouraging one, despite the presence of many talented authors in the list.

Still, there were a few stories that did reach out and leave a lasting impression, and the one I’ve decided to showcase this week is one of them.

SEVENTH FALL  is a riveting tale of a post-apocalyptic Earth, one that was torn by a devastating meteor impact, while the survivors struggle on through the following lesser impacts. As civilization crumbles and the new generations grow with no notion of the world before the tragedy, the loss of human arts is the most tragic: the protagonist, Varner, is a sort of traveling performer, entertaining the members of the various communities he meets on his journeys with his memory of stories he learned from his father.

Over the years, he’s been focused on a peculiar mission, finding a whole copy of Shakespeare’s Hamlet, a play he used to act in with his father’s troupe, and one he possesses only in incomplete form.  Books are indeed a rare commodity in this torn world, not only because the various Falls (so the meteor impacts have been named) and their consequences, but also because of the Brotherhood of the Book, a sect of religious fanatics bent on burning every book in existence – and their owners too, if they don’t surrender the precious volumes.

It’s a sad, poignant story – and for a book lover like me also a terrifying one, because the thought of the wanton destruction of humanity’s literature is one that chills me to the bone – but there is a small ray of light at the end, a hint of defiance in the face of natural and man-made disasters that more than compensates for the overall sadness.

 

My Rating: 

Reviews

Short Story Review: TRAVELERS, by Rich Larson

 

This is a mix between a thriller and a science fiction story and one that reminded me strongly of the recent movie Passengers, starring Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt, to the point that I wondered if this short work had been used as a template for the movie script. The premise is quite similar, a sleeper ship and a woman waking up from suspended animation (here called ‘torpor’) to discover that the automated systems brought her out of sleep because of health concerns. When she checks the ship’s status she finds out that their destination is still 32 years away, and that she can’t access the medbay, either to check on her status or to attempt a return to hibernation, but also that she’s not alone: a man has built a nest of blankets in an airlock and he’s playing guitar.

The differences with the movie I mentioned start from here (including the fact that the ship is not on a pleasure cruise, but is rather carrying survivor from an unspecified event), and it’s worth exploring them, particularly where morals are concerned: in the movie, the decision of waking up another passenger, though it was a step not taken lightly, was ultimately condoned. The young woman’s rage about seeing her life and plans shattered because of a selfish act – and not matter the mitigating reasons, it was a selfish act – all but disappear when shared danger and mutual attraction manage to change her mind. This was of course a predictable outcome, because Hollywood rules would not have allowed anything else, but in this short story things are quite different: more realistic, for starters, far darker and much more terrifying.

Don’t expect friendly robot bartenders dispensing alcoholic beverages and easy wisdom, nor good-looking characters destined to a happy-ever-after: this is far closer to the truth of the given premise, and far more gruesome…

But worth a look…

You can read the story online here

 

 

My Rating:

Reviews

Short Story Review: SANCTUARY, by Allen Steele

Allen Steele is another author in the quite long list of writers I intend to read one of these days, so the opportunity offered by Tor.com’s short fiction section was too good to ignore: Sanctuary is the story of a colonization attempt, and its beginning, hinting at the mission of a sleeper ship headed toward an Earth-like planet near Tau Ceti, touched one of my favorite subjects, and piqued my interest.

 

 

SANCTUARY, by Allen Steele

(click on the link to read the story online)

 

The tale is told through archived documentation, in the form of ship’s logs, and immediately conveys the flavor of old history mixed with a bit of legend: when the twin ships Lindbergh and Santos-Dumont reach the target planet, the revived flight crew starts to collect data on what should become their new home. There are a few surprises stemming from direct observation, details that the automated probe sent scouting ahead did not record, like the thinner atmosphere and the higher gravity, but the officers keeping the logs seem to gloss over these difficulties, certain that physical training and medical supplements will help the colonists adapt, while the new generation born on-planet will certainly encounter less difficulties.

The biggest surprise, though, comes from the realization they will not be alone on Tau-Ceti-e, because clear traces of a civilization – albeit a somewhat primitive one – are unmistakable. Still, this does not faze the explorers, because the planet is so big they will find the perfect landing site that will keep the two groups apart, probably for a long time. Again, there is only optimism in these logs, and great enthusiasm once landfall is achieved – and here is where things start to go wrong, first in a very small way, and then in dramatic increments: there was one sentence from the logs that sounded an alarm bell for me, one that appeared like the warning it was once the reason for the troubles hitting the colonists became clear.

There is a fascinating dichotomy between the terse log entries describing the facts and the feeling of impending doom they inspire, and it’s one that carries the story forward in an enthralling way. If this is a good example of Allen Steele’s narrative style, I need to read more of his works, indeed…

My Rating: