October 19th, 2010

short stories

Catching Up

I've been reading piles and piles of stories lately in the final run up to the "end" of the year - the end of the story reading year, anyway!  Here is a grab bag of my favourites from the last several weeks:

"Forever Bound," Joe Haldeman, Warriors - a beautiful character study of military service and the psychological effects on a group of "mechanics" who regularly jack into each other's heads during their missions.  I was completely swept away by this story of love under strange, intense circumstances, though sadly felt quite ripped off at the abrupt ending which resolved things far too suddenly.

I'd also like to give a shout out for "The Girls from Avenger" by Carrie Vaughn, also in the Warriors anthology - it's a brilliant, gutsy WWII mystery based around a group of female pilots in wartime, a mysterious death and a cover up.  It's one of the best stories I've read this year, though not remotely spec fic and thus not LSS eligible.  But damn, it's good.

Speaking of Carrie Vaughn, I also enjoyed...

"Rooftops," by Carrie Vaughn, Songs of Love and Death - a superhero story about the Lois Lane archetype, the woman who is rescued by the hero and wants to find out what's behind the mask, while also dealing with a neglectful boyfriend who works late and is never around when you want him... Where this story works is that Charlotte is more than just "the girl" from any superhero story though she certainly represents that figure - she has a life of her own, as a successful playwright trying to capture superhero stories for the stage, and I liked the way we saw the world (a world where superheroes exist and everything happens in dramatic art panels) through her eyes.

I also quite enjoyed Jim Butcher's "Love Hurts" and Jacqueline Carey's "You, and You Alone" in Songs of Love and Death, though both stories felt overlong and I can't imagine anyone unfamiliar with Carey's Kushiel books would make much of her story, which is a prequel to her original trilogy.

"Troika," Alastair Reynolds - Godlike Machines - a powerful story of Russian cosmonauts told through clever, utterly misleading narrative.  The end of this one floored and impressed me.

"There's a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow/Now is the Best Time of Your Life," by Cory Doctorow - Godlike Machines - a strange, not entirely likeable story of cults, giant mecha and immortality, told through the eyes of a victim of eternal youth.  There's a sort of romance in it too, but it's squicky in all kinds of ways.  Don't ask me WHY I kept on reading to the end but it was mesmerising and thought-provoking along with the squick.

"The Taste of Night," Pat Cadigan, Is Anybody Out There? - a visceral piece from the point of view of a woman who believes she can perceive the impending first contact with aliens... unless that's a symptom of something else.

"The Other Graces," Alice Sola Kim, Asimovs July - a surreal, compelling piece about a Chinese-American girl struggling with the turning points of her life, with college acceptance and casual daily racism and her mentally ill father.

"The Sultan of the Clouds," Geoffrey A Landis, Asimovs Sept - a shiny shiny novella that conjures up floating cities on Venus and gleaming spaceships as well as some interesting political negotiations over money and an elaborate form of braided marriage.

"For Want of a Nail," Mary Robinette Kowal, Asimovs Sept - when the family AI is accidentally broken, a long-kept secret begins to unravel.  This is a clever story that suggests at what living on a massive spaceship might be like, and the societal choices that you might have to take for granted.

"Names for Water," Kij Johnson, Asimovs Oct/Nov - a lovely, elegant piece of flash fiction from one of the field's most lyrical writers.

"Sins of the Father," Sara Genge, Asimovs Dec - a powerful short piece about a merman on land, his courtship of a young Spanish senorita and the price he pays for taking her back to his people.  A lovely, sad romance with an added layer of social comment crunchiness.

"Fair Ladies," by Theodora Goss, Apex - a magnificent courtly romance of love and loss and the subtle question of where magic ends and real life begins. 

"Island Lake," E. Catherine Tobler, The Beastly Bride - a lovely, rich story which feels very much a homage to Christina Rossetti's Goblin Market (the names are a giveaway!) - about sisters and cousins and forbidden love in a lake and the losses of war.  Beautifully written.

"Map of Seventeen," Christopher Barzak, The Beastly Bride - the story of an Ohio farmgirl whose gay older brother comes back home, armed with a stack of confronting paintings and his beautiful boyfriend.  There's a strong message here about growing up and finding who you are, but also of the threat that hangs over anyone whose love could be characterised as forbidden.

"The Margay's Children," Richard Bowes, The Beastly Bride - a clever, thoughtful tale of the relationship between a man and his god-daughter, and how secrets from the past always come back to bite, especially if they're lodged in the DNA.  This is a lovely piece, with a quite powerful plot that sneaks up and scratches you right between the eyes.