I went back to Tor again this week for another look at their short fiction, since most of it is just so damn good! “You Know How the Story Goes” was a fast, fun read; you can read it for yourself here…
This story feels like a more polished version of r/nosleep stories; the voice coupled with the monstrous elements lend the piece a distinctly creepypasta vibe—and that’s not a bad thing! There’s so much to love about the horror that’s been birthed from Internet culture, whether that’s Ted the Caver, Petscop, or The Interface Series. (Hmm, maybe I should devote an article sometime to an introduction of my favorite Internet horror/weird stuff.) In any case, you could easily expect to read this story on r/nosleep, especially given the multiple references to Reddit. In fact, if you can’t tell from the title, this short story is meant to feel like something familiar—like the ghost stories and horror memes that rattle around in the back of your subconscious, rearing up on dark nights or when you’re deep in the back of the basement.
So though the piece is nothing distinctly new, I don’t think anyone should mind that, since it’s a gripping story, with great visual descriptions that are never too much or too little.
There was something wrong with these fingers. They were not longer than before, but still, they looked like they were. Long and curved. Cold-cold blue. Almost dripping. And I noticed the tips had no nails. What had happened to her nails?
Some might complain about a slow start, but I liked the pacing; my favorite horror always starts with a slow creep. The ending was also satisfying—a “this happened to me, so it could happen to you” resolution that felt just right. If you are in the mood for creepy, I’d really recommend this one.
I feel a bit like Jenna Marbles right now. “We-put-out-new-videos-every-Wednesday-slash-Thursday-SUBSCRIBE!!!!” Sometimes life happens, and you run a little late. This week it was health stuff… But I’m here now and ready to rumble. 🙂
So this week I returned yet again to Tor.com to check out their original fiction. I was intrigued by this story by Lavie Tidhar, since I have a passion for and academic background relating to the Chinese language and culture, so “Yiwu” it was. You can read the short story here…
I liked this story… okay. I appreciated the focus on environmental details in the story, but there were just so many of them that it gave an overall jumbled effect.
The air smelled of hot leather, shoe polish, fried garlic, knockoff Chanel No. 5 perfume, uncollected garbage, frangipani and the recycled air blown out of a thousand air conditioners.
Used a bit more sparingly and with greater care, these details could have done a great job setting the scene (I’m thinking specifically of Haruki Murakami, who’s an expert at this sort of thing), but here the narrative felt cluttered by details that gave the impression they were only there to grant exotic flair.
The sparse plot, too, I was only halfway invested in. Once we got to Esham visiting the lottery office, I was getting a bit excited, since it seemed like we were going to get a chance to peek at the wizard behind the curtain. I was definitely wondering if everything thus far was some sort of virtual reality… and maybe it is? But the author shields us from garnering any further truths, which just left me a bit frustrated. I wanted more of a concrete look at the realities of this mysterious world, but the simple ending just left me a bit annoyed. So I’ll give this three stars for some nice imagery and the tantalizing feeling of being just about to see the cogs that are making this world tick… But overall I just wanted more substance.
I sound like a broken record: this week I again returned to Tor to peruse their original fiction! This week’s Short Tuesday contender is a short story by Jonathan Carroll published just a few days ago. You can read it here… FYI that there will be spoilers in this review.
I enjoyed this story, both in terms of voice, pacing, and plot. I thought it was interesting how there are no names for any of the main characters—perhaps this is author trying to emphasize the soul inhabiting the body rather than the body itself? Reincarnation is central to the plot, so if we were juggling names I think that would take away from the message. Also want to add that somehow this is not the first “reincarnation in animal form” work of fiction I’ve read this year! If you like this sort of story, perhaps give The Hungry Ghost a try.
The ending, too, came as a pleasant surprise. At first I was all, oh, their dog’s come home. But if we’re to take what the female MC says as accurate, I think the most logical conclusion is that the other dogs in the neighborhood have come to take out the main characters, so that the secret knowledge they’ve garnered stays secret. It was an unexpected end, perfect for a last boo.
Ooh, I’m really liking all these Tor short stories! And it seems there’s a big backlist and that they publish new works regularly, so I have a ton of great content for more Short Tuesdays. 🙂
Again this week I returned to Tor.com to peruse their short fiction, and boy am I glad I did. No need to mince words here—this story was fantastic from start to finish, and eeeee, this author has an entire trilogy out as well as more short fiction, and wow wow wow wow wow, did I love this. (Also, can we take a second to appreciate the excellent artwork that accompanies each Tor story? Maybe there’s something to be said about a lack of a book cover being one reason why many readers overlook short fiction.) You can read the short story here…
So everything about this story is great—I have literally zero complaints. (Hell must be freezing over, huh?) The language was perfect: appropriately poetic when it needed to be, sometimes experimental, sometimes matter-of-fact. Plot-wise, we’re thrown into a near-futuristic world much like our own but with witches and spirits, etc. (Sidenote that all these ghouls and ghosties seem to have only existed for twenty years, and I want to know moooooooore in the best way possible. Can we get some longer fiction set in this world? Pretty please?) Yang’s voice keeps us feeling grounded without relying on an info-dump slog, and the main character right away feels like someone we can root for. And our MC has a problem—she’s woken up and every mirrored surface shows not her reflection, but instead a dude she’s aptly named Mirror Boy. She used to see Mirror Boy back in the day as well, but then he went away as her life became more stable. Now he’s back, with some pretty bad news: a serial killer is on the hunt for the MC, ready to make her his latest victim.
Also there’s some very cool ocean-based mythology woven throughout.
Does this seem like a lot for a short story? Don’t worry, I promise that everything wraps up at the end beautifully. Please, read this, then join me in feeling that achey, oh no it’s over feeling. Misery loves company.
This week I returned to Tor.com for another look at their original fiction. Lis Mitchell’s “Blue Morphos in the Garden” was published just a few days ago, and the beautiful illustration and the promise of magical realism was enough to hook me. You can read the short story right here!
I liked this story quite a bit! It centers around death, tradition, and what it means to be part of a family—don’t want to give anything away, but the family members in the story have a particular heritage relating to death. Every sentence felt purposeful and necessary, and the language itself was beautiful and evocative.
The outer edge of the wing resembles split wood with whorled knots, but each butterfly unfolds itself into a slice of fluttering blue sky and dark stormshadow. Open—sky, closed—wood.
I will say that I liked the story from start to finish, but felt that the opening imagery was the most compelling, I think because after that readers basically have a sense of what’s going on. I don’t want to know all the ins-and-outs with magical realism—would rather preserve a hearty dose of ambiguity. I also thought that Dash, the MC’s partner, was a very weak character personality-wise, leaving me to wonder what the MC sees in him—they seemed very ill-matched, not just because they don’t see eye to eye on the one issue central to the story. I couldn’t help wondering if it weren’t for their child whether they would still be together.
So some interesting things to contemplate while reading this story, coupled with a lot of beautiful imagery and sentence-craft. If magical realism is your thing, definitely give this story a shot.
This week I ventured onto Tor.com to take a look at some of their original short fiction, since the last couple short stories I read in the S.O.S. anthology haven’t been so impressive. I had no idea that Tor even offered original fiction on its website—thanks to the lovely people at Spells, Space & Screams for turning me onto that! I’d heard some positive mention of “meat+drink” previously, so that story jumped out at me immediately. Read it here for free if you’d like…
I really enjoyed this story!!! I mean, it’s vampires, so what’s new, right? 😛 But actually, everything feels new in this story. These are not your typical vampires, just close enough to the edge of humanity to make them sexy. They do not sparkle or glitter—they are instead predatory meat, the memories of their previous lives addled by the vampiric transition, on the hunt for flesh (that’s us humans). (Side note that I haven’t seen the word “flesh” dropped so many times since I read the Interface series by _9MOTHER9HORSE9EYES9.)
It’s really the tone of the story that sets it apart from other vampire fiction, though. The MC has a matter-of-fact, this horror happened then that horror happened type of voice, leading us steadily through a few days in the life of these vampires. It’s sort of a paranormal slice of life, a window into what it’s like to be a monster living in the Baltimore slums.
Oh, and there’s no capitalization, because capitalization is a human construct, I suppose? Or something. I do think the stylistic choice aids in making the narration feel flatter—a good thing for this story. Everything’s a good thing when it comes to this story. Love it—so go read it!
This is the third work I’ve read from the short story anthology S.O.S.: Chilling Tales of Adventure on the High Seas. The text can be found here if you want to read it. Just so you know, I found a couple typos in the Field and Stream edition (pretty sure “goulash” is meant to read “ghoulish” lol) but it’s all comprehensible. FYI that there are spoilers down below…
This was another short story that I was just so-so about. I’m not sure exactly when this was first published, but it reads old. I noticed the author relying a ton on adjectives, as if with just one more word the readers will at last fully comprehend how scary this shark was. But I almost always find that heaping on the adjectives ends up taking away from the writing. Give us some run-ons or fragments instead, or maybe a cool simile. We all like a cool simile, right? But instead we just got a ton of vocab. Goulash, indeed.
Speaking of sharks, that’s all the plot was: we were fishing, and there was a shark. A different author could make that amazing, but given that the writing itself wasn’t wowing me, I had a hard time getting swept up in this scene piece. “Death in the Moonlight” sounds cool, but as far as making sharks scary (you know, sharks—those primitive blood-loving death machines with sharp teeth), this didn’t do it for me.
For this week’s Short Tuesday, I switched away from the Kelly Link collection to a short story anthology called S.O.S.: Chilling Tales of Adventure on the High Seas. This is a pretty obscure anthology, with only one Goodreads rating and two Amazon reviews, so I’m excited to see it passes muster! Sometime soon I’ll tell you how I came to have this book in my collection… but not today.
The first story I read in the anthology was Stephen King’s “Survivor Type.” It’s a grisly tale about a surgeon with copious amounts of heroin marooned on a barren island, but I unfortunately can’t find a legal copy to link to, so I don’t want to dwell on it overlong—just know that I highly recommend it, but readers should have a strong stomach. 😉
The second story I read was Edgar Allan Poe’s “Manuscript Found in a Bottle.” It’s been forever since I read any Poe, so I was excited to jump in, but pretty much from the start I didn’t enjoy this story—heretical, I know, since Poe is an American literary legend. I found the story’s language too dense to be enjoyable (though now I know what simoom means!), and the plot was also… nonexistent? The story is more a description of an immense, fantastical ship than anything else. I can see a tie to modern weird fiction, though, which is unsurprising given that Poe spearheaded the movement.
One last interesting thing to note is that some critics believe Poe meant this story to satirize classic sea tales. Maybe that’s one reason it wasn’t working for me, since I don’t normally read sea tales, let alone older ones. I’m not writing off Edgar Allan Poe, of course—just simply don’t think “Manuscript Found in a Bottle” is the tale for me.
This week I read the third short story in Kelly Link’s Stranger Things Happen, “The Specialist’s Hat.” You can read the short story here… FYI that there are vague spoilers in this review.
Now that I’m three stories into the Kelly Link book, I’m starting to get a pretty good grasp of her style. I went into this anticipating I’d have little to no concrete answers at the end of this story, and I was right, but again I was left with that eerie, uncomfortable, awful things are happening in the background feeling that Link does so well.
One thing I did notice was the emphasis on the concrete, in particular the constant numbers throughout the text. The chandelier has “exactly 632 leaded crystals shaped like teardrops,” the house has eight chimneys, the twin main characters’ game has three rules. (A few things in the story even smell like Chanel No. 5.) And then there’s the difference between “gray” and “grey,” and “dead” and “Dead.” It feels like everything that is happening to the girls is so vague and creepy that they rely (subconsciously or otherwise) on numbers, definitions, and rules to define their slippery reality.
Overall, I can’t say I loved this story; I have the sense that it’s well-written, just not for me, or maybe not for me right now. It might have to do with the fact that I kept getting interrupted while reading, so I had to read the story in a very fractured way. In any case, I think I’m going to set down Stranger Things Happen for a week or two and try something else for next Tuesday.
This week I read the second short story in Kelly Link’s Stranger Things Happen, “Water Off a Black Dog’s Back.” You can read the short story here… FYI that there are vague spoilers in this review.
I enjoyed this short story, though I do think I connected more with last week’s “Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose.” I assume that the name of the short story is tied to the idiom “like water off a duck’s back,” meaning that harsh critique doesn’t have any effect on someone, but I’m struggling to connect that idiom to the story. Perhaps something to do with the black dogs’ constant, menacing presence? Or the MC’s steadfast commitment to his clearly odd relationship?
I think the thing I liked most about this story was the penetrating feeling of dread. You can just feel that the MC, Carroll, has embroiled himself in something bad, and you’re left waiting for the other shoe to drop. (My, we’re all about idioms today!) This is another story built more on mood than plot; don’t expect much to make sense, but if you want to read something vaguely uncomfortable and foreboding, I’m getting the sense that Kelly Link is your author.
One thing I’m wondering having read these two Link stories thus far is whether magical realism necessitates a more passive MC. Both MCs in these stories do things, but they’re not exactly the questioning type. Strange things happen (har har), and the characters just sort of mosey along through life, taking the oddities as they come. I haven’t read much magical realism save for Murakami, so it’s hard to say for certain, but I think it’s a trend that I’m noticing.