Tag Archives: short story

Short Tuesday #29: “Hungry Daughters of Starving Mothers” by Alyssa Wong

This past weekend I happened to be looking up Stoker Award nominees and finalists for the past few years and noticed that one of the award winners for short fiction was published in Nightmare Magazine! So you know me and my love of good old NM; I plowed through Alyssa Wong’s story in no time. You can read the short story here…

Kirkus called “Hungry Daughters of Starving Mothers” a take on a vampire story, but as I was reading I was feeling succubus vibes all the way; the MC literally sucks evil thoughts from her (usually male) victims. She normally meets her victims through Tindr, a touch that I just loved for whatever reason, maybe for the subverting of the common wisdom that it’s normally dangerous men you have to watch out for when it comes to online dating, rather than women.

Other things I enjoyed about this story included the touches of Chinese culture throughout the piece and especially the opening scene, which was just so unexpected in the best way possible. I will say, though, that this story did go a little off the rails for me in the final act. There’s a turn of events that felt a bit too much “betcha didn’t expect that” for my tastes. Nevertheless, I can see why this piece garnered attention for literary awards, and it’s definitely worth a read.

Short Tuesday #28: “Wilderness” by Letitia Trent

This week I returned to Nightmare Magazine to take a look at “Wilderness” by Letitia Trent. You can read it for free here…

I had a lot of fun with this short story! It concerns a group of people waiting for a delayed flight in a small airport who become increasingly concerned that dire secrets are being kept from them by the airport staff. The main character is traveling alone, is feeling sick, and gives off aloof vibes, which introduces a wedge between her and the other passengers. If you’re a fan of fiction with a paranoia/mob mentality focus (The Mist comes to mind), then this is probably a good read.

One thing I thought was interesting was the author’s decision to not employ quotation marks for any of the dialogue—perhaps to keep everything happening around the MC feel a bit more distant to her? Her character is of an observer, and I think that not using quotation marks perhaps gives readers a stronger feeling of being fully in the MC’s head. It’s a writing technique I might think about using myself in the future.

I do wish there had been more of an ending to the piece; like a lot of other short stories, “Wilderness” ends abruptly, and I didn’t find the conclusion satisfying. Nonetheless, I really enjoyed the author’s voice and all the character details.

Short Tuesday #27: “Sweet Dreams Are Made of You” by Merc Fenn Wolfmoor

This week I returned to Nightmare Magazine to take a look at “Sweet Dreams Are Made of You” by Merc Fenn Wolfmoor (which, by the way, has to be the coolest author name of all time). You can read it for free here…

I thoroughly enjoyed this short story! It takes the form of media paraphernalia (Wikipedia articles, news reports, TIME articles), interspersed with second person narration. The story centers around a mysterious VR video game called Vore. Me being the creepster I am, I knew that I recognized the word “vore” as having some kind of insidious definition, and how right I was: as per the all-knowing Internet, it’s a fetish involving eating others alive or being eaten alive yourself.

Yup.

As is the tradition with literature about video games, Vore doesn’t stay neatly contained within its code, but haunts players’ dreams. People are going missing, the game’s website and developers have gone dark on the world, and it’s just a fun, scary time all around. It’s been a while since I read any of the Ring books, but I was really reminded of those; they are much more sci-fi horror than the famous movie adaptation.

Anyway, “Sweet Dreams Are Made of You” is a great read for Halloween, and I highly recommend it.

Short Tuesday #27: “The Hundredth House Had No Walls” by Laurie Penny

This week I returned to Tor to take a look at “The Hundredth House Had No Walls” by Laurie Penny. You can read it for free here…

This was a fun and cute read about a bored king of the Country of Myth and Shadow who can summon anything into being with his magical storytelling abilities. As it turns out, having godlike powers with no limit make life quite boring for the king, as there’s no challenge or excitement to life, so he takes a trip to New York and falls in love with a woman there.

This story unexpectedly ended up being about character agency. Voice-wise, there is a lot of fourth-wall breaking and on-the-nose remarks about literary expectations both big and small.

So the King decided to do what kings do in these situations and go and wander the world in disguise as a normal, non-royal person. He took only a small entourage—just twenty Knights of Wild Notion, plus their ostlers, servants and squires most of whom, as is traditional, were actually girls dressed as boys.

If you like a bit of self-referential cheekiness in your fiction, this will probably be your jam; for others it will be a turn-off. I generally don’t like commentary like this (I’m not a fan of Good Omens or The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, for example), but this is a shorter work and the details were cute, so I found myself along for the ride. The combination of a fairy tale feel mixed with modern details was fun as well. Basically, I had a good time reading, but I have the inkling that this is the kind of story that’s love-it-or-hate-it.

Short Tuesday #26: “The Bleeding Maze: A Visitor’s Guide” by Kurt Fawver

This week I returned to Nightmare Magazine to read the short story “The Bleeding Maze: A Visitor’s Guide.” You can read it for free here…

True to its name, this story is written in an informal, guidebook style. The narrator never names themselves or gives personal details; really they just detail a mysterious maze that resides in the middle of the narrator’s small town which grows by the year. The maze features bleeding walls and presents those who enter it with off-kilter characters and eerie tasks. And of course, not all who enter the maze find an exit. Why enter at all? you might ask. As only suits a magical maze, this labyrinth has a mysterious pull on the townsfolk, tempting all resident teens to enter in what essentially becomes a local coming-of-age ritual.

This is the kind of story where suspension of disbelief only gets you so far. You can feel the author trying to pull us along towards believing, throwing in lines here and there to quell questions and preserve the mystery. One example: drone technology to fly over the maze for observation doesn’t work, for reasons. There are a lot of explanations like this to keep the story going.

You might be thinking, “Why don’t you go searching for those kids? Why don’t you run into that maze in parties and pull them out?” In the past, adults tried this, or so we’re told. They went in packing compasses and lights and maps and weapons—all the accoutrements of proper search and rescues. Despite their best efforts at navigation, however, the maze led them in endless circles and forced them to backtrack to its entrances when they used up their supplies. No matter how many times they subsequently resupplied and reentered and tried to solve the maze, they failed.

Nevertheless, it’s a fun read, and I did enjoy the accounts from the townsfolk who entered the maze. Some extended anecdotes from the local townspeople weren’t very convincing in terms of realistic dialogue… but frankly speaking, extended dialogue for the purposes of storytelling is a difficult thing to pull off if your aim is realism in how people actually talk. I’d say if you’re up for a short story that kind of feels like a hokey House of Leaves, then give this one a chance.

Short Tuesday #25: “Spore” by Amanda Downum

This week I returned to Nightmare Magazine to read the short story “Spore,” which was published in a female Lovecraftian horror anthology. You can read it for free here...

“Spore” was a quick read, and I was interested in the premise of a purported fungal infection that is influencing its hosts in strange and unanticipated ways. I’ve thought of including some sort of magical fungus in the sequel to The Gold in the Dark, so I’m always psyched to see tangential ideas in fiction.

The language in this piece is really beautiful. Settings are detailed in a way that makes the piece come to life.

Condensation drips through the weave of the metal table onto the pavement. People pass us on the sidewalk, bright summer colors and chattering voices. Hands touch arms to punctuate conversation; shoulders brush; a couple rests their hands in each other’s back pockets.

I do wish we’d been given more of a glimpse into the further aftermath of ingesting the mushrooms, especially in terms of further physical effects and mental urges. I also don’t get a Lovecraftian feel from the piece, despite the anthology it’s housed in.

Nevertheless, I liked the detail-work in the piece and the MC’s personal struggles with her own personality as it relates to belief, so I’d recommend this story.

Short Tuesday #24: “More Real Than Him” by Silvia Park

This week I returned to Tor.com and read “More Real Than Him” by Silvia Park. I’m loving how there are so many works that have been released lately with a Korean pop culture thread. (Hart & Seoul is waiting for me in my ARC pile as I type this!) You can read the short story for free here…

I really enjoyed this short story; it was a fun, quick read. The premise is that a young woman works as a programmer at a robotics company and drunkenly steals a robot from her company one night. She’s a mega-fan of a Korean actor; saddened by the news that he has enlisted in the mandatory two-year military service, she decides to craft the robot in his likeness, modeling its personality after the actor’s famous roles.

This is a great story for any fans of Black Mirror or Ex Machina. It delves into the endless philosophical questions revolving around AI and robot-human relationships. At what point is AI living? How do humans stay “socialized” in a world where robots are an easy band aid for companionship? What’s the fallout when robots are indistinguishable from humans? And so on and so forth.

The story flowed well, with some really lyrical language, and the underlying themes of the piece are fascinating. I’d recommend it for anyone who has an interest in Asian culture and sci-fi.

Short Tuesday #23: “To Build a Fire” by Jack London

This week I took a detour from the usual weird short fiction and went back to a classic. I think the last time I read “To Build a Fire” was in middle school English—I have distinct memories of some of the kids in class thinking the expression “like a chicken with its head cut off” was just hilarious. You can read the short story for free here…

I really enjoyed this short story! If you’ve never read it, the premise is that a man and his dog are traveling through the Yukon in temperatures of seventy-five below. The MC is quite arrogant, and his actions lead him to have problems starting a fire. It’s a classic man versus nature tale, where you’re just waiting for the foolhardy MC to get his comeuppance. I already knew what was going to happen, so basically just spent the first bit waiting for everything to go to pieces.

Really I read this because I’ve been working on my WIP, and the MC confronts a dangerous blizzard early on in the book. It’s nice to see how a master storyteller like London tackles a similar topic, in terms of the observations and details. It was also just a nostalgic read; this story may be more than a hundred years old, but it definitely holds up, despite one instance of racial language that would never fly in the here and now. Just as I’m not going to dismiss Lovecraft for the infamously named cat in “The Rats in the Walls,” so too am I not going to dismiss London. Hope that makes sense, though others might feel differently.

Anyway, I recommend this short story and had a fun time reading it, even though it’s very different from the other short fiction I’ve been reading lately. It’s the kind of short story that really sticks with you once you’ve read it, so for that I can only give it five stars. 🙂

Short Tuesday #22: “Waiting on a Bright Moon” by JY Yang

This week I went back to Tor.com to take a look at another short story by JY Yang. I read another short story by Yang earlier this year and LOVED it, so was very interested to read something else by this author. You can read the short story for free here…

So some of you may not know this, but I majored in Chinese language and literature in college and I’ve actually spent a lot of time in China. I no longer have a day job that requires me to use Mandarin, so I’m growing rustier by the day, but suffice it to say that I know a lot about the Chinese language and culture. Lo and behold, this story has a lot of Chinese songs and poems interspersed throughout, along with many details that draw upon Chinese culture, so this added a fun element to the piece for me. I will say, though, that some translations for the Chinese text could go a long way in bridging the cultural gap for an English-speaking audience. I can understand not including a translation for a language with many English cognates, such as Spanish or French, but Chinese is decidedly not that.

I ultimately had a difficult time connecting with this story. It’s another one of those short stories where there is a ton of worldbuilding, but in the “thrown in the deep end of the pool” style. In media res-style details are tough enough in longer works, let alone in short fiction. All the details, with very little seeded explanation, made the whole narrative feel ungrounded. I also think this would be a doubly challenging story for readers who do not have any sort of background in Chinese; there are no translations provided for the Chinese text, and many Chinese cultural and historical touchpoints are thrown in without explanation. For example:

Only the starmages have the ability to defeat the Starmage General. But their suits have a limiter that stops them from performing the Seventy Two Transformations, and that is under the Starmage General’s control.

In the above quote, this was the first time I was hearing anything about the “Seventy Two Transformations.” In fact, this is the only time the transformations are mentioned in the entire story. However, a quick Google search revealed that the transformations are performed by a character in Journey to the West, a Chinese literary classic. I happen to think it’s cool that these referential details are included, but a little seeded explanation or context would be appreciated.

I also don’t understand why the author chose to put the whole piece in second POV. It’s a bold move that didn’t seem to add much to the story, and I’m curious to know the rationale behind the decision.

Whew, Short Tuesday has gone on a bit longer than I anticipated! To sum up, this was an interesting read, especially for someone with an interest in Chinese language and culture, but there were many aspects that took away from the story as a whole.

Short Tuesday #21: “A Forest, or A Tree” by Tegan Moore

This week I returned to Tor.com to take another look at their original short fiction. “A Forest, or a Tree” by Tegan Moore caught my eye—I mean, how could it not, with that frightful (in a good way) illustration. You can read the short story for free here…

This short story was a fun ride, following a group of girls hiking in the woods. Predictably, one of the girls falls sick and spooky things start happening: the GPS equipment is malfunctioning, a creature is spotted in the woods, one of the girls starts hearing strange noises, et cetera. It’s a story everyone’s seen a million times before, but there’s a reason for that: it’s a universally spooky tale that takes hold of your imagination.

I do think that the author tried to incorporate a bit too many threads into the story. There’s a barely-explored racial element, as well as a shallow conversation about memes and copypasta serving as modern myth. The story also ends pretty abruptly just as circumstances have changed and events are coming to a head—I wanted a more fulfilling conclusion. There were also some small niggling details that brought me out of the story—a character saying twice that her friend needs to stop reading so many “subreddits,” for example (instead of “Reddit posts,” which is how any actual Reddit user would phrase this). So these things bring the story down to three stars for me, but I still found it a fun read.