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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.

Short Tuesday #17: “These Deathless Bones” by Cassandra Khaw

This week for Short Tuesday I left Nightmare Magazine aside and returned to Tor.com once again to read “These Deathless Bones” by Cassandra Khaw. You can read the short story here…

This short story details the relationship between a witch queen and her maniacal young stepson. The piece has evocative, beautiful writing and definitely inspires a sense of dread.

Bones pour from every crack in the walls and windows. Lengths of rodent ulna. A blanket of hedgehog spines, undulating down the tapestries. Vertebrae, joined even in death, slithering like snakes. The molars from his first kill, the fragments of its skull. Everywhere, bones, clacking their way across the curlicued tiles.

It has a definite sense that this is the start of a larger work of fantasy fiction, where we are being introduced to crucial characters—this sentiment is echoed by many of the commenters on the story, who wonder if there will be a forthcoming piece featuring more of the main character. I don’t exactly count that as a good thing, though, since the story feels incomplete. Plot events happen, but not in any sort of way that comes together into a cohesive, satisfying story—we’re just left as readers wondering if there’s more. Can you count something as a short story if all we are given is set up, an event, and some back story? The whole thing is more like a scene than an actual story.

So while I did enjoy the writing here, I ultimately felt that this story wasn’t very successful.


A small aside—if you haven’t seen the book trailer for Specter yet, check it out! Specter debuts July 7th, and the paperback and ebook are available for preorder at all major retailers and from Hidden Bower Press.

Short Tuesday #10: “You Know How the Story Goes” by Thomas Olde Heuvelt

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.

Late Tuesday #9: “Yiwu” by Lavie Tidhar

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.

Short Tuesday #8: “Mama Bruise” by Jonathan Carroll

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. 🙂

Short Tuesday #8: “Circus Girl, The Hunter, and Mirror Boy” by JY Yang

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.

Short Tuesday #7: “Blue Morphos in the Garden” by Lis Mitchell

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.

Short Tuesday #6: “meat+drink” by Daniel Polansky

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!