Friday, January 22, 2016

Four-Star Books Read in 2015: Short Stories


21st Century Dead: A Zombie Anthology edited by Christopher Golden: The Stoker-award winning editor of the acclaimed, eclectic anthology The New Dead returns with 21st Century Deadand an all-new lineup of authors from all corners of the fiction world, shining a dark light on our fascination with tales of death and resurrection... with ZOMBIES! The stellar stories in this volume includes a tale set in the world of Daniel H. Wilson’sRobopocalypse, the first published fiction by Sons of Anarchycreator Kurt Sutter, and a tale of love, family, and resurrection from the legendary Orson Scott Card. This new volume also includes stories also from other award-winning and New York Times bestselling authors, such as: Simon R. Green, Chelsea Cain, Jonathan Maberry, Duane Swiercyznski, Caitlin Kittredge, Brian Keene, Amber Benson, John Skipp, S. G. Browne, Thomas E. Sniegoski, Hollywood screenwriter Stephen Susco, National Book Award nominee Dan Chaon, and more!

Some really good stuff here, most with a bit of an unusual take on the zombie trope. Biters by Mark Morris and Carousel by Orson Scott Card in particular were remarkable - I have a feeling I will track down Carousel and read it repeatedly -  and Jonathan Maberry's Jack and Jill was more mature than anything else I've read by him. As with the best zombie stories, these are mostly more sad than frightening. 

Geektastic: Stories from the Nerd Herd edited by Holly Black: Acclaimed authors Holly Black (Ironside) and Cecil Castellucci(Boy Proof) have united in geekdom to edit short stories from some of the best selling and most promising geeks in young adult literature: M.T. Anderson, Libba Bray, Cassandra Clare, John Green, Tracy Lynn, Cynthia and Greg Leitich Smith, David Levithan, Kelly Link, Barry Lyga, Wendy Mass, Garth Nix, Scott Westerfield, Lisa Yee, and Sara Zarr.


Overall really enjoyable. Favourite was Quiz Bowl Antichrist - best snapshot of a moment in an adolescent boy's coming of age that I've read in some time. Some stories were really sweet and funny, some used quite a loose interpretation of 'geek', a couple were forgettable and I found the ending of the Dino Girl one repulsive and mystifying; I talked about that in this post

Fire: Tales of Elemental Spirits by Robin McKinley and Peter Dickinson: 5 tales set from prehistoric to present, market to dragon academy. 
1 First Flight - a boy and pet unexpectedly ride a dragon
2 Hellhound - stars a mysterious dog in a graveyard showdown
3 Fireworm - a young man must defend his clan from a creature
4 Salamander Man - a slave saves his village with a fiery spell 
5 Phoenix - a girl's new friend is older than he appears


Pretty sure I bought this as a bargain book at Indigo and it sat around until I picked it up randomly on a Saturday. I loved all the stories except Fireworm, which was fine, just didn't grab me as much - it's more a rewritten myth than a proper narrative. They were whimsical, charming, and suffused with a spirit of kindness and wonder. I had read both authors before, liked them, and not realized that they were married, which is neither here nor there but it always does give me a happy fuzzy feeling when two writers I like live together.  The Goodreads reviews were kind of funny - a lot of people loved Dickinson's stories and hated McKinley's, and then the opposite, and seemed to take it for granted that everyone else would feel the same. Phoenix was a beautiful story - quiet and slow-brewing, sweet and melancholy. Some people find that kind of thing boring. Which is fine, everyone is entitled to an opinion, just as I'm entitled to opine that if you find this story boring you very probably have a soul that resembles an onion that's been left much too long in the onion bin - sort of withered and black, melted into the wood a little, and a bit smelly. No offense. Hellhound is great too, especially for lovers of dogs and mythology, and First Flight has dragons! 

The Ones That Got Away by Stephen Graham Jones: These thirteen stories are our own lives, inside out. A boy s summer romance doesn't end in that good kind of heartbreak, but in blood. A girl on a fishing trip makes a friend in the woods who s exactly what she needs, except then that friend follows her back to the city. A father hears a voice through his baby monitor that shouldn't be possible, but now he can t stop listening. A woman finds out that the shipwreck wasn't the disaster, but who she s shipwrecked with. A big brother learns just what he will, and won't, trade for one night of sleep. From prison guards making unholy alliances to snake-oil men in the Old West doling out justice, these stories carve down into the body of the mind, into our most base fears and certainties, and there s no anesthetic. Turn the light on if you want, but that just makes for more shadows.

Extremely creepy and disturbing, and very literate. 

Under My Hat: Tales From the Cauldron edited by Jonathan Strahan: It's a juvenile collection, and as always the quality varies, but there are some really charming entries here. Diana Peterfreund's is another magical dog story, which apparently is a genre of which I heartily approve. Garth Nix's is a great story about magic, class division and standing up for yourself. Peter S. Beagle and Ellen Klages are uniformly kick-ass awesome, as usual. And Margo Lanagan's story is great, as I always find her when she's accessible (sometimes she's not). Many reviewers are united in their pissed-offedness at finding that the Neil Gaiman entry is a poem. Not a tale. A poem. I share their disappointment. Poems are fine and all, but not instead of tales.


This End is Now (Apocalypse Triptych #2) edited by John Joseph Adams: Famine. Death. War. Pestilence. These are the harbingers of the biblical apocalypse, of the End of the World. In science fiction, the end is triggered by less figurative means: nuclear holocaust, biological warfare/pandemic, ecological disaster, or cosmological cataclysm. 
But before any catastrophe, there are people who see it coming. During, there are heroes who fight against it. And after, there are the survivors who persevere and try to rebuild. 
THE APOCALYPSE TRIPTYCH will tell their stories. 
Edited by acclaimed anthologist John Joseph Adams and bestselling author Hugh Howey, The Apocalypse Triptych is a series of three anthologies of apocalyptic fiction. THE END IS NIGH focuses on life before the apocalypse. THE END IS NOW turns its attention to life during the apocalypse. And THE END HAS COME explores life after the apocalypse. 
THE END IS NIGH is about the match. THE END HAS COME is about what will rise from the ashes. THE END IS NOW is about the conflagration. 

Loved this so much. I had the first volume (The End is Nigh) on my Kindle with this, and I would flip back and forth rereading the first stories and then reading the second stories in all the story trilogies. I could probably almost recite Spores by Seanan McGuire from memory at this point, and Fruiting Bodies was a kick-ass follow-up. I read Hugh Howey's second story and STILL didn't realize until the third one that these stories fit puzzle-piece-like at different moments in his Silo Saga. Annie Bellet followed up Goodnight Moon (awesome) with, you guessed it, Goodnight Stars. Nancy Kress's Angels of the Apocalypse is a really interesting but sad and frustrating follow-up to Pretty Soon the Four Horsemen Are Going to Come Riding Through - and this just made me realize that I want to say that even though I didn't love the whole third volume of this triptych, the third story in Kress's cycle was amazing, the perfect far-future ending to her story of a single mother's discovery of a DNA mutation that sees a generation of children born with an inability to display violence or aggression, even when threatened or provoked. 

Wastelands 2: More Stories of the Apocalypse edited by John Joseph Adams: Wastelands 2 - More Stories of the Apocalypse is a new anthology of post-apocalyptic literature from some of the most renowned science fiction and fantasy authors in the field today including George RR Martin, Hugh Howey, Junot Diaz, David Brin and many more.
Featuring stories from a roster of the most recognized and celebrated names within the science fiction, fantasy, and horror genres, Wastelands 2 - More Stories of the Apocalypse is an eclectic mix of tales that explores famine, death, war, pestilence, and harbingers of the biblical apocalypse.

I have written not a single word about this anywhere. Usually I can fake it by skimming other Goodreads reviews to remind myself about the stories. This time I am drawing a total blank. I apologize. I do remember Patient Zero by Tananarive Due, a writer I almost always find intriguing and satisfying to read - it's a heartbreaking story with a naive narrator, a child who is in isolation as the rest of the world succumbs to some kind of plague. There was also an excerpt of The Postman by David Brin, which I'd say was much better than the movie because, Kevin Costner, but then I remembered that I actually kind of liked the movie, except the unbelievably cheesy, tone-deaf, unnecessary ending. Also, I clearly need some kind of intervention for people with an unhealthy dependence on apocalypse literature. I solemnly swear that I am not preparing for the rapture. 

Other Worlds Than These edited by John Joseph Adams: What if you could not only travel any location in the world, but to any possible world?
We can all imagine such “other worlds”—be they worlds just slightly different than our own or worlds full of magic and wonder—but it is only in fiction that we can travel to them. From The Wizard of Oz to The Dark Tower, from Philip Pullman'sThe Golden Compass to C. S. Lewis's The Chronicles of Narnia, there is a rich tradition of this kind of fiction, but never before have the best parallel world stories and portal fantasies been collected in a single volume—until now.

Time was I would never pass up an anthology edited by Ellen Datlow. This is still true, and if you like genre short stories, never pass up a good Kindle deal or Bargain Book price for a John Joseph Adams-edited anthology either. Between parallel worlds and portal fantasies, I probably generally prefer the latter, because I'm not a really a sword-and-sorcerer-type fantasy fan, but I enjoyed all of these, and I kind of liked the way Adams asks the reader to read them in the order they come, since they were chosen to complement each other. I had read Stephen King's Mrs. Todd's Shortcut before, of course, but not for years, and it was fun reading it again ("if you just kind of fold the map..."). I had also read Magic for Beginners by Kelly Link, but you never really get to the bottom of a Kelly Link story with just one reading, or two, or five or thirteen, and, well, this one's about an otherworldly television show about a magical library, so you do the math. 
Seanan McGuire's Crystal Halloway and the Forgotten Passage WRECKED ME FOREVER. Ana's tag by William Alexander was a great combination of dangerous faerie realms and inner city graffiti and gang activity, with family loyalty thrown in. Moon Six made me all panicky - the getting-stuck-in-an-alternate-world shtick has a stranglehold on my psyche. Maybe I was born somewhere else. And Signal to Noise, where if you lose a loved one you can travel to an alternate world and see an alternate version of them to say goodbye, which, this should surprise no one, IS A TERRIBLE IDEA. 

Defy the Dark edited by Saundra Mitchell: The seventeen original stories in Defy the Dark, an eerie, mind-bending YA anthology, could only take place in darkness. 
Open the pages and discover: A creepy guy who stares too long. The secrets of the core of the earth. Dreams of other people’s lives. A girl who goes mad in the darkness. Monsters in Bavaria. A generational spaceship where night doesn’t exist. And other mysteries and oddities. 
The contributors to the enthralling collection are: Sarah Rees Brennan, Tessa Gratton, Rachel Hawkins, Christine Johnson, Valerie Kemp, Malinda Lo, Myra McEntire, Saundra Mitchell, Sarah Ockler, Jackson Pearce, Aprilynne Pike, Dia Reeves, Beth Revis, Carrie Ryan, Jon Skovron, Courtney Summers, and Kate Espy, winner of the Defy the Dark new author contest.

The biggest disappointment in this collection was Stillwater by Valerie Kemp, because it was SUPER FREAKING AWESOME and when I went to then read everything else she's written I found out that she's actually an indie filmmaker and this super freaking awesome story is the first freaking thing she's published, which is unfair on so. many levels. I Gave You My Love By the Light of the Moon by Sarah Rees Brennan was also wonderful, an original, relatable mash-up of werewolf and vampire stuff, because SRB is magical and can do no wrong. The first story of the anthology, Sleepstalk, is a nice bit of bait-and-switch creep to set the tone. I didn't really like the Beth Revis story, probably because it was set in the universe of the book I didn't like. Over all this was high quality, with very few let-downs.

Slasher Girls and Monster Boys edited by April Genevieve Tucholke: A host of the smartest young adult authors come together in this collection of scary stories and psychological thrillers curated by Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea’s April Genevieve Tucholke.
Each story draws from a classic tale or two—sometimes of the horror genre, sometimes not—to inspire something new and fresh and terrifying. There are no superficial scares here; these are stories that will make you think even as they keep you on the edge of your seat. From bloody horror to supernatural creatures to unsettling, all-too-possible realism, this collection has something for any reader looking for a thrill.
Fans of TV’s The Walking Dead, True Blood, and American Horror Story will tear through tales by these talented authors:

Holy shit this was good! And a little bewildering, because to my way of thinking it's YA only in that a lot of the writers publish YA. Or maybe it's just older YA - because fans of The Walking Dead, True Blood and American Horror Story does not scream fifteen-year-old fan-base to me, unless we're talking about my particular overly-permissive gave-up-a-while-ago whatever-just-don't-wake-me-up-when-you-have-nightmares okay-fine-you-can-sleep-with-me-for-one-more-night household, shut up. 
There's a host of front-and-centre kick-ass female protagonists, strong and confident and much smarter than they're given credit for - I wanted Dahlia from Jonathan Maberry's Fat Girl With a Knife to be my new BFF and not just to keep me alive for more than four days when the zombie apocalypse comes. In the Forest Dark and Deep by Carrie Ryan OMG, who knew Alice in Wonderland could get even more creepy and disturbing? And in Hide and Seek by Megan Shepherd, Annie, no big deal, just takes on Death, doesn't even break a nail. I really liked this one. I might buy a copy. Just so much good.

The Anatomy of Curiosity (The Curiosities #2) by Maggie Stiefvater, Brenna Yovanoff and Tessa Gratton: The follow-up to the acclaimed title The Curiosities: A Collection of Stories by Maggie Stiefvater, Tessa Gratton, and Brenna Yovanoff.
In an unassuming corner of Brooklyn, a young woman learns to be ladylike, to love context, and to speak her mind from a very curious sort of tutor. 
In a faraway land convulsed by war, a young soldier hears the desert’s curious hum as he disarms bombs with the person he doesn’t know how to love. 
In a place so shriveled by drought that any drowning is a curiosity, a young writer tries again and again to tread water beneath the surface of a vast and unusual sea. 
Three new stories—complete with commentary on the creative process—from three acclaimed young adult authors working at the height of their powers. 
Curious?

I didn't adore this quite as much as the previous Curiosities book (so dreamy. So perfect. So like being in the room while the cool chicks talk about cool stuff and don't make you leave to get them mojitos), but the process of writing along with self-criticism is very interesting. I think I enjoyed it more when they talked about each other's writing than when they talked about their own, because basically it's really hard to talk about your own writing and not sound like a bit of a prat, plus if it seemed like they hadn't exactly done what they said they wanted to, I felt horribly embarrassed and over-sympathetic. The Brenna Yovanoff piece was my favourite - the right story was so completely the right story after seeing the wrong story.

2 comments:

Nicole said...

Oooh, I love short stories! Fun!

Steph Lovelady said...

The onion bit made me laugh out loud and I needed a laugh today, what with our own version of the Apocalypse about to descend on half the Eastern seaboard today.