Friday, January 12, 2018

Books 2017: Four-Star Short Stories

Short Stories

Noisy Outlaws, Unfriendly Blobs, and some other things that aren't as scary, maybe, depending on how you feel about lost lands, stray cellphones, creatures from the sky, parents who disappear in Peru, a man named Lars Farf and one other story Edited by Eli Horowitz. Synopsis from Goodreads: Interspersed with charts, graphs, and various crossword puzzles, A Book of Noisy Outlaws, Evil Marauders, and Some Other Things . . . features some of today's best authors spinning new tales ranging from the spooky to the strange. George Saunders tells the story of a father who takes caution to dangerous extremes in "Lars Farf, Excessively Fearful Father and Husband." In "ACES by Phone," a small boy finds a cell phone that lets him listen in on the thoughts of dogs, and in "Small Country," Nick Hornby introduces a country too small for a postal system but, unfortunately for one bookish boy, just big enough for a football team. Each story features full-color illustrations by artists including Barry Blitt, Lane Smith, David Heatley, and Marcel Dzama.

Four and a half stars. I guess this is a middle-grade or young adult book, but I would recommend it to anyone. This is a lovely, whimsical, quirky and engaging set of stories. Rereads for me were Monster by Kelly Link (love her, she's so incredibly twisted) and the magnificent Sunbird by Neil Gaiman, which I always love visiting again. The new stories were weird and sweet and wonderful. 

Seize the Night: New Tales of Vampiric Terror edited by Christopher Golden. Synopsis from Goodreads: A blockbuster anthology of original, blood-curdling vampire fiction from New York Times bestselling and award-winning authors, including Charlaine Harris, whose novels were adapted into HBO’s hit show True Blood, and Scott Smith, publishing his first work since The Ruins.
Before being transformed into romantic heroes and soft, emotional antiheroes, vampires were figures of overwhelming terror. Now, from some of the biggest names in horror and dark fiction, comes this stellar collection of short stories that make vampires frightening once again. Edited by New York Timesbestselling author Christopher Golden and featuring all-new stories from such contributors as Charlaine Harris, John Ajvide Lindqvist, Scott Smith, Sherrilyn Kenyon, Michael Koryta, Kelley Armstrong, Brian Keene, David Wellington, Seanan McGuire, and Tim Lebbon, Seize the Night is old-school vampire fiction at its finest.

Not gonna lie, can't remember a blessed thing about this. I do love me some vampires, and I remember that I liked it. Oh wait, I do remember the Seanan McGuire story, it was fantastic, but really sad. 

Blood Sisters: Vampire Stories by Women edited by Paula Guran. Synopsis from Goodreads: A tantalizing selection of stories from some of the best female authors who’ve helped define the modern vampire.
Bram Stoker was hardly the first author—male or female—to fictionalize the folkloric vampire, but he defined the modern iconic vampire when Dracula appeared in 1897. Since then, many have reinterpreted the ever-versatile vampire over and over again—and female writers have played vital roles in proving that the vampire, as well as our perpetual fascination with it, is truly immortal. These authors have devised some of the most fascinating, popular, and entertaining of our many vampiric variations: suavely sensual . . . fascinating but fatal . . . sexy and smart . . . undead but prone to detection . . . tormented or terrifying . . . amusing or amoral . . . doomed or deadly . . . badass and beautiful . . . cutting-edge or classic . . .
Blood Sisters collects a wide range of fantastical stories from New York Times bestsellers Holly Black, Nancy Holder, Catherynne M. Valente, and Carrie Vaughn, and critically acclaimed writers Chelsea Quinn Yarbro and Tanith Lee, all of whom have left their indelible and unique stamps on the vampire genre. Whether they are undeniably heroes and heroines or bloodthirsty monsters (or something in between), the undead are a lively lot. This anthology offers some of the best short fiction ever written by the “blood sisters” who know them best: stories you can really sink your teeth into.


The best of these were very, very good. The one about Oscar Wilde was sort of interesting, I just prefer the more modern takes, although I realize the debt they owe to the classic form. I found The Unicorn Tapestry obscurely annoying and I can't really figure out why. Stand-outs were The Power and The Passion by Pat Cadigan, Greedy Choke Puppy by Nalo Hopkinson, and the last three stories in the book (I read The Coldest Girl in Coldtown again happily at every opportunity). Father Pena's last dance had some images so striking that they're still vivid in my mind. Solid collection.

Because You Love to Hate Me: 13 Tales of Villainy edited by Ameriie. Synopsis from Goodreads: Leave it to the heroes to save the world--villains just want to rule the world.
In this unique YA anthology, thirteen acclaimed, bestselling authors team up with thirteen influential BookTubers to reimagine fairy tales from the oft-misunderstood villains' points of view.
These fractured, unconventional spins on classics like "Medusa," Sherlock Holmes, and "Jack and the Beanstalk" provide a behind-the-curtain look at villains' acts of vengeance, defiance, and rage--and the pain, heartbreak, and sorrow that spurned them on. No fairy tale will ever seem quite the same again!

This was YA but I'm sticking it in with the other short stories. The collection was a bit uneven but the best stories bore out an interesting concept very, very well. I don't know who the hell the self-styled single-named Ameriie is (okay, I had a quick look and apparently she is an American singer, songwriter, author, actress and record producer, so maybe I should just keep my snark to myself), but her story was superb, and devastating. Death Knell by Victoria Schwab and Julian Breaks Every Rule by Andrew Smith are also standouts. Now that I'm looking over the list, I think there were only a couple that didn't grab me. The notes where authors challenged other authors on what villain to write about and in what style were cool to read, too. 

Dead North: Canadian Zombie Fiction edited by Silvia Moreno-Garcia. Synopsis from Goodreads: An enjoyable and rollicking ride, this collection contains 20 short stories that explore a broad spectrum of the undead, from Romero-style corpses to zombies inspired by Canadian Aboriginal mythology, all shambling against the background of the Great White North. The anthology's specific focus on Canadian settings distinguishes it from the pack, and its exploration of many types of zombies weaves a vast compendium of fiction. Strong writing and imagination are showcased in clever stories that take readers through thrills, chills, kills, carnage, horror, and havoc wreaked across the country. Tales deal with a lone human chasing zombies across an icy landscape after the apocalypse, whales returning from the depths to haunt the southern coast of Labrador, a marijuana grow-op operation in British Columbia experiencing problems when the dead begin to attack, and a corpse turned into a flesh puppet for part of a depraved sex show, among other topics. Providing a unique location and mythology that has not been tackled before, Dead North will appeal to speculative fiction, horror, and zombie fans. 

This was superb. It turns out that the Canadian landscape works well in zombie literature - who knew? I always say that in skilled hands, zombies are an incredibly rich metaphor, and these authors have some chops, so the results are impressive. There were some excellent Aboriginal and Inuit-flavoured entries (including Richard Van Camp's superb On the Wings of a Prayer, which I had read once before), and zombified themes of environmentalism, colonialism and feminism. And one weird one about a poutine truck, but that's cool because poutine. 

Cemetery Dance Select by Lisa Tuttle by Lisa Tuttle. Synopsis from Goodreads: The Cemetery Dance Select series invites some of our favorite authors to spotlight a sampling of their own short fiction: award-winners, stories they consider their best or that had the most impact on their career—or neglected favorites they feel deserve a second look. 
Long-time fans will enjoy revisiting some classic tales. New readers will find this series a handy introduction to each author’s best work. 
Each CD Select mini-collection includes an exclusive Afterword where the author explains the reasoning behind each selection, and provides insights into the writing of each story. 
The stories Lisa Tuttle has chosen for this collection are: 
My Pathology 
Closet Dreams 
Born Dead 

I love Lisa Tuttle. I remember that My Pathology was Frankenstein-ish, but not much else. I just know I liked them. 

Cemetery Dance Selected by Kaaron Warren by Kaaron Warren. Synopsis from Goodreads: The Cemetery Dance Select series invites some of our favorite authors to spotlight a sampling of their own short fiction: award-winners, stories they consider their best or that had the most impact on their career—or neglected favorites they feel deserve a second look. 
Long-time fans will enjoy revisiting some classic tales. New readers will find this series a handy introduction to each author’s best work. 
Each CD Select mini-collection includes an exclusive Afterword where the author explains the reasoning behind each selection, and provides insights into the writing of each story. 
The stories Kaaron Warren has chosen for this collection are: 
The Blue Stream 
A Positive 
State of Oblivion 
All You Can Do is Breathe 
Air, Water and the Grove 

I could try to fudge the fact that I made no notes for these and remember nothing (I think The Blue Stream is about putting children into stasis to sort of sleep through the difficult adolescent years. Hang on. Let me check. I was right! BUT, omg this is embarrassing, I just realized that when I downloaded this collection I thought Kaaron Warren was Karin Tidbeck (who knew there were so many authors almost named Karen who write brilliant short stories? I'm sorry, I have no good excuse). So I read these under false pretenses and yet they were awesome, lucky me. 

Some of the Best from Tor.com 2016 edited by Ellen Datlow. Synopsis from Goodreads: An anthology of 25 of Tor.com's favorite short stories and novelettes selected from the 57 stories they have published in 2016. These stories were acquired and edited for Tor.com by Ellen Datlow, Ann VanderMeer, Carl Engle-Laird, Liz Gorinsky, Patrick Nielsen Hayden, Justin Landon, Diana Pho, and Miriam Weinberg. Each story is accompanied by an original illustration.

Now surely, SURELY I made some notes for this one. *checks* I did not. This is how it goes with me with short story anthologies - I'm too lazy to make notes on every story, and I almost always like one story at least four stars' worth, so I four-star the whole anthology, then end up with a long list of four-starred anthologies about which I remember VERY LITTLE. I own this one, and any diligent reviewer worth her salt would at the very LEAST  go and scan the damned thing before commenting. I will not. I worked a whole three and a half hours in an actual library this week, people, I am too important to strain myself for free. I am not, but my iPad is upstairs and I am lazy. And thirsty. Can someone get me a drink? Perhaps I need a break from book review posting. Oh! I remember! Clover by Charlie Jane Anders (who I generally adore) is an awesome story with cats. Autobiography of a Traitor and a Half-Savage by Alix E. Harrow - I don't know how to explain it, but it involved a kind of telepathy between a girl and the earth, and was really different, and sad, and cool. Basically, I am very rarely disappointed by anything from Tor.com. Or Lightspeed, but that's not the point right now. 

New Cthulhu: The Recent Weird edited by Paula Guran. Synopsis from Goodreads: For more than 80 years H.P. Lovecraft has inspired writers of supernatural fiction, artists, musicians, filmmakers, and gaming. His themes of cosmic indifference, the utter insignificance of humankind, minds invaded by the alien, and the horrors of history - written with a pervasive atmosphere of unexplainable dread - remain not only viable motifs, but are more relevant than ever as we explore the mysteries of a universe in which our planet is infinitesimal and climatic change is overwhelming it. In the first decade of the twenty-first century the best supernatural writers no longer imitate Lovecraft, but they are profoundly influenced by the genre and the mythos he created. New Cthulhu: The Recent Weird presents some of the best of this new Lovecraftian fiction - bizarre, subtle, atmospheric, metaphysical, psychological, filled with strange creatures and stranger characters - eldritch, unsettling, evocative, and darkly appealing.

Shameful confession: this is one of those magical ebooks from the library that somehow slipped the surly bonds of the due date and never returned itself from my iPad. And I haven't returned it. I keep meaning to, but then I read one of the stories again, and worry that I might miss them, so I don't. I really should. I will. I promise. Soon. 
I think I've mentioned that I enjoy more modern spins on Cthulhu/Lovecraft fiction more than I do actual Lovecraft fiction. So this was perfect for me. Fair Exchange by Michael Marshall Smith was my favourite (obviously), followed closely by Laird Barron's Old Virginia and Lesser Demons by Norman Partridge. Deliciously dark with a hint of sea air and the occasional brush of a tentacle. 

2 comments:

Steph Lovelady said...

I was confused to see "The Coldest Girl in Cold Town" referred to as a short story because I read the novel last summer, but it turns out Black must have really liked that title because she did write a short story and a novel by the same name.

I couldn't read that zombie book, or if I did I'd need to make a brown paper cover for it like we did in elementary school for our textbooks because I could not have that graphic on my tottering bedside table pile for months.

Nicole said...

Oooh I really like short stories, as you know. Adding this! Haha, I just read Steph's comment. I hear you, Steph!