Friday, March 15, 2013

Short story read aloud, week 1

I spend so much time listening to podcast short fiction that I thought I should start keeping track of it. Maybe once a week? So this week is a little vague, but here's some things I recently listened to.

Beneath Ceaseless Skies
"Unrest," Grace Seybold: A story told in parts about a war-torn border--the new recruit POV, the old soldier who kills him POV, etc. It's an amazing structure that falls apart a bit as we settle on the "kill the evil sorcerer" plot.

"Driftwood," Marie Brennan: A patchwork world where other worlds come to die. A quest story where one person tries to find the guy who survived the death of his world. At the end, the story has a sudden POV shift to this Last person, which doesn't ruin the story, but doesn't help it. A fascinating attempt to take seriously patchwork worlds (seen in many RPGs, like Ravenloft and Rifts).

Escape Artists (Escape Pod, Podcastle, Pseudopod)
"Finished," Robert Reed: In the future, people can undergo a procedure that preserves them; they can change somewhat, but not totally. The narrator of the story is one of these Finished and he gets involved with and convinces a young woman to undergo the Finishing procedure--which is how he gets most of his money. An interesting sfnal twist on classic "would you want to live forever?" scenarios.

"Logic and Magic in the Time of the Boat Lift," Cat Rambo and Ben Burgis: I thought the title leaned towards magical realism, but the story is straight-up urban fantasy: the heroine is a guardian for the powers of good who is charged with returning a magic pearl to its rightful resting place in Cuba, opposed by a were-crocodile and a demon. Bonus: the heroine has a PhD in philosophy, specializing in  logic and reference, so it's right up my alley. The ending has a touch of the deus ex machina, but still enjoyable.

"Wings," Nathaniel Lee: A Wizard of Oz variant, from the evil flying monkeys' POV. Apparently, in the original, the monkeys are cursed to obey whoever has a certain magic hat, so it's nice to see them have their day. Fine but not really memorable.

Lightspeed and Nightmare
"My Wife Hates Time Travel," Adam-Troy Castro: A husband and wife in the present day are continually bothered by various future versions of themselves who keep trying to intervene. Funny in the way it plays with the well-worn trope of changing the time-stream; and moving in the way it deals with marriage and the stresses of being together.

"The Herons of Mer de l'Ouest," M. Bennardo: A white hunter abandons people and plans to go West to explore and die, after his Native wife and child are betrayed by people. Instead, he finds himself joining in with some Natives fighting giant herons. It could be a silly premise--giant herons!--except the first person narration keeps the theme always in view.

"Chop Shop," J.B. Park: A woman does some extreme SM play (amputation, etc.) in a virtual reality world, is unhappy. This one didn't really work for me, less because there was no character growth that I saw, and more because there was no structure. "Is unhappy" is not a plot.

Cast of Wonders (Protecting Project Pulp, Tales to Terrify, Starship Sofa)
"Bread Overhead," Fritz Leiber: Instead of yeast, a future company uses CO2, but decides to switch to helium to get lighter bread--until some office dude decides to save money and use hydrogen, making the bread float higher (oh, and also explode). There's a lot of humor in here and most of the tale is silly; unti the very end where we learn that robots have been manipulating everyone to prevent war between the US and USSR.

"Black Glass," Gary McMahon: A newly-divorced dude gets talked into a seance in his new house in order to get in touch with someone trapped in the glass. Naturally, he gets trapped in the glass instead. What's most curious about this story is that the guy starts off like a classic skeez, getting off on voyeurism and exhibitionism, caring about money but not art. But around the middle, he starts to become a little pitiable. Which makes his

"The Mad Scientist's Daughter," Theodora Goss: Plotless, but what an idea: all the unheard of daughters of mad scientists--Beatrice Rappaccini (from Hawthorne's "Rappaccini's Daughter"), Justine Frankenstein, Catherine "Cat" Moreau, Mary Jekyll, Diana Hyde, Helen Meyrink-nee-Raymond (from Machen's The Great God Pan)--live together. The most interesting thing they do is discuss whether they're monsters and whether they should terrorize London. But still--what an idea, to see how women come out of that literature.

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