Friday, April 5, 2013

Short Story Read Aloud Week 4


"From the Lost Diary of TreeFrog7," Nnedi Okorafor: In a weird post-industrial world, a married couple wanders through a forest looking to catalog all the interesting species--and especially looking for a mature CPU tree. The relationship between husband and wife was very crisp, but at the end, I'm afraid the story takes a strange tonal and plot shift. I'm still not sure why TreeFrog7 has to disappear.

"Walking with a Ghost," Nick Mamatas: Two computer scientists work on creating a Lovecraft AI, who then goes walkabout; the woman computer scientist quits academia, but then decides to go find the AI, who she rescues from a Lovecraft fan group. Instead, they go enjoy the city. Intriguing and well-written, with some suggestive richness.

Escape Artists (Escape Pod, Podcastle, Pseudopod)

"Entrance and Exit" and "The Terror of the Twins," Algernon Blackwood: In the first story, there's a space in the woods where people can disappear and enter another plane of existence; in the second, twins are born to a man who wants a single heir and tells them there will be only one to inherit--and when they turn 21, one of them dies. These are very sketchy stories with some interesting idea at the heart of each, but not a lot going on otherwise. Interesting for their historical position.

"Bad Company," Walter De La Mare: Another older piece, where a man sees a guy on the train with a ridiculously evil face and decides to follow him home. There, he discovers that the guy is dead and has been for some time and has left a letter detailing his crimes and a will detailing how he'll cheat his family out of inheriting his money, which the narrator promptly burns. An interesting little ghost story, a sort of follower to Poe's "Man of the Crowd," where a face seems to tell a story. Only here, De La Mare decides to give us the rest of the story. Interestingly ambiguous: this man was pure evil, so then was it his ghost who led the narrator here to fix things?

"Bunraku," David X. Wiggin: In medieval (you know what I mean--around the Shogunate, I think) Japan, a man falls in love with a puppet and the puppeteer agrees to marry--but only if he can also get a new apprentice. But the husband and the apprentice don't get along and fight over the wife/puppet. The literal reduction of the woman here to a puppet almost makes this camp--if you picture them in bed, it's two guys with a piece of wood in between. But despite the (I think) unintentional comedy, there's not a lot here to grab on to. The prose is purposefully stilted, as if in translation, but it doesn't really work for me. 

"What It's Come To," Wolf Hartman: On the outskirts of town, some people deal (poorly) with the coming apocalypse. More a snapshot than a full story, without much of an arc, and with some extreme scenes that seem like attempts to shock the reader (a prostitute losing a miscarriage in a toilet bowl); but even so, there's some effective mood setting in a world ending.

"Trixie and the Pandas of Dread," Eugie Foster: on Escape Pod (science fiction), this story follows a god of vengeance who has lost her interest and then regains it by smiting a bunch of racists. This story seems to have ignited a lot of comments over at the forum--is murder worse than racism? is this story pro-vengeance? is this story even science fiction? It seems to be a romp, but the morals here are both too simple (the racists are hugely racist) and too silly to really engage.

"Keeping Tabs," Kenneth Schneyer: An abused woman with a bad life saves up money to get some sensorium-connecting technology with a star, but, surprise, that star's life isn't to hot. A depressing but interesting read, with lots of little details on how life goes for those who aren't stars in the future.

"Throwing Stones," Mishell Baker: A guy dresses as a woman because of anti-male sexism, especially in the seer- and prophet-community. He hooks up with a goblin (who are here very elf-like: fae and sexual and magical, but also shapechangers and not really human at all) who supports him because goblins love to mess with the status quo. Perhaps my favorite story this week: even without a big climactic finish, the world has its own charms and the experiments in a different status quo are worthwhile.

Lightspeed and Nightmare

"No Breather in the World But Thee," Jeff VanderMeer: An odd collection of sentences that all have a Gorey-ish mood. Something terrible is going on, but I'm not sure what that is.

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