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Short Stories Review Roundup: May 2014 – April 2015, Part 1

May 4, 2015

Time for another installment of short story mini-reviews! As I’ve said before, I’m doing these mini-reviews partly because I just think it is so neat that there is all of this fiction available for free online. Also, I’ve been listening to a lot of them lately (I burned them to a disc so that it’s always on when I’m in my car, which gets through a bunch of stories faster than you might expect, even with a relatively short commute.) This post is all full-length podcasts from Podcastle; I’ll be back on Wednesday with the flash-fiction miniatures stories.

Previous installments: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14 (People reading free fiction to you! For free!)

In Fulgurite by Vylar Kaftan, a young woman sees a unicorn in a lightning storm, and knows when she’s going to die – a few days hence. Her boyfriend doesn’t entirely believe her, but is willing to accept her fatalistic attitude when it comes to sex, and losing her virginity. This one was interesting, with some (rather unusual but still sexy) sexytimes, and some interesting use of the unicorn/virginity/sex/death imagery.
Listen to it | Read It

In A Light in Troy by Sarah Monette, a native of a conquered city discovers a feral child living on the beach below the fortress, but can’t tell risk telling anyone other than the blind librarian, who is one of the conquerers but may have other sympathies. An interesting perspective, and I like anything that smacks of Greek mythology (even though it wasn’t explicit apart from the title) but I found the romance angle a little too convenient to be really effective.
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In Love Among the Talus by Elizabeth Bear, a young princess knows that she is destined to be married to consolidate her family’s hold on power and protect the khanate from the bandits, but she would rather spend her time studying magic and riding with the warriors and dreaming of the freedom to plan her own life. And then that freedom is offered her – by the bandit king. I had a hard time with this story, although I think it’s more due to my own trouble processing Asian-esque names when I can only here them, not see them, so I had a hard time keeping straight who was who and which position of power was which.
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Smokestacks Like the Arms of God by Ben Burgis, asks what would happen if the disenfranchised slave workers in some terrible nightmarish factory guarded by vampires discovered the concept of unionization. I really liked this one. From the great opening line, I was totally drawn in, and I thought the worldbuilding in particular was really effective, and although it’s a pretty dark story, it had some good funny bits as well.
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In Sun’s East, Moon’s West by Merrie Haskell, a miller’s daughter and amateur dragon hunter finds herself the captive of an enchanted bear for a year and a day, but once she finds herself pregnant and her bear/man disappears, she must go on a quest to find him. This had so many fairy tale conventions – Beauty & the Beast most strongly, but also talking animal companions, quests to prove one’s worth, seeking an enchanted kingdom with the help of the winds, etc. It wasn’t anything particularly new or revolutionary, but I really enjoyed it – it felt like a traditional fairy tale, but it also maintained a sense of humor about itself throughout without becoming a satire or a farce. From a coldly logical perspective, the story didn’t quite hang together narratively, but fairy tales never really do, and it flowed just fine as it was going.
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In The Hag Queen’s Curse by M. K. Hobson, a pirate and a naval officer chasing him are sent by a hag to Ultima Thule, the bleakest land furthest from civilization… which happens to be rural Oregon in the 1980s. But the pirate is not an ordinary pirate – he’s a skin pirate, stealing others’ bodies, and he happens to claim the body of the protagonist’s gay best friend, and she’s not about to let him go without a fight. This one took me a little while to get into, and to get my bearings, but I wound up really enjoying it. I really like M. K. Hobson’s sly sense of humor – her stories, even when they’re dark, don’t take themselves entirely seriously, and this one was funny and a little dark and kind of sweet and very satisfying.
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In Remembrance is Something Like a House by Will Ludwigsen, a house that was abandoned by its family after the father was convicted of murdering a young girl decides to pick up roots (foundations?) and go after the family, to explain. Surrealism is usually not my cup of tea, but this had just the right touch of it without being overwhelming. Plus I’ve spent enough time hiking that I’ve come across my fair share of abandoned houses in the woods, and I really like the idea that those houses are on their way from where they were built to somewhere else.
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In Kristin with Caprice by Alan Smale, a man goes to the apartment of his ex-girlfriend to move his things out post-breakup, only to find that she’s started keeping goats. I loved this. I don’t want to say what the deal was with the goats (because of course there’s something about the goats) for fear of spoiling the story for others, but it was so clever, and worked so well, and made me want to start the story over again once I knew.
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In Hooves and the Hovel of Abdel Jameela by Saladin Ahmed, a professor is sent away from the caliph’s court and exiled to a small village. There, a hermit approaches him for an urgent matter regarding his wife, but what the physician finds is something that will test his ability – and his faith. Interesting story, with some interesting moral ambiguities, a good twist, and a slight touch of humor.
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In Attar of Roses by Sharon Mock, a princess is betrothed to a powerful sorcerer from another land, but he is overthrown and magic barred from their land before they can wed. Years later, she travels to that land in the company of another lover… a dangerous proposition, since she has powers of her own. I wasn’t crazy about this one – I couldn’t quite tell if it was supposed to be a romance or not, and if it was, who it was supposed to be between, but I didn’t ever buy the depth of emotion that it was trying to convey.
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In The Dog King by Holly Black, the king of Dunbardain has a wolf pup that he has raised as a companion, despite the fact that wolves are routinely killed outside the city, or are brought into the city to die in the fighting pits. But when there is a string of murders inside the castle, questions begin to be asked about the true nature of the King’s wolf. This story was dark, and had an effective air of menace and suspicion to parts of it, which I really liked; there were a few twists that I saw coming and a few that I didn’t.
Listen to it | Read it

What about you, readers? Read (or listened to) any good short stories lately?

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. rudejasper permalink
    May 5, 2015 8:47 pm

    This is awesome! I used to listen to Podcastle and Escape Pod all the time but have gotten out of the habit Great idea to burn them to cd for the car!

    • May 18, 2015 9:44 am

      I’ve been listening to them more-or-less in order – the feedback after the stories makes me want to not skip around – and I started at the beginning, so I think I’m only 5 years behind or so. I don’t even want to consider how far behind I’ll be when I start in on Escape Pod. :)

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