Archive for August, 2010

“Exhalation”, by Ted Chiang

August 30, 2010 Leave a comment

There’s a quote on Wikipedia that John W. Campbell was supposed to have said to his writers: “Write me a creature that thinks as well as a man, or better than a man, but not like a man.”  I think “Exhalation” is the complete opposite of that request. 

The viewpoint character of the story, an unnamed anatomist and scientist, does not react all that differently from a courageous scientist of our world, but the problem he faces–in his very alien world–is one unlike any we could ever face.  His world is like ours in very few ways.  His assumptions and lemmas about life are different than ours.  And the experiments that he is able to perform–because he is mechanical and pneumatic, instead of flesh and blood–are both fascinating and horrifying.

When I recommended “Impossible Dreams”, it was my favorite story.  I still adore that story from an emotional point of view, but “Exhalation” is a greater intellectual thrill–an exercise in understanding a completely alien problem.

Ted Chiang is a writer with a very small body of work, as he is employed as a technical writer, and finds himself unable to write fiction while writing non-fiction.  However, despite having published just over a dozen pieces of fiction in the last twenty years, he has won three Hugos and four Nebulas, as well as being nominated for six more major awards.  I don’t have numbers available, but it’s my belief that he has a higher rate of converting publication into award than any other writer in the field.

Ted Chiang doesn’t seem to have a web site, but there is a listing of all his freely available stories.

“Tideline”, by Elizabeth Bear

August 19, 2010 5 comments
“Tideline” is the story of a damaged war robot, after an apocalyptic war that has reduced humanity to the level of hunting and gathering. This warbot, Chalcedony, is coping with the end of its life, memorializing its lost platoon, and her own status as the most civilized being in the area, since she incorporates a significant databank of human knowledge.
The world of “Tideline” is wonderfully drawn; it’s clear that a novel could come from the story of the war that lead to this point, or the events that are happening elsewhere. Bear has done a lovely job of making the short story feel like a glimpse into a larger story, rather than an independent event. She’s also made Chalcedony’s tale touching and brutal at the same time; life in this world isn’t easy, even if you’re a towering war machine.  Perhaps especially if you are; with great power comes great responsibility, after all.  Also, with haunting memories comes an obligation to honor them.

Elizabeth Bear’s website
Text of “Tideline”
Audio of “Tideline”
Originally published in Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine, June 2007.

Awards:  2008 Hugo Award for Best Short Story and the 2008 Theodore Sturgeon Award

Buy “Tideline” in The Year’s Best SF 25 from

“Counting From Ten”, by Michael Montoure

August 9, 2010 Leave a comment

NOT SUITABLE FOR CHILDREN.  This story is physical horror.

DISCLAIMER: The author is a good friend of mine. The story was written because of a conversation we had, and is about a personal phobia of mine. However, Michael has had no input into the choice of this story or the text of this recommendation.

“Counting From Ten”, which is also the title of Montoure’s debut short story collection, is a story about a man under a curse, and a friend who tries to help him get free of that curse.

Horror is so often about death or the fear of death. Slasher movies, ghosts, enough blood coming from the walls or the ceiling that someone surely had to die, terror of something that wants to kill you/eat you/destroy you. But what if that wasn’t what we were being asked to be afraid of?

What if it was just the loss of a … finger?  And what if that was mercy?

The joy of Montoure’s writing is that he makes some of the most horrific decisions that characters in this story make perfect sense, like there’s nothing else that they could possibly do. Like this abomination of a decision is the kindest possible thing that could happen. And only then, after you accept that, does the hammer to the your sensibilities hit.

AVAILABLE: audio; in the collection Counting from Ten

Michael Montoure’s website
The text of “Counting From Ten” is not currently available on the web.
Audio of “Counting From Ten”

Buy Counting From Ten from Stone Pine Press

“Impossible Dreams”, by Tim Pratt

August 2, 2010 1 comment

The problem with Tim Pratt is picking a story. He’s got so many that I love that are great tales, that all recommended themselves for different reasons. I ended up going with “Impossible Dreams” because it won the Hugo award, and I hadn’t yet posted about a Hugo winner. This despite the fact that I thought I was going to write about his story “Unexpected Outcomes”, which just ran on Escape Pod. Here, have a bonus link.

“Impossible Dreams” is a gentle love story–between two people, but also between those people and movies.  Impossible Dreams Video is the name of the store Ally works in, and Pete notices for the first time early in the story.  Except that he knows all the video stores in the area, being a cinephile, and he knows that Impossible Dreams wasn’t there yesterday. 

So he goes in, and finds movies that don’t exist.  In our world, any way.  And he has to see them.

Tim Pratt’s website
Text of “Impossible Dreams” (Note: I have the author’s permission to link to the archived version of this story.)
Audio of “Impossible Dream”

Buy Hart & Boot & Other Stories at Amazon

 Awards: Winner of the 2007 Hugo award for best short story.

“Fourteen Experiments in Postal Delivery”

August 2, 2010 Leave a comment

NOT SUITABLE FOR CHILDREN. Includes sexual references.

“Fourteen Experiments in Postal Delivery”, by John Schoffstall, is a surreal fantasy romance, of a type. In this case, Christopher, a man who has wronged his ladyfriend Jessica on a drunken bender, mails her a series of increasingly unlikely and impossible items–guess how many?–to try to soften her anger and hatred. The trick is that he only wraps the last one, and she is left with the upset comments of over a dozen postal employees about how these packages are outside postal regulations.  Also, with some very hard to store items. 

Part of the fantasy is the reaction of the viewpoint character.  I don’t expect that someone who committed a relationship error like Christopher did would ever be forgiven, but then again, I expect that the items that he might send to make up to her would be. . . substantially more mailable.

Near as I can tell, she never does get her second ski back, either.

[story does not appear to be available in print]