Posts Tagged ‘fantasy’

“Always”, by Karen Joy Fowler

February 2, 2012 Leave a comment

“Always” is a 2007 science fiction short story by Karen Joy Fowler.  A woman details her time with a group of supposed immortals, following a charismatic leader.  It won the Nebula for Best Short Story in 2007.

Non-Spoiler Summary

Our viewpoint character, a young woman, moves to the city of Always with her boyfriend.  In Always, run by Brother Porter, everyone is immortal.  Supposedly.  The issue is left open, although there’s evidence that she is being deceived.  However, the effect of the city (cult) on people is very real.

Why should you read it?

“Always” handles the question of whether or not the immortality of the people of Always is real quite gently, and leads you to believe . . . that even if she’s not immortal, she’s been positively changed by the experience of living in Always.  The story follows her progression from basically infatuated with her boyfriend through an almost ethereal translation.

Where to find “Always”

The story was originally published in Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine, where you can still read it online.  There is also audio.

“Ghosts of New York”, by Jennifer Pelland

September 10, 2011 Leave a comment

Warning: This story is not appropriate for children.  It is not fun.  It may offend you, that I chose to list it at all, or that I chose to list it today.  But it helped me get ready for today, and I thought some of you might not know about it.

“Ghosts of New York”, as I’m sure you can guess, is a story about the fallout of 9/11.  The story, particularly, of the ghosts that it left behind.  Literal ghosts–not ghosts as in the images of destruction that every one of us over fifteen can call up, but haunts.  The spectral remainders of the people who jumped.

There are no answers in this story.  For one thing, it has a severe weak point, in that it never explains why only jumpers become ghosts.  It doesn’t solve, salve, or soften 9/11.

It does remind me of the feelings that I had on that day.  It doesn’t make me experience them again, but it removes enough of the scab to remind me that tragedy and death, however horrible, are part of the flow of history and our lives.  This isn’t the first time New York has had a disaster.  It won’t be the last.

Please, let it be the last time it’s deliberate, though.

Text: Available courtesy of Apex Publications
Audio: Podcastle 153

“Card Sharp”, by Rajan Khanna

September 5, 2011 4 comments

New systems of magic. Vengeance. Master and apprentice. Desperate action. This story came from an anthology called The Way of the Wizard, and while I haven’t read all of the stories in the book, if this story is indicative, I’m going to have to.

Rajan Khanna is a familiar name to me most because he narrates a lot of stories over at Escape Artists, the parent organization for Escape Pod, Podcastle, and Pseudopod. He’s a great reader, but I’m only starting to get a sense of how good a writer he is, too.

“Card Sharp” is a story set in a Maverick-like pulp-Western world, so the story is almost genre even without the magic. The magic, however, is fairly unique and well implemented. Card sharps can enchant a single deck of cards, giving them 54 (jokers count) spells. In a lifetime. No more. The usual tropes of magic ranging from magic as unlimited resource to magic as something you have to rest to recuperate don’t begin to limit a “mage” as much as this does–the quotes are because I don’t even feel comfortable calling someone a mage when magic is so rare even in their lives.

The story goes quickly and is compelling, and the reading is excellent. This story gets a high “fun” rating from me.

Text: From The Way of the Wizard, but the story is available for free.
Audio: Podcastle 147

“The Green Book”, by Amal El-Mohtar

February 24, 2011 Leave a comment

“The Green Book” is a story I’d never heard of until the Nebula nominations came out this week, but it’s a story I’ll be rereading shortly.

The Green Book is an actual book, but for at least part of the story, it also functions as the body of a deceased woman, and it’s pages as her voice. And there are only so many pages. There are several voices in the story (or in the book) and they make it very atmospheric.

Text of “The Green Book”

“The Cambist and Lord Iron”, by Daniel Abraham

February 12, 2011 Leave a comment

It’s Thursday, right?  Still?  I mean, I was sick for a day and a half, but I don’t remember mornings, so it’s still Thursday.  I’m sure of it.

The Cambist is a moneychanger.  He changed one currency for another, at a posted rate.

Lord Iron is a bored noble with an evil streak.  He goes in to the Cambist’s office with an unlisted currency, and points out that if the Cambist can’t change his money in a certain time period, the Cambist will lose his license.  Lord Iron does this because he’s bored, and it seems diverting to destroy the Cambist.  Hence, evil.

The Cambist does not allow himself to be destroyed.

Lord Iron does not allow himself to be put off.

The subtitle is “A Fairy Tale of Economics”.  I can not imagine another story that would deserve that subtitle.

Text of “The Cambist and Lord Iron”
Audio of “The Cambist and Lord Iron”

A Tim Pratt road-trip triptych.

January 27, 2011 Leave a comment

Thought I was gonna miss my deadline, didn’t you? Be honest–you wanted to see me crash and burn. Ha!

I actually have a mostly done draft of another post ready, but as some of you know, I’ve been on a road-trip this week, driving about 2,500 miles, from Washington to California and back. That’s consumed a lot of podcasts. Lots of stories, but three stand out. As I’m currently in the parking lot of a Jack in the Fog, I thought I’d write something fresh. This does mean I’m invoking the rule that allows me to have crap formatting…. Until I clean the post up, later.

Remember when I said I wasn’t going to recommend any more Tim Pratt for a while? Sorry, man. He’s just excellent.   I’m also not going to apologize for the fact that all three of these are available freely only in audio.  Either learn to read with your ears or toss the man some money.  The print link is to his collection Hart and Boot and Other Stories.  Well, okay, that’s not possible, but I can’t even pick which stories to tell you it contains, I like them all so much.  Does include “Impossible Dreams” and “Terrible Ones”….

Podcastle 136: “The Christmas Mummy” (audio)
Podcastle 140: “Terrible Ones” (NOT FOR CHILDREN) (audio or print)
EscapePod 276: “On A Blade Of Grass” (NOT FOR CHILDREN) (audio)

“The Christmas Mummy”: Tim actually wrote with his wife, Heather Shaw, and I do apologize to Heather for getting this far without mentioning her, but again, writing on smartphone in fog. The story… Imagine if your weird uncle was Indiana Jones instead of being an embarrassing alcoholic. Then imagine that his archenemy sends you a gift. Imagine further that that gift is a mummy, and it arrives on Christmas. Very funny.

“Terrible Ones”: Tim, you need to follow up this short story with a series of novels. I love Marla, but I could love Zara, too. Please give me the chance?  See, Zara is an actress, who starts out in a classic Greek play… Before she gets selected for a very different role in Greek mythology. Which I guess isn’t mythology if it’s real. Which it is. In this story. It’s important that you know I can tell the difference.

“On A Blade Of Grass”: a great story about interstellar war and intestinal parasites that is not at all harmed by being surrounded by the second funniest bit of writing I’ve ever heard Norm Sherman do.

Also, Tim posts stuff about his son, River, and the adventures that River has at Tim’s day job, to Twitter, and it’s often hilarious and touching. Look for hashtag #officebaby or just mentions of Officebaby.

Update 2/8/11: “On A Blade of Grass” is now available as part of the Sound-Proof Escape Pod #4.

“The evolution of trickster stories among the dogs of North Park after the Change”, by Kij Johnson

September 25, 2010 3 comments

“We prefer our slaves mute.”

I had read this story twice when I chose it to recommend.  Then I read it again, to make it fresh in my memory, to write this.

This story is told in two interlocking parts–it details the stories of the dogs in North Park, and also the Stories of the dogs in North Park.  Capital-S Stories.  Their mythology.  I had been so fascinated by this part of the story that I didn’t allow myself the full emotional impact of the actual tale of the dogs that are telling these stories.  And let me tell you, it’s a hard one.  I’m really trying not to spoil anything, but this is a very sad story, and I’m amazed that I didn’t see it the first two times through.

The Change, referred to in the title, you see, is that all domesticated animals suddenly become able to talk.  And gain the memory that comes along with speech.  But Johnson’s animals aren’t political allegory, like in Animal Farm, or even people.  They’re still dogs and cats. . . but now we know what they think of how we treat them.  And of us.

“We prefer our slaves mute.”

On a happier note, this is our first post with a “guest editor”.  You see, Kij Johnson is a very good writer, with several stories I had to choose from.  I happened to still be corresponding with Tim Pratt, who I emailed to ask his permission to link to the Wayback Machine’s copy of “Impossible Dreams”, and asked him if I should recommend this story or one of her other works, “26 Monkeys, Also the Abyss”.  I was leaning towards this one, and Tim agreed, so I get to count him as a guest editor and still do whatever I want.

“The evolution of trickster stories among the dogs of North Park after the Change” was nominated for the Hugo, Nebula, and World Fantasy awards.  “26 Monkeys, Also the Abyss” was nominated for the Hugo, Nebula, and World Fantasy awards, and won the World Fantasy award.

This story’s text
This story’s audio

This story for sale at

“26 Monkeys, Also the Abyss” text
“26 Monkeys, Also the Abyss” audio
“26 Monkeys, Also the Abyss” does not appear to have been collected.

“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]

“The Orange”, by Benjamin Rosenbaum

July 29, 2010 1 comment

“The Orange” is probably the shortest story I will ever include here.  The whole thing fits neatly on one page.  As a matter of fact, it would take you longer to assess my review of the work than it would just to read it, so why not short-circuit the decision and just read it?  I’ll even make it easy:


The Orange, by Benjamin Rosenbaum

An orange ruled the world.

It was an unexpected thing, the temporary abdication of Heavenly Providence, entrusting the whole matter to a simple orange.

The orange, in a grove in Florida, humbly accepted the honor. The other oranges, the birds, and the men in their tractors wept with joy; the tractors’ motors rumbled hymns of praise.

Airplane pilots passing over would circle the grove and tell their passengers, “Below us is the grove where the orange who rules the world grows on a simple branch.” And the passengers would be silent with awe.

The governor of Florida declared every day a holiday. On summer afternoons the Dalai Lama would come to the grove and sit with the orange, and talk about life.

When the time came for the orange to be picked, none of the migrant workers would do it: they went on strike. The foremen wept. The other oranges swore they would turn sour. But the orange who ruled the world said, “No, my friends; it is time.”

Finally a man from Chicago, with a heart as windy and cold as Lake Michigan in wintertime, was brought in. He put down his briefcase, climbed up on a ladder, and picked the orange. The birds were silent and the clouds had gone away. The orange thanked the man from Chicago.

They say that when the orange went through the national produce processing and distribution system, certain machines turned to gold, truck drivers had epiphanies, aging rural store managers called their estranged lesbian daughters on Wall Street and all was forgiven.

I bought the orange who ruled the world for 39 cents at Safeway three days ago, and for three days he sat in my fruit basket and was my teacher. Today, he told me, “it is time,” and I ate him.

Now we are on our own again.


There?  Back now?  Good.
This is exactly the kind of surrealistic story that I adore when done well, and that Rosenbaum has done it well at least one other time, in “The Ant King: A California Fable”.  I also like it just for how in-and-out it is–he knows what he wants to do, and gets it done in under two minutes.
I’m not the only one who’s been captured by this: unique among stories I’ve got on the agenda to describe here, it’s been made into a short film.  Hey, why don’t you watch it, too?
Awards: honorably mentioned in The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror 15, and the short film won Best Animated Short, SXSW 2010