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“Evil Robot Monkey”, by Mary Robinette Kowal

February 21, 2011 Leave a comment

Remember “The Orange”, where I said that it would be faster if you just believed me and went and read it because it fit on one page and why are you still here when you could be reading the story already please go? “Evil Robot Monkey” isn’t that short, but it’s still short enough that why are you still here?

http://www.maryrobinettekowal.com/journal/evil-robot-monkey/

Nominated for the Hugo. The link above contains the text and hosts audio.

This is one of the saddest pieces I’ve ever read, and one of the reasons that I know that Mary Robinette Kowal is a writer to watch. I have not yet read her Shades of Milk and Honey, but I will, and I have her collection Scenting the Dark on order.

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.

“Eight Episodes”, by Robert Reed

October 26, 2010 Leave a comment

NOT FOR CHILDREN.  There is sex implied.

I confess.  I’m a browncoat–a disappointed Firefly fan.   And the first time I read this story, the idea of a short-run TV series representing an alien invasion tickled and thrilled me.

 “Eight Episodes”, by Robert Reed, is the story of a TV series.  I’d call it a bad TV series, except that “bad” implies that it wasn’t successful, and we’re not clear if it was or not.  Because we don’t know who’s judging.

You see,  Invasion of a Small World may have failed as a Terran TV series, but it may very well have been a blinding success as a message from the stars.

Much of the story details how the show didn’t match the expectations of its viewers, except for those viewers who were of a more scientific bent.  Nearly every decision made by the supposed producers of the show–and we never quite know who they are–is wrong for TV. . . but right for truth.  And when the DVD set is released, long after cancellation, with the remaining unaired episodes on it, we see that the scientists who heard something of the truth in this show may have been right.  We start getting details of the arrival of the  invading force–all two rice grains of it–as it approaches Earth, and some of the details are not only correct for what science knows but the public doesn’t, but others turn out to be correct only with scientific observations made after the DVDs are released.

This is not a character driven story–most of the characters are as cardboard and stiff as the animation that was supposedly done of them. but the description of the ideas in “Eight Episodes” is brilliant, and the sentiment that life overcomes. . . is well expressed.

What is the nature of the outer universe?  Do intelligent species leave their planets?  Are they likely to fling tiny starships at other solar systems to influence the natives’ likelihood of attempting star travel?  Is there a level of intelligence at which that message can be translated into a TV show, however unsuccessful, instead of a simple text message or voice simulacrum? 

Who’s out there?  And why can’t they produce compelling serial drama? 

Text of “Eight Episodes”
Audio of “Eight Episodes”

Buy “Eight Episodes” at Amazon

“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 Amazon.com

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

“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 Amazon.com

“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]

“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