Posts Tagged ‘short story’

_Shadrach in the Furnace_, by Robert Silverberg

January 1, 2013 Leave a comment

Shadrach In The Furnace is a 1976 science-fiction novel by Robert Silverberg.  It was nominated for the Hugo for Best Novel of 1977 and the 1976 Nebula Award.

Non-Spoiler Summary

Robert Silverberg was one of my favorite authors, at the time that I read this–about 1983.  He had an immense body of work that I was tearing through, much of which I still value.  Among those, Shadrach is one of the few I’ve been back to in the past twenty-five years.  The obvious question of whether the work holds up is nullified by the fact that I seem to have been too young to grasp what the book was about, the first time through, and may as well have been reading it for the first time now.

Oddly enough, this reread suffered from what Jina Chan brilliantly called Skynet Syndrome: I was reading the book during its supposed “far future” timeframe.  In other words, during November 2012 when I was reading it, I was reading words written sometime in 1975 about November of 2012.

Shadrach Mordecai is the personal physician to Genghis II Mao IV Khan, the ruler of the world.  He is implanted with subdermal activators that allow him to perceive Genghis Mao’s health at any time and from a distance.  And he is the overall head of the three projects that are in place to make sure that Genghis Mao, already old, lives long enough to complete the work of his Permanent Revolution.  That is to say, these projects are intended to assure that Genghis Mao lives forever.

Why should you read it?

As a child, I thought this book was about the relationship of a man and his physician, when that physician is a very tight part of the health care feedback cycle.  I completely missed the story of Genghis Mao’s loss of his own humanity, of the horror of his acceptance–championship!–of the three immortality projects, and of Shadrach’s walk about the world while he contemplates his place in Genghis Mao’s plans.

Virtually nothing happens in this book–Genghis Mao has a kidney transplant, the immortality projects are introduced, Shadrach goes walkabout, and then returns home to resume his duties as physician.  But the story isn’t about what happens.  Several times, Shadrach and various friends or lovers go to several different styles of temple, to meditate, work, or have drug experiences.  The book is actually _about_ Shadrach’s states during these meditations, as much as it is about his peregrinations.

Overall, I would call the book dated, but far from obsolete–it still addresses ideas in ways that have either never been done better or have never been done before or since at all.

Where to find Shadrach in The Furnace

Unfortunately, the book is not available freely.  It is trivially but not inexpensively available for the Kindle, and well-stocked libraries still have it.  I have not seen a copy available in used book stores in several years.

“Movement”, by Nancy Fulda

“Movement” is a 2011 science fiction short story by Nancy Fulda.  It has been nominated for the Hugo for Best Short Story of 2012.

Non-Spoiler Summary

A young girl with an interesting variant of autism has to guide her parents in choosing whether or not to try a procedure that could “fix” her, at the possible cost of who she is.

Why should you read it?

Who are you?  What makes you, you?  How much could you give up without ceasing to be you, or ceasing to be?  Is the pain in your life so great that you’d rather not be the person you are?  If the thing that makes you different from everyone else also makes you . . . different from everyone else. . . is that a bad thing?

I have pain in my life, in my past.  It’s shaped me, in very large ways.  The difference between me and Hannah, this story’s autist, is that my pain is mostly done with, or is at least something I can get around in the moment.  Hannah’s. . . is not.  It is present in every moment of her life.  And she really does have to decide whether that difference is worth preserving or not, because normalcy may have a price.

Where to find “Movement”

The author has generously allowed us to read it online, and Escape Pod has an audio version.

“The Shadow War of the Night Dragons: Book One: The Dead City: Prologue”, by John Scalzi

April 17, 2012 Leave a comment

“The Shadow War of the Night Dragons: Book One: The Dead City: Prologue” is a 2011 fantasy/humor short story by John Scalzi.  Some dragons who don’t exist are discussed by some guard and wizards, who do.  Exist, that is.  Also, leeches and science.  It has been nominated for the Hugo for Best Short Story of 2012.

Non-Spoiler Summary

Oh, god, oh, god, so funny–you have to try reading this one out loud.  The first sentence will take you ten minutes if you don’t laugh, and longer if you do, which I hope you will, because oh god funny.

This is literally an April Fool’s joke that Scalzi and played on us.  It’s put forth as the prologue to the first volume of a trilogy of fantasy novels, but it actually is just a standalone lark of a work.  But darn it, if he could keep this up for even one book, I’d surely be there.

Why should you read it?

Did I mention the funny?  Good, because if you’re looking for deep ideas or brilliant insight into the human condition, you won’t find it here–this one is about the funny.  And leeches.

Where to find “The Shadow War of the Night Dragons: Book One: The Dead City: Prologue”

The story was originally published at, where it is still available.

“The Paper Menagerie”, by Ken Liu

April 16, 2012 3 comments

“The Paper Menagerie” is a 2011 fantasy short story by Ken Liu.  A young boy, son of an American and a Chinese mail-order bride, experiences alienation and the love of his animated origami pets.  And also his mother.  It has been nominated for the Hugo for Best Short Story of 2012.

Non-Spoiler Summary

This is the first in a series of posts I’ll be making about award-nominated stories.  John Scalzi was kind enough to link to the 2012 Hugo short story nominees, which got me started on this project again.

A young boy experiences the pain of being different, in this case because his mother was a mail order bride who doesn’t speak English well.  She gives him gifts of animated origami animals, which he comes to appreciate over time.

Why should you read it?

This is a sad story.  It’s the story of one human being trying to understand another, and it’s very well done.  It’s the smallest possible conflict: one’s struggle to understand the other, but the emotions are very real and worth experiencing.

Oddly enough, this turns out to be the story recommended by Christopher Kastensmidt in the discussion thread for the previous post. . . .

Where to find “The Paper Menagerie”

The story was originally published in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, which has generously allowed us to read it online.

“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.

“Perfect Lies”, by Gwendolyn Clare

January 25, 2012 Leave a comment

“Perfect Lies” is a 2011 science fiction short story by Gwendolyn Clare.  A woman who naturally expresses no visible emotion is the human trade representative to the Mask People, for whom every thought is expressed on the face.

Non-Spoiler Summary

Nora is a very special trade representative in negotiations with the Mask People.  You see, they have a culture of “teeming emotions”, feelings expressed through enormous faces covered in fine appendages that they use to communicate.  They are very sensitive to visible, uncontrolled emotion.  Nora is special, in that she doesn’t natively express her emotions–for her, they’re a learned skill.  In some ways, this is a story about negotiations between three sides: Humanity, the Mask People, and Nora herself.

Why should you read it?

“Perfect Lies” is an example of two of my favorite kinds of science fiction stories. The first is the outsider-on-behalf-of-humanity–stories ranging from Silverberg’s The Man in the Maze to Ender’s Game have portrayed the one exceptional person working on behalf of the mass of our race.  The other is one-change story.  The bulk of this story isn’t about high technology or large changes in how humans live–it’s about Nora’s one difference from us, and how that makes her relationship to the Mask People different from everyone else’s.

Where to find “Perfect Lies”

The story was originally published in Clarkesworld Magazine, where you can still read it online.  There is also audio.

“Apology”, by Sam Ferree

January 1, 2012 Leave a comment

“Apology” is a 2011 science fiction short story by Sam Ferree.  A man finds a time traveller in his apartment, who’s there to kill him.

Non-Spoiler Summary

The Bad Day Company has found someone who doesn’t matter at all to history, and has arranged the law so they can send people back in time to kill him, repeatedly.  For profit.  “Apology” is the story of one of these murders.  Except that the putative killer talks to him, first.

Why should you read it?

The writing in “Apology” really makes the emotional case for our victim trying to talk his way out of being killed, and the reactions that his… assassin has also ring true.  The story isn’t long, but it’s moving.

Where to find “Apology”

The story was originally published at Daily Science Fiction, where you can still read it online.

“Second Person, Present Tense”, by Daryl Gregory

November 25, 2011 Leave a comment

You know, in the golden age of science fiction, a good new idea was pretty much all a story needed to get published.  And in the modern age, all a story seems to need is an emotional impact.  This story has both.

Imagine a drug that suppresses the relationship between the conscious mind and the decision-making process.  And not in the way you expect–it’s my impression that people would guess that the conscious mind would be trapped in an inactive body.  That’s not what happens here, on this drug, Zen.  Instead, Gregory gives details about a theory where the conscious mind isn’t really making the decisions at all: The Queen-Page-Parliament model.  The Queen is consciousness, supposedly making decisions based on information brought to it by the Page (the limbic system) from the brain, or Parliament.  The trick here is that we think that the Queen gathers data and then makes decisions, and then the body acts. . . but that’s not right.  Consciousness seems to ride along beside the decision making process, approving it and perhaps editing it for content, but the actual decisions are made at a different level.  When you see someone you know, your hand is already rising for the handshake before your Queen recognizes them.  120 milliseconds before.  A measurable time.

Back to the drug, Zen.  It suppresses the Queen.  Consciousness no longer happens when you’re high on it.  You don’t look that different from the outside, because decisions are still being made, but there’s a different quality to it for the user.

And if you overdose, when consciousness comes back, it may no longer related to the person you were when you left.  Same Parliament and Page.  Different Queen.

“Second Person, Present Tense” is the story of a young woman who overdoses on Zen and the new person who wakes up in her body.  And that new person’s relationship with the old person’s parents.

Frightening.  Enlightening.  A short story that left me with things to think about weeks after I read it.

Free in print
Available in The Year’s Best Science Fiction: Twenty-Third Annual Collection
Not available in 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