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Posts Tagged ‘Short Story’

The Enemy of My Enemy by Mercedes LackeyFiddler-Fair
Part of the Fiddler Fair anthology
Paperback: 272 pages
Publisher: Baen (March 1, 1998)
ISBN-13: 978-0671878665

With no true main character, The Enemy of My Enemy is a glimpse into the world of Robert Adam’s “Horseclans” series from the viewpoint of one of fantasy’s most prolific author. The “Horseclans” world is based on the premise that the U.S. and the Soviet Union bombed each other back to the Stone Age. The radiation led to psychic powers in some humans and a few animals, mainly horses and large cats.

In Mercedes Lackey’s contribution to this universe, we meet what seems to be a mild little village. The mayor of this village, Kevin, also happens to be the blacksmith. It’s his job to check out visitors to the village and make sure problem causers move on quickly. When a family of Romani, also known as Gypsies, park on the outskirts in order to trade, Kevin makes their acquaintance and quickly becomes friends with them.

Among the gypsies is a mute girl named Chali. She is one of those blessed with telepathic abilities, which she uses in place of her broken voice. She is protected and loved by the whole Rom camp, and her mental skills are highly prized. When a local lordling sets his sights on the horses belonging to the Rom, Chali, Kevin, and a young man from the mysterious Horseclans named Daiv must do what they can to save the Rom and the horses they love.

There are places in the this short story that feel like they could benefit from a little elaboration. Some important action scenes are missing, leading to some confusion later on. But overall, it’s an interesting and fast introduction to this alternate universe, and the interactions between the characters, their animals, and their powers is attention grabbing. The idea of radiation leading to mutation that seems to be magical is a favorite topic of mine.

Check out the rest of Lackey’s short stories in Fiddler Fair, and while you’re at it, read Robert Adam’s Horseclans.
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Sword and Sorceress IThe Rending Dark by Emma Bull
Part of the Sword and Sorceress I anthology
Paperback: 255 pages
Publisher: DAW; 1st edition (May 1, 1984)
ISBN-13: 978-0879979287

In another case of strange mutation, we meet Marya Clawfinger and Kit Woodpecker. Kit acts as local Songsmith and Carries News from town to village to hut and back again. Marya acts as something of a companion and bodyguard, keeping Kit and herself safe as they travel through lands populated by dangerous natural animals and strange mutations.

In the village of Sallis, they run into one such mutation, a darkly mutated young man with the mind of a small child and the power to pull the very lifeforce from a person’s body. When Marya discovers a strange connection between herself and the creature, she comes to the realization that she may be looking at a very dark future ahead.

The relationship between Kit and Marya is what really carries this story. They banter easily back and forth, and both are appreciative of the other’s talents. When their trust for each other is tested to the limit, the results are poignant and believable. There are no happy endings in this tale from Emma Bull, only the feeling that there’s more to be learned from the two women. Bull’s ability to build such curiosity into a twenty-page short story is amazing, and I seriously hope she’s written more about Marya and Kit, because I want to read it.

Make sure to check out Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Sword and Sorceress anthologies, including this the first edition. And check out Emma Bull’s other works, including her urban fantasy, War for the Oaks.

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New weekly feature: Every Wednesday I’ll review two short stories from two different authors. This week’s short stories are:

Amnesty by Octavia E. ButlerBloodchild
Part of the Bloodchild and Other Stories anthology
Paperback: 145 pages
Publisher: Seven Stories Press (July 1, 2003)
ISBN-13: 978-1888363364

Noah Cannon is the survivor of alien abduction. She not only survived captivity for twelve years from the time she was eleven, she now works willingly for her former captors as a Translator. The Communities, as the alien invaders are called, are entities each made up of hundreds, thousands, perhaps even millions of separate creatures living together as a colony. They travel in ball shapes, each their own little hive of multiple minds working together.

They’ve come to Earth on a one way trip to either co-exist with us, or enslave us. Noah has decided, after a close-up experience of the true nature of both how the Community people work, and how humanity works, to try her damnedest to get the two species to live together and accept each other, perhaps even work peacefully together. The reader gets to sit in and listen as Noah goes to work on a group of job seekers looking to become Translators.

Amnesty is a fascinating look at how we might be forced to adapt, as individuals, to some outside force beyond our control. Each day we must do this on a smaller scale, but we at least feel like we have some kind of free will. In Amnesty, you either accept that The Communities are here to stay, or you throw your life away by trying to fight the inevitable. Noah does the only thing she can, by trying to work within the system that has sprung up.

Read Amnesty for a taste of the possible future, and read the rest of Bloodchild and Other Stories for some even more bizarre and fascinating scenarios and essays from Butler.

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spell singersBitch by Marion Zimmer Bradley
Part of the Spell Singers anthology
Paperback: 236 pages
Publisher: DAW (December 6, 1988)
ISBN-13: 978-0886773144

In this gender bending, shape-shifting short story, the Adept of the Blue Star, Lythande, is tricked into the shape of a female dog. Lythande has a secret that none of the other Blue Star Adepts must ever find out: she’s a woman disguised as a man. In the all male Blue Star order, it is forbidden for a woman to become a magician, but Lythande managed it by disguising herself. Her punishment, upon her gender being revealed, was that should any man find out she is a woman, she would lose all her protection against her fellow Blue Star Adepts.

When both Lythande and her traveling companion, the Blue Star Adept Rajene, are transformed into dogs, her worst fear is close to realization. Will Rajene believe the “change” from male Adept to female dog is part of the spell, or will he understand that Lythande is in fact a woman? If he does, all her carefully gathered power will be his for the taking, along with any other Adept she encounters. And of course, how ever will they change back to their rightful human shapes?

This a short, fun little story, playing on Lythande’s predicament in a tongue-in-cheek way. Bradley always has a little too much fun with Lythande, her constant tragic character. Read Bitch, and the rest of theSpell Singers anthology full of short stories by many of today’s best fantasy writers, and don’t miss Lythande, the complete collection of Marion Zimmer Bradley’s stories about the Adept with a terrible secret.

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Tides from the New Worlds: In Orbite Medievali by Tobias Buckelltides

Installment 9

In Orbite Medievali is based on the idea that the Earth is not, in fact, round. What would have happened to the voyage of Christopher Columbus if the world were flat? This is an idea I haven’t read before, and it really intrigued me. The terror and confusion the crew feels as they fall off the side of the world is very much how I imagine I would feel. Also, Columbus was kind of a jerk, and I liked that Buckell wrote from the perspective of the lowly grunts on the ships.

The heroes of the hour aren’t the snotty nobles, including Columbus. It’s the engineer and the cook and cabin boy. The descriptions of the experience as they fall through empty air and cascading sea water are realistic and frightening. Buckell aptly predicts how it would feel to common, uneducated men of that time to experience something so far beyond their control or understanding.

This is a good story, but hard to describe without giving too much away. Just read it and find out for yourself the questions that come to the minds of the men as they realize their world isn’t as perfect as they were lead to believe.

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You can check out Tobias Buckell on his website, or follow him on Twitter @tobiasbuckell
The master post can be found here, Tides from the New Worlds

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tidesTides from the New Worlds: Her by Tobias Buckell

Installment 8

Her is a surreal work, combining science fiction and magical realism in a way that is incredibly unsettling and mind-bending. We follow a high ranking bureaucrat as he handles the ins and outs of working and living on a giant floating woman in space. They don’t know where she came from, they know only that she exists and is a source of useful materials. They mine her toenails, they cut her hair like trees, they use patches of her skin for cloth and paper. On her breast is a space port, in her eyes people swim and sail.

The vision of a planet as a woman has been used as a metaphor since the beginning of human kind. The term “Mother Earth” is well known, although often seen as hokey. Buckell paints a startling and disturbing view of what it would feel like to do to a person what we so casually do to the planet now. The answers are unsettling and sad, the brutality that is shown in the story is casual and thoughtless.

The questions raised are serious and hard to handle. Is it our right to treat our planet so callously? Is our casual taking of resources any different than plundering a sleeping woman? There is an almost unconscious undertone of rape and molestation, and the narrator goes through the story with a constant, slightly sick feeling.

I don’t know if Buckell was truly trying to send an environmental message, or merely evoke a sense of wrongness about taking and using a person or thing so unthinkingly, but either message is valid. There is also the idea that we may someday discover unbelievable things while traveling space, but I can only hope that by that time, we are a kinder, gentler race. As the anthology progresses, I think the story ideas get stranger and more imaginative, and it’s easy to see him growing as a writer as the stories get better and better. More to come soon.

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You can check out Tobias Buckell on his website, or follow him on Twitter @tobiasbuckell
The master post can be found here, Tides from the New Worlds

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tidesTides from the New Worlds: The Shackles of Freedom by Tobias Buckell with Mike Resnick

Installment 7

In the theme that seems to be emerging, I see Buckell questioning preconceptions and trying to stretch the stories covered in speculative fiction. The Shackles of Freedom is one such story. A modern doctor, (and by modern we’re talking space age technology, easily cures cancer, etc.) decides to go to a newly colonized planet to practice medicine without all the bureaucratic restrictions that have begun to stifle him. Dr. Hostetler will be administering to a colony settled by a group of Amish colonists.

There are no administrative restrictions on his practice, but the Amish people have their own religious restrictions on what the doctor can do to help them. The torment he feels over this contradiction eats at him as people he could have easily saved at his high tech hospital die on his plain wooden table, but it becomes so much worse when the Amish girl he has come to love falls gravely ill.

Dr. Hostetler must decide whether her convictions and those of her people, are more important than her life. He must also decide whether he can continue to be the doctor of a people who refuse to be healed. The answers he finds are hard and heart wrenching.

I really liked the questions this story raised. What happens when you must continually fight against your own patients to help them? What would happen if in the future humans really did colonize other planets? Would those religious enclaves still exist, but in space? The alienness of the planet that Hostetler and his patients inhabit is usually subtle, but at one point it is brought sharply into focus.

The story is surreal, but it could also easily happen in our own country right now. The look at Amish life is also fascinating, especially as I grew up with the Amish living in my own town, present but so very separate, so very alien to me. I’m excited to share where Buckell goes next in his collection!

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You can check out Tobias Buckell on his website, or follow him on Twitter @tobiasbuckell
The master post can be found here, Tides from the New Worlds

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Tides from the New Worlds: Shoah Sry by Tobias Buckell with Ilsa J. Bicktides

Installment 6

In this collaboration with Ilsa J. Bick, Buckell touches on very traditional themes in Feminist Science Fiction, but in an interesting way. We are introduced to a future that is made up entirely of women, with men mysteriously going extinct at some point in history.

Instead of a utopia where women live together in sisterhood, there are desperately fighting factions. In a world where children are reproduced through cloning and genetic manipulation, one faction, the Talorans, wish to look for male genetic material in order to bring the other half of our species back. The other faction, the Imperialists, wish to suppress this material and bring all women under their thumbs. The title refers to the Taloran’s word for this material, and for the person that the material will help them create.

On a secret mission to a distant planet thought to contain the fabled genetic material, two women from the Taloran faction crash land and must escape from the Imperial Inquisitor coming to kill them. Dinah, the one that holds the key to the revitalization of the race, is sent off, while the other stays to fight. But as Dinah tries to escape, she slowly begins to change, and also begins to realize that her sisters do not always have her best interests at heart.

This story is fascinating to read. There are so many themes packed into it. Why are the women fighting so hard to bring Man back into the picture? Is the integrity and dignity of the individual more important than the mission? Can you trust someone who has been raised as your enemy? Does the freedom to make a choice, instead of the forcing of that choice, change the outcome? Are you forever bound by what is contained within your genes?

I truly liked this story, and I plan to pick up some of Ilsa J. Bick’s other work to see how it compares. I think this collaboration brought up some very interesting questions from the two authors, and I hope they’ll do something again someday.

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You can check out Tobias Buckell on his website, or follow him on Twitter @tobiasbuckell
The master post can be found here, Tides from the New Worlds

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tidesTides from the New Worlds: Aerophilia by Tobias Buckell

Installment 5

Buckell professes his love for airships at the beginning of this story, a fitting admission when you take in the title. I have to admit a secret love for the word dirigible here, too, which Buckell uses almost immediately in the story. I think he and Hayao Miyazaki would get along very well, since Miyazaki is also known for imagining the improbable or impossible with flying devices. Aerophilia begins in such an imaginative airship, traveling through the cloudy, gaseous atmosphere of Riley, a planet colonized by humans far in the future.

Vincent is a captive of his own split personality, Vince, as are the crew and passengers of the zeppelin Vince has hijacked. Vince has grown tired of his whiny host, Vincent, and is out to make himself rich. But his plan goes awry when the original Vincent takes over again and calls for help from an old girlfriend, Suzie. But Suzie has plans of her own, and a grudge to vent agains Vincent.

This is a fun little romp that was a quick but entertaining read with an edge. Vincent/Vince is a washed up spacer, but he truly brings to mind an old cowboy trying to go home again, to a place that no longer exists. I was a little turned off by how crazy and bitter Suzie comes off, but I don’t think Vincent comes off too much better so they’re sort of meant for each other.

Mixed in the with the lighthearted banter between Vince and Vincent and the humor of the run in with the law and the old flame, there is the message that things change and the people you once knew change, even if you continue to refuse to. Some day the wrongs you’ve done will come back to you, and we all must atone eventually. Nobody comes out clean.

The twists at the end would make this story worth reading even if the rest of it was blah, which luckily it isn’t. Stay tuned for more installments.

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You can check out Tobias Buckell on his website, or follow him on Twitter @tobiasbuckell
The master post can be found here, Tides from the New Worlds

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