So, if you haven’t heard of StoryBundle, it’s definitely something you should check out. It’s a Humble Bundle type of thing, but focused on indie books, rather than games.
I honestly can’t remember how I came across it the first time, but I do remember buying the first Immerse or Die bundle, and quite enjoying it. Now, I’m subscribed to StoryBundle’s email list, and I’m starting on All These Shiny Worlds, an anthology put together based on the concept of Immerse or Die.1
As with the way I usually do anthology reviews, I’m going to give a short response to each story. I’m doing something new, this time, though, and being a more responsible reader – each short story, in this review, has the author’s name listed. Where applicable, their name is a link to reviews of other books/stories of theirs that I’ve reviewed.2
The First Man in the World
An interesting take on the idea of a generation ship – rather than an AI steward, have an actual human doing it, cloning them a new body when the old one breaks down. I’m not entirely sure if I like that idea, to be honest – sure, AI is tough, but I think the whole thing could’ve been managed with a good set of algorithms that know to wake up a human caretaker from cryo-sleep or whatever if something it’s not programmed to deal with happens.
Three Demon Gambit
Oh, this was fun. Everyone with sense knows you shouldn’t make deals with the devil, or demons in general – they’ve had millennia to become experts in all sorts of tricky little contractual loopholes. But summoning three demons and playing them against one another? Oh, that’s delightful.
Rolling the Bones
Eurgh, the editor’s note at the beginning was right about this one. Not all that dark, but creepy. That poor girl.
And it ended on the worst wordplay I’ve ever read. Bonus points for that.
All the Way
Reminds me of nothing so much as the teleportation problem – continuity of self across iterations. As a counterpoint to the arguments someone was making in this, I’ve got a relevant SMBC comic. Either way, it was a sad little story about transhumanism, I suppose? One of those post-singularity ideals, at least.
This one was darker, and weirder – Egyptian magic, rather than what we see all too much of in most fantasy, and a lot of the different beliefs present in ancient Egyptian religion. I honestly don’t know how I feel about the ending – I can’t quite say if it’s a happy or sad ending.
The Ant Tower
Oh, this one was almost something I’d like. Almost, but not quite, because of course it had to go all dark. Bah, and humbug. Nice character building, at least.
Back to the fun sort of thing – a rather iffy description of CIA operations, with that characteristic disregard for the illegality of CIA operations on US soil, and then breaking into the church of Scientology of all places. What a nice little adventure, and the twist ending? Delightful. Plus, one hell of a hook on this, as it opens with
The sex snail.
Meetings with Walt always ended with the sex snail.
The First Acolyte of the Upshan Berental
She’d once overheard a priest call it “The Sacred Thingy,” which had seemed blasphemous but also accurate.
Go click on that link on Bryce’s name, because he’s a wonderful writer and I’ve loved everything I’ve read that he wrote. This was no different – a funny little story, set in a valley cut off from the rest of the world and guarded by… The Sacred Thingy. And I must say, I don’t disagree with the final decision the protagonist made – in her place, I’d have done the same thing.
It was sweet! The competition scenes had me a little bit nervous – I’m still not entirely sure on what happened with the person who got first, what their actual prize is, but it worked out well for everyone, I suppose.
The Spider and the Darkness
I think the setting this one starts in would definitely qualify it as ‘dark fantasy,’ but it does eventually get out of there. It kinda reminds me of some of the scenes in Battle Magic, Tamora Pierce’s most recent book. Secrets of the earth, and all that.
The Dowager’s Largesse
This… might be my favorite one of the whole book, thus far. I love the setting it’s in, and I want to read more of it. I love the idea of an old Empire with old magics written into the land, somewhat forgotten or ignored by the current government. I love that the Dowager Empress put together this whole complex system of free booze and magic3 as a way of searching for something, and I love the way she checks to see how things have worked out. I really do hope she survives what she started.
There’s some Buffy vibes to this one, but gone all… church-y. Which is a bit weird, and made me almost instinctively disagree with some of the things the main character thought, but it allowed for some really interesting character growth.
The Red Flame of Death
Van Allen Plexico
Again the religious fervor, but this time quite necessary – it’s the best thing for fighting demons, after all. I like the implications in there – that one day mankind will be able to utterly defeat the forces of darkness. When it comes to fighting demons, that’s not the sort of thing you usually see; usually those stories imply that it’s like fighting entropy, and one day the darkness will win.
The Blue Breeze
Oh, this is a fun setting for a story. Two suns, one of which is somehow ring-shaped? That one makes me suspect it’s some sort of science fiction setup, and the ring-sun is an orbiting mirror-station or something. The protagonist lives in the Hell Hollows, which is possibly the most vicious place possible- even the trees are carnivorous.
Aside from that maybe-space-station thing going on, there’s also a Mysterious Ancient Ruin at one point, and it’s basically hitting all my buttons for a setting I’d like to read more of.
Oh, there’s a lot going on here, and I hope there’s a full novel set in this world, because I would love to see more of it. All sorts of fun macrobiology, and there’s something weird going on with the gems. A lot of fun.
And that’s it, for this anthology. I quite enjoyed it, and it’s apparently free as a Kindle book? Oh my. Go read.