This is a massive read. My e-reader, which paginates things fairly well, counted it out to precisely 5,000 pages—I actually spent some time wondering if it was so perfectly 5,000, or if that’s just a hard-coded limit at which it throws its hands up in the air and says “I dunno, man, it’s a long document.” As it turns out, it’s just a perfectly even 5,000 pages! I’ll have to try harder if I want to stump the pagination algorithm.
As to what the actual content is, Tor (the publisher, not the service you use if you want to avoid government censorship and/or commit some kind of crime) frequently hires writers to write short stories, which they publish on their website. And, at some point, they bundled up five years’ worth of those stories into this gargantuan ebook. It’ll make for an interesting review, because everything contained in the book is also online, so I can link directly to individual stories. (Which is for the best, because I now can’t figure out where I got this ebook or if it’s still for sale.)
So, here goes: the stories that I bookmarked, and some thoughts about each of them.
- The Witch of Duva by Leigh Bardugo. So perfectly creepy, and not at all in the way you’d expect it to be—an inverted folk tale. The first story in the book where I went “aw, crap” because I was reading before bed and it was about to ruin my ability to sleep. Also the first one that I went and found online to send to someone to read.
- The Water That Falls On You From Nowhere by John Chu. Heartbreaking and heartfelt, and all the complexity of family and expectations. I absolutely adore the use of a science fiction concept as perfectly normal—it reminds me of a(n apparently misremembered) Steven King quote. “Science fiction is about ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances; literature is about extraordinary people in ordinary circumstances.”1
- The Commonplace Book by Jacob Clifton. I liked the familiar-but-not-quite feel of Ada Lovelace and her dealing with the complete nonsense that is societal expectations.2
- The Strange Case of Mr. Salad Monday by G.D. Falksen. Wonderfully irreverent, with some of that Sherlock Holmes styling that I enjoy, though wrapped up as an actual police officer instead of entirely an outsider to the system. The setting feels very big though, like, there’s a whole lot of steampunk world to explore… but we’re here, in the big city, safe from all the things that go bump in the night. Well, mostly.
- A Clean Sweep With All the Trimmings by James Alan Gardner. The writing style took a little bit to get used to, but by the end I was a little bit in love with it.3
- Shade by Steven Gould. I had to look up the author afterwards, and realized that while I hadn’t read any of his other works, some of what’s going on here feels familiar because it’s set in the same universe as one of those other works… that was adapted into a movie that I’ve seen. And I like things like this, seeing people use their extraordinary circumstances to help ordinary people.
- Ghost Hedgehog by Nina Kiriki Hoffman. Once again, this feels like a connection to an existing work, although I don’t think Hoffman wrote The Sixth Sense.
- The Cat Who Walked A Thousand Miles by Kij Johnson. What can I say? I’m a cat person. And this story has that nice “old legend” feel to it—it isn’t polished to within an inch of its life, it has little side journeys along the way.
- First Flight by Mary Robinette Kowal. Doing a bit of rereading for this review, and I don’t know that I’d realized quite how good a mic drop “he understood the historical context” is at the end.
- The Speed of Time by Jay Lake. It’s a little disjointed, but I think that actually worked quite well. It reminds me of Fine Structure—something huge and not nearly so complex as it seems, expressed in many different ways.
- The Starship Mechanic by Jay Lake and Ken Scholes. Something about Penauch stuck with me. An infinite multi-tool of a creature, wanting nothing more than a little vacation, and only able to get it by some fairly ridiculous means.
- Earth Hour by Ken Macleod. Every other future in the book feels a little bit dated—that general feeling of old science fiction where they assumed we’d be running around on Mars but had no idea that cell phones would exist, though not to nearly that degree—except this one. It still feels very modern in how it imagines the future. I still can’t decide if it’s an optimistic take on the future or not, but I enjoyed it either way.
- Though Smoke Shall Hide the Sun by Brit Mandelo. Here’s a piece of fiction that feels particularly of a time—vampires and werewolves, oh my! But, hey, that was a big trend for a while for a reason. It’s fun!
- Heads Will Roll by Lish McBride. This feels like the concept for a YA TV series. I’d watch the heck out of it, honestly. Percy Jackson vibes, too.
And here, I’m splitting the post, because a 5,000-page book deserves more than one post worth of review. (And, frankly, I feel like I should get more than one week’s worth of blog post out of that much reading!)
- After a great deal of googling, I managed to find the actual quote, which is similar but not quite what I was thinking:> Pop culture writing is about ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances. Literature is about extraordinary people in ordinary circumstances. ↩
- I also pulled out a great quote:> “At the end of things, which comes closer every minute, you will look back and you will see the path of your life. Do you want that girl to be a cringing swot, a spinster who loved and lost; or do you want to be strong enough to design your life to your own specifications? I assure you, I shall hate you either way. But you shouldn’t hate yourself. ↩
- > Carl says a delivery came for me and it is waiting behind the candy counter. When I look, I see two wooden crates. One is stuffed with feather pillows and one is not. The one without pillows holds twenty sticks of dynamite. The other holds four bottles of nitro, which are put to bed on nice soft pillows because nitro gets sore if someone wakes it accidentally. ↩