A continuation of my previous post, where I started but didn’t finish reviewing a massive, 5,000-page anthology of short stories collected by the science fiction publisher Tor. There’s a longer explanation in that previous one; here, I’m finishing my list of stories that caught my interest, with links to where you can read them (free!) online.
- Fire Above, Fire Below by Garth Nix. Garth Nix’s writing always reminds me of his Seventh Tower series, which I absolutely loved as a kid.1 Which has nothing to do with this story, but it’s still what came to mind.
- Four Horsemen, at Their Leasure by Richard Parks. At this point, I think Terry Pratchett pretty definitively owns the idea of Death as an anthropomorphized entity. And this fits right into that style—theologically very different from the Discworld mythos, and a great deal emptier, but the idea of Death arguing with God? That’s still very Pratchett.
- Silver Linings by Tim Pratt. This can’t not be an allegory about nuclear proliferation. Given that nuclear proliferation is one of my biggest worries, how could I not enjoy the story?
- Clockwork Fairies by Cat Rambo. Rambo did a great job of writing this, because the protagonist is, very deliberately, the single most unlikeable person I’ve ever had to share a perspective with. He’s got that same “terrible in an entirely believable way” thing going on that made Umbridge such an iconic villain.
- The Cairn in Slater Woods by Gina Rosati. I wasn’t actually expecting this story to go the way it did—I was really thinking it was gonna go, like, “the other school in the neighborhood is for the local vampires” or something silly.
- Loco by Bruce Sterling and Rudy Rucker. This feels like a weird cross between Girl Genius and Livewires and I’m… kinda here for it?2
- Firstborn by Brandon Sanderson. There’s a definite Ender’s Game thing going on here, with the whole “managing a war, lots of training simulations, one sibling is preternaturally good at it” aspect. But the way it’s turned and twisted is quite fun.
- After the Coup by John Scalzi. I’m a frequent reader of the “humanity, fuck yeah!” type of story, and this feels like that genre at its absolute best. It isn’t about how great humanity is, unstoppable war machine or whatever; it’s about what people are really like. It’s comical in the best of ways.
- The President’s Brain is Missing by John Scalzi. It was at this point that I decided I should probably put Scalzi on my “get some of his full books and read them” list, because this was just as much fun to read as the previous one.
- Shadow War of the Night Dragons, Book One: The Dead City: Prologue by John Scalzi. Another entry for the “Terry Pratchett would be proud” category. This feels like a slightly darker take on Guards, Guards!3
- A Weeping Czar Beholds the Fallen Moon by Ken Scholes. I’ve just now realized what this makes me think of—the Septimus Heap series. An old-fashioned world, with a bit of real magic… that just so happens to be the things built back when magic was just science.
- Do Not Touch by Prudence Shen. I really like the idea that paintings have those “Do Not Touch” signs not because it’ll damage the ink, but because the curators are tired of diving into the paintings after the kids there on field trips.
- Overtime by Charles Stross. After the amount of Doctor Who they’ve all seen, nobody should be surprised that the British continue to produce time-travel paradoxes.
- Down on the Farm by Charles Stross. That said, I’m actually really enjoying this “Laundry” setting, and may need to go read one of the bigger books. It feels like it’s partially addressing one of my issues with Warehouse 13—namely, that any government organization dealing with Weird Crap like that should have a much bigger bureaucracy.45
- A Tall Tail by Charles Stross. You could maybe write a story that’s more precisely up my alley, but to do so you’d have to take one of those AI models and train it exclusively on my interests for a few years. This sent me off on multiple searches to find out if historical things mentioned actually existed and I’d just missed them, or they were made up for the story.6
- The Dala Horse by Michael Swanwick. Very much in the style of a northern European folk tale, but with a setting where the magic is a result of having built and then forgotten how to build a whole lot of very big, very powerful technologies.
- The Mongolian Wizard by Michael Swanwick. The starter of a whole series—which, as I found out when grabbing the link, continued on after what’s in the ebook, so I’ve got some further reading for myself—of a very magical take on something of a World War.
- What Doctor Gottlieb Saw by Ian Tregillis. Recommended reading prior to this: “Superintelligence: Paths, Dangers, Strategies”. Because this is, for sure, a story about what happens when you create a superintelligence without thinking in advance about what and how.
- The Girl Who Ruled Fairyland—For A Little While by Catherynne M. Valente. A less young-adult version of the Enchanted Forest Chronicles, which I’ve mentioned before as one of my favorite series.
- The Last Son of Tomorrow by Greg van Eekhout. A lot of similarity to the ending of Superman: Red Son, what with the examination of “hang on, what does Superman do when he notices that he’s immune to aging?”
- A Stroke of Dumb Luck by Shiloh Walker. Another entry in the “vampires and werewolves are just kinda fun” category, with bonus points for a good balance between “actual consequences” and “oh god you’re such a teen about how to deal with this situation.”
- Super Bass by Kai Ashante Wilson. The moment in the book (here, thousands of pages in, yes) where I realize how overwhelmingly white/european everything else in the book has been. A reminder that I want to get further out of my comfort zone with what I read, because a lot of the stuff out there, like this, is really good. Very, very different from what I’m used to, and I feel like I’m missing a whole lot of cultural context, but I can muddle my way through and still enjoy it.
- The Woman Who Shook the World-Tree by Michael Swanwick. I’m very slowly working my way through Lessons in Chemistry at the moment, and this very much reminded me of that at the beginning, to the point that I spent the whole story bracing myself for the betrayal that never came. Instead, this was a bittersweet, paradoxical work that I found myself really loving.
- The Sigma Structure Symphony by Gregory Benford. Between the wonderful description of a Lunar colony developed around archiving SETI transmissions from a busy, busy galaxy and the exploration of music as mathematics (and mathematics as music), there’s no way this wasn’t making it onto my list.
- And, honestly, still enjoyed rereading a couple years ago—it’s great fodder for a “this is a work of fantasy, but how can I turn it into far-future science fiction?” thought experiment. Hint: it involves a globe-spanning swarm of nanobots running a virtual world. ↩
- > “Not much like Patel,” mused Becka. > “I can’t say,” replied Gordo. “Remember, I only joined your team after the Patel incident.”
> “I wish you’d stop bitching about ‘the Patel incident.’”
> “Look,” said Gordo, “you can’t just morph a federal scientist into a giant invertebrate that catches fire. That’s not an acceptable protocol.” ↩
- > It is said that earthquakes are what happens when two night dragons love each other very much. ↩
- > Call me impetuous (not to mention a little bored) but I’m not stupid. And while I’m far enough down the management ladder that I have to squint to see daylight, I’m an SSO 3, which means I can sign off on petty cash authorizations up to the price of a pencil and get to sit in on interminable meetings, when I’m not tackling supernatural incursions or grappling with the eerie, eldritch horrors in Human Resources. ↩
- Although, that said, Warehouse 13 did feature an org chart that consisted of a handful of agents, a manager, the CEO, her personal driver, a contractor of a doctor, and then a board of directors that outnumbered the entire rest of the organization, so maybe they do have a healthy amount of bureaucracy… ↩
- I shouldn’t have doubted myself; all the things that I went “wait, is that real? How have I never heard of that?” were, in fact, fictional. Or, I guess, are still classified. ↩