Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Review of "The Watchmaker's Gift" by Rich Matrunick, Published by Daily Science Fiction Magazine

Yesterday, I signed up to receive stories from Daily Science Fiction magazine (dailysciencefiction.com).  This free e-zine publishes (and emails to subscribers) a daily piece of flash speculative fiction Monday through Thursday (stories that could be read during a coffee break) and a longer piece (up to 10,000 words) every Friday (that may be enjoyed over the weekend).  Not only sci-fi, but fantasy, horror, and slipstream stories are featured.  The reader is given a chance to rate the stories on a scale of one to seven "rocket dragons."

Today, I received my first installment, Rich Matrunick's flash fiction story "The Watchmaker's Gift."  Mr. Matrunick has a lyrical writing style similar to mine own.  In fact, the story would have worked well as a narrative poem with just a little tinkering.

The story is told from the POV of a turtle that was reanimated by a kindly old watchmaker.  As his life literally ticks away, the turtle wonders what his purpose is.  He finds out in the end (I won't spoil it here).  The story causes the reader to examine his own mortality and whether it is best to ignore or embrace it.  I loved it--seven rocket dragons.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Review of Fred Chappell's Maze of Shadows

Maze of Shadows by Fred Chappell is the novella featured in the current (May/June 2012) issue of Fantasy and Science Fiction magazine.  The editor's note states that Mr. Chappell's tales of Falco the apprentice shadow master, of which Maze is the latest, began appearing in F&SF in 2007.

Maze is a well-written, entertaining swords and sorcery fantasy and mystery story all rolled into one, and the combo works beautifully, as I daresay it does in my short story "Nightmare in Xipan."  Interestingly, there are no discernable science fiction elements in the story, even though  F&SF states in its submission guidelines that having a sci-fi element, however small, is a requirement for publication in the magazine.

This was the first Falco story that I have ever read, and I am eager to read more of them.  Mr. Chappell's world is set in a kind of Italy during the Renaissance, but it is clearly a world other than our own.  In this world, shadows can be captured (or stolen--but don't call Falco a thief!) and used by shadow masters in various, interesting ways.  This makes for a unique scheme of magic--reason enough to open the book--but it was the cast of fascinating and mysterious characters that kept me turning the pages.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Review of "Four Household Tales" by Poor Mojo's Giant Squid

I have been reading Household Tales by the Brother's Grimm, having read several stories from this source only this morning.  So, when I came upon "Four Household Tales" while perusing on-line back issues of Shimmer magazine in my search for a good market for my short story "Jonathan and Margaret," I paused and read.  The four very short stories are told from the POV of a giant squid.  They may be found at:  http://www.shimmerzine.com/four-household-tales/.

The first story, "A Master and Student on the Muddy Road," has the squid and his apprentice, Abraham Lincoln, come upon a damsel in distress.  The author's style is formal, matter-of-fact, and sprinkled with dark humor.  It goes along at first as though a brother Grimm were narrating, then suddenly the POV of the squid hits the reader in the face with inky horror.  Needless to say, I loved the story, so I moved on to the next one...

The second story, "Three Travelers upon the Ship Titanic," again features the squid and two companions--a doctor and a lawyer.  The ship crashes into an ice "burgh."  At first I thought a typo had somehow gotten past the editors.  I was wrong.  Well, Poor Mojo was two for two, so on to the next one...

The third story, "An Actual Occurrence in the City of Las Vegas," has the squid get drunk and hook up with a floozy.  Dark hilarity ensues.  I mean, how does the author come up with this stuff?  OK, three for three--on to the finale...

The fourth and, sadly, final story, "The Babysitter," narrated by the squid, begins in the manner of a cliche B-movie slasher film where the babysitter, alone in the house with her charges, receives increasingly threatening phone calls.  This story, as with all stories of this ilk, always end with, "Run!  The calls are coming from inside the house!"  So, I do not feel bad about giving away the ending.  The manner of speech of the squid, analogous to that of Saphira in The Inheritance Cycle (Eragon) books, makes this take on the old theme unique, memorable, and (above all) entertaining.  I hope to see more by this architeuthic storyteller.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Review of Aliette de Bodard's "Immersion"

"Immersion" by Aliette de Bodard is a science fiction story of about 7,000 words that appears in the current (June 2012, Issue #69) edition of Clarkesworld (clarkesworldmagazine.com).  In the story's disturbing future, clothing-like machines called "immersers" are used to create an "avatar" about the wearer that not only changes the user's appearance but controls the user's thoughts and body language.  Overuse, as may be surmised, has horrifying consequences; underuse has societal consequences that are perhaps even more horrifying.  The use of second person narrative was risky, as it always is, but worked beautifully here. As the story moved back and forth between second and third person, I felt, quite literally, immersed in the story.  "Immersion" is a difficult, but worthwhile, read.

Review of Albert E. Cowdrey's "Asylum"

"Asylum" is a ghost story of about 8,000 words that appears in the current (May/June 2012) issue of Fantasy & Science Fiction magazine.  I felt like I was reading Neil Gaiman and hope that it is obvious that I mean this as a compliment.  The protagonist, Willy, is a lovable loser in his early twenties who finally gets the chance to live his dream of becoming a full-time ghost hunter in New Orleans when he receives an inheritance from his aunt.  It is not a scary ghost story, but rather one that speculates on the question of what happens on the "other side."  Mr. Cowdrey's tale is uplifting, entertaining, and even a little bit thought-provoking.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Review of Naomi Kritzer's Liberty's Daughter

Liberty's Daughter by Naomi Kritzer appears in the current (May/June 2012) issue of Fantasy & Science Fiction magazine.  It is a science fiction/mystery novelette of about 13,000 words set in the not-too-distant future on a seastead in the Pacific Ocean about 220 miles off the coast of California.  I was particularly delighted to read a story with such a setting, as I have been following the concept of seasteading with great interest over the past two years.  If I were a wealthy man, I would do whatever I could to make seasteading a reality...or maybe a moon or Martian base, I'm kind of torn.  Anyway, check out www.seasteading.org to learn more about this intriguing, plausible alternative to our current geopolitical systems.

The story is told from the POV of a resourceful sixteen-year-old girl who lives with her wealthy and influential father on a seastead.  She has a part-time job as a "finder," which is literally someone who finds things.  Apparently, seastead life is great and the freedom is wonderful until you want size 9 1/2 pink pumps or some other specific item.  Supply boats are few and far between, and travel to California is expensive, time-consuming, and, for some, ill-advised--as for those who immigrated to a 'stead to escape paying the outrageous income taxes that make me angry every day.  Anywaaaay, the girl's job gets interesting--and dangerous--when she is asked to find a missing person.

I enjoyed the story because of the setting--how could I not given my interest in seasteading?  It was because of this interest that I was able to overlook that the story not only was being told from the POV of a teenaged girl, but seemed to be written by one as well.  I hope that other, better authors will be inspired by Ms. Kritzer's juvenile, yet nevertheless pioneering, work and give us higher quality stories set in the fascinating world of seasteading.  It would be especially interesting to read these stories fifty to sixty years from now and see what the science fiction writers predicted correctly--and what they did not.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Narrative vs Narrative Poems

I would describe my prose as formal and poetic, lovingly sprinkled with literary devices and word order inversions.  My literary voice is never forced, or at least never feels that way to me.  I actually speak and have always spoken in an old-fashioned manner--to the point where I was occasionally mocked as a child for it.  One of the instructors at the Veteran's Writing Project seminars that I attended in March and April 2012 described my voice as, "formal with a dash of humor."

Neil Gaiman included several narrative poems in his short fiction collection Smoke and Mirrors, and that gave me an idea:  There is a separate market for speculative poetry, and since I write like a poet anyway, why not re-work some of my prose into narrative poems?  I took on the challenge and found it whimsical and fun--I even engaged in some word painting.  Two strong narrative poems resulted from this experimentation, and they have been submitted to poetry markets.