Short Story Review: “A Shot of Salt Water” by Lisa L. Hannett

2 of 5 stars.

Rich folklore emerges from coastal villages in fishing cultures from selkies to mer with creatures with one foot in the sea and another on land.

This quizzical tale bucks most of the lore to redefine mermaids as a female-dominated fishing culture of mixed ancestry, both human and what would traditionally be considered as mer. The ocean-born members of society are stolen/kidnapped from the unnamed gilled people.

The strengths of the tale are in the flipping of gender expectations within the culture as the men are waiting for the women to come home from sea, but also have to worry about infidelity. Also, the exuberance of music is beautifully described.

This tale appears in The Year’s Best Dark Fantasy & Horror: 2016 edited by Paula Guran, which I received directly from Prime Books. I’ve previously read this author’s “The Female Factory”, “Forever, Miss Tapekwa County”, and “In Syllables of Elder Seas”.

 

 

 

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Anthology Review: The Year’s Best Science Fiction & Fantasy: 2016 edited by Rich Horton

The Year's Best Science Fiction & Fantasy 2016The Year’s Best Science Fiction & Fantasy 2016 by Rich Horton
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

As the title promises, this annual anthology solidly delivers. A broad swath of fantasy and science fiction sub-genres fill out the collection with my favorite 4 inclusions, each earning 5 stars, representing widely different fields: Off-Planet Sci-Fi, Artificial Intelligence Sci-Fi, Automaton Steampunk, and Rogue-and-Fae Fantasy. As different as they are, they’re all profoundly moving in their telling of the human condition through non-human and ultra-human means.

Vonda N. McIntyre’s “Little Sisters” dashes traditional notions of gender and sexuality in this brutal tale of war, violence, rape and conquest set among stars and species not exactly human.

Martin L. Shoemaker’s short story, “Today I Am Paul”, depicts an artificially intelligent medical companion bot as it realizes its humanity while helping the family tap into their own as their matriarch struggles with Alzheimer’s Disease.

This Evening’s Performance, a novella by Genevieve Valentine, mirrors the golden age of silent films in its steampunk-tinged tale of automatons displacing actors on the London stages.

C. S. E. Cooney’s novella, The Two Paupers, depicts two starving artists trying to be true to themselves and their friendship despite the machinations of family and life-or-death multidimensional politics. [The Fae do not play nicely.]

I’ve reviewed all of the included tales:
Bear, Elizabeth–“The Heart’s Filthy Lesson”–4 stars
Finlay, C. C.–“Time Bomb Time”–4 stars
Jingfang, Hao [w/ Ken Lui, trans.]–“Folding Beijing”–4 stars
Larson, Rich–“The King in the Cathedral”–4 stars
Ludwigsen, Will–“Acres of Perhaps”–4 stars
McGuire, Seanan–“Hello, Hello”–4 stars
Muir, Tamsyn–“The Deepwater Bride”–4 stars
Nayler, Ray–“Mutability”–4 stars
Bolander, Brooke–“And You Shall Know Her by the Trail of Dead”–3 stars
Bossert, Gregory Norman–“Twelve and Tag”–3 stars
Dickinson, Seth–“Please Undo This Hurt”–3 stars
Dudak, Andy–“Asymptotic”–3 stars
Ings, Simon–“Drones”–3 stars
Kessel, John–“Consolation”–3 stars
Kritzer, Naomi–“Cat Pictures Please”–3 stars
McDonald, Ian–Botanica Veneris: Thirteen Papercuts by Ida Countess Rathangan”–3 stars
Pitkin, Joe–“The Daughters of John Demetrius”–3 stars
Sulway, Nike–“The Karen Joy Fowler Book Club”–3 stars
Barnes, John–“The Last Bringback”–2 stars
Brenchley, Chaz–“The Astrakhan, the Homburg, and the Red, Red Coal”–2 stars
Campbell, Rebecca–“Unearthly Landscape by a Lady”–2 stars
Lee, Yoon Ha–“The Graphology of Hemorrhage”–2 stars
Link, Kelly–“The Game of Smash and Recovery”–2 stars
Ryman, Geoff–“Capitalism in the 22nd Century, or A.I.R.”–2 stars
Valente, Catherynne M.–“The Long Goodnight of Violet Wild”–2 stars
Zinos-Amaro, Alvaro–“Endless Forms Most Beautiful”–2 stars

I received my copy of the anthology directly from Prime Books. I’ve previously read The Year’s Best Science Fiction & Fantasy: 2015, also edited Rich Horton.
 
 
 
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Novella Review: The Two Paupers by C. S. E. Cooney

The Two Paupers (Dark Breakers Book 2)The Two Paupers by C.S.E. Cooney
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Many things hold true power in this world and in others just beyond the Veil: love, kindness, and creation [as in honest, unfettered artistic creation]. But none of these is necessarily the easiest path, and that is the crux of their power.

With a rogue’s tone not unlike Scott Lynch’s Gentlemen Bastards and a convoluted relationship between this realm and a Fae realm, such as in Jim Butcher’s The Dresden Files, this novella presents a stand-alone sequel [indeed, I haven’t read the first, but will now . . .] in which two talented but struggling artists dance around some very grave issues. Gideon, the well-heeled sculptor, has been cursed to carve statues that come to life like warrior golems. He destroys them almost as soon as he makes them. Analiese, the farm-born writer living next door, sees one not yet destroyed the moment its eyes open. Knowing its fate, she steals it away to save it.

She hides the golem away at her newly married friend Elliot’s house. He’s a talented painter and married to the ex-Queen Nix of the Fae Realm. It’s one of the usurpers in Nix’s absence that has cursed Gideon to make warrior golems in order to build an army and secure secession to the throne.

Loyalty to each other, wit, talent and artistic vision all play an intricate role as each tries to secure the best outcome for all the players involved and keep the others safe from harm . . . In a word, this tale is brilliant.

This tale appears in The Year’s Best Science Fiction & Fantasy: 2016 edited by Rich Horton, which I received directly from Prime Books. I’ve previously read this author’s “Witch, Beast, Saint: An Erotic Fairy Tale”.

 

 

 

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Short Story Review: “The Glad Hosts” by Rebecca Campbell

The Glad HostsThe Glad Hosts by Rebecca Campbell
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The biological factoid that bacteria on and in one’s body outnumbers the body’s cells by 10 to 1 is ripe for speculation. One must wonder how integrated the organisms are. What choices are actually compromises for the super-organism that each body represents?

Amid a curious background landscape of a lovely off-world planet, this tale explores the super-organism of a human infected with an alien microorganism. The changes are not altogether unpleasant as the person reacts to the parasite morphing through many different life stages. Her very personality and psychology co-opt and adapt to the changes in a startlingly welcoming way.

This tale appears in The Year’s Best Dark Fantasy & Horror: 2016 edited by Paula Guran, I received directly from Prime Books. I’ve previously read this author’s “Unearthly Landscape by a Lady”.

 

 

 

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Short Story Review: “Windows Underwater” by John Shirley

3 of 5 stars.

Lovecraft’s modern day myth of the dysmorphic and transmorphic denizens of Innsmouth, MA has seen many iterations. Broadly, a fishing village comes under the influence of an Old One, akin to a titan, residing in the deep sea. The human followers start to morph into a gilled, webbed fish-people more ghastly eel than Disney mermaid.

This variant follows 2 friends over 3 get-togethers spread over 3 decades. They start in their village just outside of Innsmouth at 21 y.o. with Gilberto wanting to get away from his dad and brother’s fishing vessel and make it in Hollywood. Lymon is resigned to staying local.

The 2nd get together, 14 years later, sees Gilberto returning from life in California and reconnecting with Lymon who shows Gil the effect of rapidly rising sea levels to the coastal town of Innsmouth. While there, they see literally fishy people swimming beneath the waves among the drowned buildings. Lymon lures Gil into the water . . .

This tale appears in The Year’s Best Dark Fantasy & Horror: 2016 edited by Paula Guran, I received directly from Prime Books. I’ve previously read this author’s “Aftertaste”, “Ash”, “At Home With Azathoth”, “Just Beyond the Trailer Park”, and his excellent “Isolation Point, California”.

 

 

 

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Novel Review: Summer Knight by Jim Butcher

Summer Knight (The Dresden Files, #4)Summer Knight by Jim Butcher
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Harry Dresden is the quintessential modern day, wizarding detective. With one foot in Chicago, and the other kicking the supernatural world of the Fae called Nevernever, Harry is ever learning about broader worlds and politics that make Chicago’s look tame. The first few books in the series established Harry as a talented yet poor wizard that has to advertise his abilities to pay the rent. This includes working for the Chicago Police Department as a paid consultant in all things weird.

Early books hinted at Harry’s dark past in which he killed his mentor in self-defense, and fought to maintain his life and to retain his talent from the White Counsel that rules over all wizards. Vampire and Fae politics also ensnared him, while werewolves, pixies, demons and worse prowled, buzzed and bullied Chicago.

This strong addition to the series starts with a murder and climaxes with Harry trying to prevent all out war between the two main fairy factions. Considering that Book 3 saw him fail to keep the 3 vampire factions from declaring war on each other and against the White Counsel, this is no small order. The tale is highly recommended.

James Marsters read this tale to me thanks to Audible. I’ve previously read Butcher’s:
Storm Front (The Dresden Files, #1)–4 stars
Fool Moon (The Dresden Files, #2)–4 stars
Grave Peril (The Dresden Files, #3)–4 stars
“Last Call” (The Dresden Files, #10.6)–5 stars

 

 

 

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Short Story Review: “Hello, Hello” by Seanan McGuire

4 of 5 stars.

One of the more head-scratching hypocrisies of humans is judging the intelligence of non-human animals based on their grasp of human language as if humans have figured out a single non-human language. The pets, horses, chimps, gorillas and dolphins that’ve grasped a few words or signs seen to be leading the pack. More often than not, humans don’t understand other humans speaking a language other than their own. And thus the sci-fi invention of the universal translator . . .

This slightly futuristic tale focuses on two grown sisters that rely on a Skype-like interface with a beta-model of a universal translator to communicate. Interestingly, one of the sisters is completely deaf-mute, the other is American Sign Language [ASL] – Spoken English bilingual. Using avatars, the translator interprets signs as vocal words and vice versa, accommodating for the drastic differences in language structure and grammar.

The same smart system also actively tries to translate and “learn” new languages in the same way. When working through syntax and expression etc. the translator defaults to interpreting the communication as Hello set on repeat. The narrator’s young kids are also proficient in ASL and in use of the communication interface used to call their deaf Aunt Tasha. One day the narrator finds a stranger using her deaf sister’s interface and talking to her young impressionable daughter. Disturbingly, the strange woman merely says, Hello, Hello, Hello and doesn’t answer questions about Tasha’s whereabouts. . .

The discovery process of this tale and the familiarity of failed communication drives this story eerily, if not enjoyably.

This tale appears in The Year’s Best Science Fiction & Fantasy: 2016 edited by Rich Horton, which I received directly from Prime Books. I’ve previously read this author’s “Each to Each” and “There is No Place for Sorrow in the Kingdom of the Cold”.

 

 

 

[Check out my other reviews here.]