I was very pleased to have the opportunity to read this anthology, as I frequently feeling lazy towards short stories: most of the time I have to make an effort to begin a new story and, for a very short one, I may be frustrated by its shortness if I liked it or disgruntled to have spent some time and efforts for nothing if I didn’t. This was the very occasion to make acquaintance with some unknown authors, to read more of others I like, or to try again with some I didn’t appreciated in the past.
It’s very difficult to put a note down for so many stories. I chose arbitrarily 4 out of 5 (even if my own would average around 3) because with so many various stories any reader is sure to have some very good surprises in the whole. I did!
I’ve written some very brief reviews for each story to explain why I did like it, or didn’t, or didn’t and even ďidnt finish it. Here they are:
« Six Months, Three Days” by Charlie Jane Anders: DNF 1*/5
To be honest this kind of theme doesn’t interest me much and I rarely appreciate its use as a story plot (as an exception the glorious « Spoon Benders » by Daryl Gregory, in which it’s absolutely not the only theme). I wouldn’t have read this novella spontaneously, to be sure. But I was all for trying! Well it’s was confusing, not convincing (the characters were so nearly normal, so implausible!) and, the worse, boring. I didn’t care for the characters and wasn’t intrigued by the end, so I stopped reading.
“Damage” by David D. Levine: 4*/5
I liked very much this story, loved the duality between what the main character knew and what it was feeling, forced by its programming. The tone is sad, melancholic and suits this heart-rending story.
“The Best We Can” by Carrie Vaughn: 3*/5
I liked the main idea: making a story about finding the proof of extra terrestrial intelligence in a way that couldn’t make any story. The wear and tear of the situation for the main character was thoroughly and cleverly exposed. But the end was quite disappointing. I was ready for something less pseudo educational…
“The City Born Great” by N. K. Jemisin DNF 2*/5
Well written with a strong voice but not to my liking! I was swimming in incoherent esoteric oneiric flights of fancy and was lost before to the end of the story and, consequently, stop to read. I absolutely don’t mind this kind of tale when I can find a coherent reason for it (as for instance the wonderful « Challenger deep » by Neal Shusterman) but there it seems gratuitous, and I wasn’t touched by the…urban fantasy fairytale? and decided the novella a lost cause for me.
“A Vector Alphabetof Interstellar Travel” by Yoon Ha Lee DNF 1*/5
I’ve read one book by the author (« Ninefox gambit ») . I rather appreciated it, even if it was very foggy (strange fantasish science, action which seemed to be happening… nowhere), because the characters were great and the story was interesting. In this novella there are no characters and no story either. It’s just a list, author’s notes, ideas… I tried to read through but finally gave up: unintelligible for the reader I am.
“Waiting on a Bright Moon” by JY Yang 2,5 */5
I liked the writing and the atmosphere, I read this novella easily. I appreciated less the fantasy-science (magic, not science), the end, which doesn’t end anything, and the impression (maybe false but here I am) that the author used their story to make a point about feminine homosexuality. I’m all in favour of diversity in matters of love, it should be naturally broached in all stories. But in this short story this theme is central and, if beautifully expressed, over developed. The romance wasn’t very convincing, it seemed more like two people searching and finding comprehension and affection. Sweet but not dreamy!
“Elephants and Corpses” by Kameron Hurley 5*/5
I loved everything about this story: the writing, immersive and smart, the characters who managed to be so touching in such a short time, the main idea and how it was developed, the humour, the humanity, the beautiful conclusion. I hadn’t read anything by the author, but realised that her book « The stars are legion » is in my possession, waiting to be read! It’ll be soon 🙂
“About Fairies” by Pat Murphy 5*/5
A very good story, very personal with a beautiful, strange, sad and wise atmosphere. The consideration about death and relationships, how we should be able to chose about important things, like believing, sharing and loving without having to follow any diktats, is really interesting, concealed in a story about adults, fairies and lost.
“The Hanging Game” by Helen Marshall 4*/5
A weird unusual story with a blurred background, and some dark magic hidden in plain sight!
“The Water That Falls on You from Nowhere” by John Chu 3*/5
An enjoyable read but a little bit lacking of something – I wouldn’t know what ! – to make it memorable…
“A Cup of Salt Tears” by Isabel Yap 3*/5
I really liked this story till the end. It it isn’t that I disliked the end actually, but because I didn’t understand it. I was clearly missing something which was frustrating (and if not, if it was intentional, I don’t like at all!)
“The Litany of Earth” by Ruthanna Emrys 3*/5
I would have liked this story more if the fantastic part wasn’t dwarfed by the analogy part. I was frustrated ; the idea could have made a better novel than a novella maybe? In a similar fantastic theme, Daryl Gregory’s « Harrison squared » is a hit!
“Brimstone and Marmalade” by Aaron Corwin 2*/5
After an excellent beginning, rather a let down. The idea of demons pets is great but fizzles out. No answers will be given about their existence in a quite normal contemporain world. They just seem to exist to make a point – a rather moralising one, morever.
Still the writing is good and the story bitter sweet, so quite a good read if not an excellent one.
“Reborn” by Ken Liu 5*/5
Excellent SF, with a strong atmosphere and an impressive manner to tell things without saying them. The story in itself is quite sad, desperate even, but not gratuitously: behind the SF themes, other ones are broached with a lot a sensibility : sexual and psychological abuses, identity and memory, what is worth to die for. An unforgettable read for me.
“Please Undo This Hurt” by Seth Dickinson 5*/5
I wasn’t much impressed by the story in itself. But all the rest was extraordinarily moving and rang true. This novella will be resonant and meaningful for anybody who’s been depressed and/or is suffering with an oversensitive constitution while having a somewhat, or sometimes, heartbreaking job.
“The Language of Knives” by Haralambi Markov 2*/5
Very good writing, a good and bizarre idea, but a story which left me cold.
“The Shape of My Name” by Nino Cipri 5*/5
An audacious and very well shaped story, mixing up identity, time travel and family ties. I particularly appreciated how one of the theme was developed, with finesse and reserve.
“Eros, Philia, Agape” by Rachel Swirsky 2*/5
I wasn’t much moved by this short story, sad, pessimistic and negative – too much for my taste. And I don’t care for open endings either. Good writing, just not for me!
“The Lady Astronaut of Mars” by Mary Robinette Kowal 3*/5
I appreciated the idea of displaying a female astronaut and an old person. The reflection about long ago fame and old « has been » heroes was sound.
But the end cheats, the solution isn’t okay, the heroine’s quandary isn’t solved at all! Or shouldn’t be…
“Last Son of Tomorrow” by Greg van Eekhout 2*/5
Just half of an idea, boring and empty.
Not horrible just uninteresting for me.
“Ponies” by Kij Johnson 4*/5
A weird and disturbing story, showing some children’s casual cruelty. A strong atmosphere and some striking writing!
“La beauté sans vertu” by Genevieve Valentine 2*/5
A good and original beginning but a confusing and boring story. I skimmed it to the end. A strong voice but not the kind of writing I’m able to appreciate.
“A Fist of Permutations in Lightning and Wildflowers” by Alyssa Wong 1*/5 DNF
I didn’t like a thing about this story and couldn’t even finish it! Just nor for me, at all..
“A Kiss With Teeth” by Max Gladstone 3*/5
A good story, melancholic and intriguing. The end wasn’t completely convincing, maybe…
“The Last Banquet of Temporal Confections” by Tina Connolly
Quite a little chef d’œuvre! A brilliant idea, beautifully executed: the narration and the magic expressed serve to explain the past, while hinting for some sensational ending – which doesn’t disapoint.
A wonderful story, poignant and so very satisfying!
“The End of the End of Everything” by Dale Bailey 3*/5
The novella was really good, with a strong atmosphere, in a (maybe metaphorical?) ending apocalyptic world. If I didn’t appreciate it more it’s very probably because it also was quite too « adult » for my taste: disillusioned sex, toxic indulgences (sex, alcool, drugs) and a very very weird, disgusting, awful, disturbing idea (some very very weird, disgusting, awful, disturbing art). The end, and its moral, was rather sweet, comparatively (if not an happy one, obviously)
“Breaking Water” by Indrapramit Das 4*/5
A weird and clever pseudo zombies story. A clever and humble reflection upon Indian society, particularly women’s place. If really bizarre and quite disgusting sometimes, nothing is gratuitous. Another theme is how we consider, or lack to do so, the future of our closest relation’s corpses and, by extension, our own one (if interested please have a look at Caitlin Doughty’s books and youtube « Ask A Mortician »).
“Your Orisons May Be Recorded” by Laurie Penny 2,5*/5
Good writing, an easy flow, but a rather weak idea and an also rather weak end
“The Tallest Doll in New York City” by Maria Dahvana Headley
Good writing, an intriguing idea but a very confusing narrative (I couldn’t understand if the « we » was for a building or for all the waiters) and a off-handedly narrative: the practical consequences of such an incredible action are ignored, the buildings just sprout some handy members to walk, dance and… much more.
Still I would have been a tiny more generous if for the very irritating and silly overuse of the word « doll » instead of « woman », « girl », « female » etc. I imagine that it’s supposed to make a nice contrast with the feminine resolution of the Chrysler Building, but it was much too insistent to be effective.
“The Cage” by A.M. Dellamonica 4*/5
A very enjoyable realistic urban fantasy short story, with touching characters
“In the Sight of Akresa” by Ray Wood
Good writing but an antipathic story, with a weak, un-loyal and animal abusing narrator (Which wasn’t exactly, I suppose, the writer’s aim).
A true feel bad story.
“Terminal” by Lavie Tidhar 3*/5
I liked the story and the idea was interesting if not really credible, scientifically wise, maybe (thousand personal jalopies couldn’t be cheaper than one big spaceship couldn’t they?)
I particularly appreciated the non American nor European point of view!
“The Witch of Duva: A Ravkan Folk Tale” by Leigh Bardugo 5*/5
A clever and enthralling dark (or only true!) fairy tale, with ambiguous characters and a very surprising ending!
I wasn’t completely convinced by Shadow and Bone when I read it, a few years ago, but this short story makes me want to reread it.
“Daughter of Necessity” by Marie Brennan 2*/5
This retelling of Penelope’s story wasn’t bad, just a bit dull. There is a personal magic touch, to spice up the whole, but not very efficient to my taste. And the name dropping at the beginning of the story was rather unnecessary…
Nothing to compare with the fantastic « Circe » by Madeleine Miller.
“Among the Thorns” by Veronica Schanoes 2*/5
This was an original retelling, not lacking in personality.
But I couldn’t really appreciate it because of the many tortures’s descriptions. The way the loving uncle explains in details to the wife and her children, some very young, how the father was tortured, killed and his corpse displayed, was particularly awful and disturbing. I admit to have skimmed some passages.
“These Deathless Bones” by Cassandra Khaw 3*/5
A very dark fantasy façon fairytale, with an interesting point of view.
The end was a bit frustrating as cut rather shortly, and the entirely bad, monstrous child, from birth, remains a very disturbing theme.
“Mrs. Sorensen and the Sasquatch” by Kelly Barnhill 3*/5
This short story was quite a delicious reading, I loved the main character (the pastor), the atmosphere, the malicious tone.
But the end was somewhat botched, an easy way out. And the fact that the conformist villagers, in all their indignation, never seemed to ponder over – pardon my crudity – sexual intercourses between the delicate and lovely widow and the head over heels in love Sasquatch isn’t very credible – as so many people seem to be obsessed with their entourage’s sexuality…
“This World Is Full of Monsters” by Jeff VanderMeer 1*/5
DNF at the half
The beginning of this novella was rather enjoyable, if weird in a nebulous kind of way. But at some point of the story I lost interest as the narration was becoming more and more muddy. I then realised that I had still quite a longish part to read and decided to treat myself and stop reading.
I don’t mind strangeness at all, but onirism and esoterism are beyond me…
“The Devil in America” by Kai Ashante Wilson 3*/5
The story was easy to read, even with its audacious writing: audacious writing is the author’s trademark and I loved my two others reads by him (« A taste of honey » and « The sorcerer of the wildeeps »). But I was rather disappointed by my incapacity to clearly understand the whole story. I felt out of my depth, there…
“A Short History of the Twentieth Century, or, When You Wish Upon A Star” by Kathleen Ann Goonan
Haven’t read it yet. I was feeling rather out of breath at the end of this anthology, and the presentation of this last story didn’t appeal much to me, so I decided to postpone its reading.
(I thank Netgalley and Macmillan-Tor/Forge for sending me the ARC in exchange for my honest review)