Tangent’s 2015 Recommended Reading

If you’ve taken a casual look at my blog recently you might get the impression that I do a bit of reviewing. Actually, I do a lot of reviewing, though lately not so much on the books I’ve been reading for pleasure. Frantically writing my own fiction has eaten up a large chunk of my time, on top of the reviews I do for Tangent Online.

Tangent is a fanzine started back in 1993 that reviews the works from the short story to novella pro-paying market. Occasionally they’ll review novels, and there are articles and other interesting stuff out there for the SFF minded.

At the end of every year a list is compiled of what the review team felt were the best of the best to be published that year. Stories we like are given a zero to three star ranking, depending on whether they’re just ‘good’ or mind-blowingly life changing. Keep in mind that these are already stories that have been accepted into professional publications, so these are double-vetted stories of pure awesomeness.

To see the 2015 list, visit Tangent Online here. You have to scroll down some, past the explanation of the list (summarized above) and some stuff about Sad Puppies that I’m not going to get into here.

Anyway, if you’re looking for some spectacular short science fiction, fantasy, or horror reads and aren’t sure where to start, give this list a look. I’ve picked quite a few choice stories myself.

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Tangent Reviews: Nightmare#40

Nightmare #40 had a story with a similar theme as the last Nightmare issue I reviewed, which threw more for a bit of a loop. It was the best story in the issue, so I can’t complain, but the coincidence made me smile.

“Angel, Monster, Man” by Sam J. Miller
“Vulcanization” by Nisi Shawl

“Angel, Monster, Man” is a bit of a lengthy story, but it was my favorite of the issue, both for its subject matter and for its presentation. “Vulcanization” I liked less. I didn’t like the main character, I thought the pacing was off, and the emotion stretched too far into satire to make sense within the story.

My full review is available at Tangent Online. Read the original stories on Nightmare’s website.

Tangent Reviews: Apex Magazine

Last month I returned to review Apex Magazine, which is quickly becoming one of my favorite publications for short science fiction and fantasy. Issue #77 contains the following stories:

  • “When the Fall is All That’s Left” by Arkady Martine
  • “Super Duper Fly” by Maurice Broaddus
  • “All Things to All People” by D. K. Thompson
  • “Me and Jasper Down By the Meth Shack” by Aaron Saylor
While all the stories are strong in their own way, “Me and Jasper Down By the Meth Shack” was my favorite, simply because of the strength of the voice. It takes elements of storytelling that might have otherwise been trite on their own and made them novel and entertaining. As always, I recommend reading the original stories, which you can do by subscribing to Apex Magazine at the link above, and if you’re so inclined take a look at my full review at Tangent Online.

Tangent Reviews: SQ Mag

This is the last one, I swear. I would have bundled them all together, but I like to separate them by publication when I can. This was my first time reading SQ and it was decent. None of the stories reached out and grabbed me by my soul, but I don’t remember detesting any of them either. I reviewed, “The Florist” by M. B. Vujačić, “Stairwell” by Ron Riekki, “Home Delivery” by Michelle Jager, “Inner Dragon” by James Aquilone, and “Bot Malfunction” by Iulian Ionescu. My review of all five of these stories can be found here.

Tangent Reviews: Strange Horizons

I’m even more behind on posting my Strange Horizons reviews. Poor blog, you have been so neglected, haven’t you? But deadlines, paid work and my personal writing come before blogging time and I’ve been burning the keyboard with other things recently. And now for catch up number two. (My reviews behind the date link, original stories behind the title link.)

Karen Myres’ “The Visitor” was my favorite of these by far. I don’t want to spoil it because I love the story so much but if you don’t read any of the other stories on this list, you should read this one. “Beyond Sapphire Glass” was also nice. The narrative style is odd, but it grows on you as you read it. “20/20” was fairly good too, though I swear I’ve read a story just like it not long ago.

Tangent Reviews: Terraform

I’ve done quite a few Terraform reviews since the last one I posted in March. The ezine releases one new story a week, plus they did a special three story feature not long ago and I’ve gotten a bit behind with posting my reviews here. Let’s do a little catch up, then. (My reviews under the date link, the original story under the title link.)

A mixed bag, as always. My favorite was either “The Prostitute” or “Earth’s Most Customer-Centric Company.” In all of the stories I always felt like I was being permitted to sample the flavor of the story, but not consume enough to truly be satisfied. Perhaps that’s what some people like in fiction, but I most enjoy the stories that really fill me up.

The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction Jul/Aug 2014: Afterthoughts

The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction
July / August 2014
Edited by C.C. Finlay
256 pages
4 stars

 

The stories in this volume were deeply visceral, diving to the core of that invisible organ the pumps human emotion. Guest editor C.C.Finlay chose works that grip the reader with their imagery, and place them firmly in those places we sometimes fear to shine light on. Many of the stories in this issue are disturbing and not for the squeamish, but incredible reads all the same. As much as I missed seeing some of my usual favorites in Fantasy & Science Fiction, the new names and the titles that go with them were refreshing and entertaining all the same.

MoFSF jul augNot to be read while eating.

Palm Strike’s Last Case
Charlie Jane Anders
four_half-stars_0

In this very well written superhero/sci-fi crossover, Charlie Jane Anders mixes the two genres without making either of them feel campy. In fact, aside from a few familiar tropes sprinkled here and there, the interconnection between the two is seamless.

Luc has been fighting against the drug lord Dark Shard for years now, ever since he lost his son Rene to their foul underworld. He’s getting old, and tired–but even then it takes some heavy pushing to get him to actually retire on a newly colonized planet far, far away. At least, retirement was on his mind before someone sabotaged his cryo-module, someone who knows he’s the crime fighting vigilante Palm Strike. Someone who has brought the drug war to what should have been a fresh, new start.

Told masterfully in present tense, something which is difficult to pull off at the best of times, Anders succeeds in placing the reader directly at Luc’s side, silently cheering for the old guy to put a fist to one more bad guy, and save the new world from certain disaster.

Subduction
Paul M. Berger
five-stars

This is easily the best story of the issue, and not just because I have a lingering soft spot for dragons from my high school days. Berger’s story of subterranean reptiles and tectonic plates and the destruction of Earth scenarios really puts the realism in magical realism.

Oliver doesn’t know who he is. He woke up in a bus stop with no memories of anything before that moment, and a pretty damn strong wanderlust. Following the pull from California all the way to a small fishing island on the north Pacific, Oliver isn’t sure that he’ll find any answers for the strange tingles of familiarity and flashes of a life previously lived. But one thing he does know is that he doesn’t like the earthquakes that are coming stronger, and more frequent than they have any business doing. And the pretty baker Moira is giving him more attention than any single stranger in a small community ought to get.

The amnesia element of the story gave it a wonderful sense of mystery, and while I wasn’t entirely sold on Moira’s role when she was first introduced, by the end of the story, I was quite attached to her, and more so to Oliver, who is just the sort of helplessly likable character I can easily fall for.

Seven Things Cadet Blanchard Learned from the Trade Summit Incident
Annalee Flower Horne
three and a half

I liked the narrative structure of this one, even if the story itself was short, with a very Scooby-Doo feel to it. Told in the first person by smart-ass cadet Blanchard as a sort of confessional, the events in the story take a distant second to the personality of the characters.

A stink bomb has gone off in Blanchard’s ship, Stinson, right in the middle of a trade summit. As the ship’s resident prankster, she naturally gets blamed for it, but of course, no one believes her when she insists she’s not the one responsible. It falls to her now to explain her side of the story, of how she and her group of plucky friends uncovered the real culprit, and the reasons behind the unfortunately hilarious prank.

The Traveling Salesman Solution
David Erik Nelson
3-stars-out-of-5

Here’s the thing: I distinctly remember studying the traveling salesman problem in university, but either my memory is terrible (always a possibility) or I wasn’t paying attention in class, because I had no idea what the problem was in this story. Understanding the math isn’t necessary to understanding the story, but if you’re like me and like the science in your science fiction to at least be accessible to the layman, it can be a little distracting. It’s possible that I may go back and read this one after glancing through my old textbooks, just to see if I might pick up something more on the second pass.

Being confined to a wheelchair isn’t all that much fun, especially when your brother-in-law is a marathon runner who won’t shut up about his most recent upset. But when our protagonist* gives in and finally agrees to hear the man out, it’s clear that he’s got good reason to be upset. Someone is cheating on marathons, and it looks suspiciously like teleportation.

Don’t ask me to explain any of the technical details of this one as even though there’s a lengthy passage describing it all, I still don’t get it. It was an entertaining read all the same, and the ending was something I absolutely didn’t expect, which earned my respect.

*One of the difficult things about reviewing stories written in first person is that I don’t get a name to latch onto, and when I do, I’m often too engaged with the story to write it down. If I missed the protagonist’s name in this story, my apologies.

End of the World College
Sandra McDonald
3-stars-out-of-5

I wasn’t too impressed with this one at first, but its tongue-in-cheek qualities saved it, in the end. It is, as the title suggests, one massive collection of every doomsday scenario come to life.

Bad things don’t come in threes. They come in hundreds, and they bring about the destruction of the world. But even in these trying times, the value of a good education is undeniable. Thus, the End of the World College is here to serve, and its course calendar neatly explains to readers everything that has gone wrong in the world, and what can be done to continue to survive in it.

I loved the style of this one, but it unfortunately seemed to stray in a few places into a more traditional narrative that bounced me around a bit, and reminded me of the story I was reading. Also, not being a huge fan of post-apocalypticals, this one wasn’t all for me.

The Girls Who Went Below
Cat Hellisen
3-stars-out-of-5

I’ve thought about this one for a while now, and I’m still not sure how I feel about it. On the one hand, it has a very unique setting among most fantasy and sci-fi I’ve read, as well as a somewhat unique storyline. However, especially near the end, it felt somewhat uncomfortably familiar, though part of that might be how well Hellisen captures the adolescent experience in fiction.

Lucy and Milly have always been close. As sisters living with their aunt out in South Africa, they’ve had a life far removed from the polite society of an England they don’t know. It seems that nothing can split the two apart. That is until the strange boy Mallery appears in their lives. Suddenly Milly is acting all sorts of strange, and pushing Lucy further and further away. Of course, Lucy isn’t blameless in this as well. As much as she hates Mallery for what he’s doing to her sister, she can’t help but feel there’s something about him…

Deeply disturbing by the end, this is one of those stories that you can see the road its taking. You pray it won’t go where you know it’s going to go (but secretly you want to see the traumatic crash at the end).

The Day of the Nuptial Flight
Sarina Dorie
4 stars

This one surprised me. I really wasn’t expecting to like it as much as I did. The alien narration at first put me off, but as the story progressed, I found I liked the characters more and more, even if they story itself is very familiar. I don’t want to talk too much about this one, because the charm of it is definitely in the narration, and it should be taken as a whole. It is a very good story, though.

The Aerophone
Dinesh Rao
two-star-rating

There were a couple things about this story that niggled me as I was reading. Part of it was the language used was in places too cliche for my tastes. (Though, to be fair, in other places the imagery is stunning and very beautiful.) The plot also seemed to be loosely connected and not satisfactorily concluded. Finally, the main character was too inwardly leaning for the direction of the story, I felt. Not introspective or self-centered, per se but for a third person narration that didn’t seem at most points to be particularly close to the main character, only he felt developed. This made the secondary characters’ personalities and actions appear inexplicably erratic and ungrounded. It made me feel as though the protagonist was the only living human among a cast of marionettes.

Shanker is in a bit of a bind, at the moment. His research isn’t going very well, and he’s still struggling with the effects of an accident a few weeks prior. When his wife Julia introduces him to Dr. James, and indirectly, to Dr. James’ research, Shanker’s life takes a turn toward the supernatural. But what possibly could he have expected, blowing into a skull shaped aerophone, he was explicitly told not to blow into? Certainly not whispers and strange visages haunting him in mirrors. But that’s only the beginning.

The Testimony of Samuel Frobisher Regarding Events upon His Majesty’s Ship Confidence 14-22 June, 1818, with Diagrams
Ian Tregillis
five-stars

First of all, I want to point out that this story is disappointingly lacking in any diagrams. I almost knocked a star off just for that, but for the fact that it was amazingly entertaining, with a clear, unique voice, and a trembling tale of seafaring horror. Still wish it actually had those diagrams, though.

Call Samuel Frobisher crazy if you must–certainly everyone else must have already–but he solemnly swears that everything he has written in his report is the truth. It came from the ocean. She… it, whatever it was, it came from the ocean, and bewitched the entire crew. Only an unfortunate accident spared Samuel from her spell, but not from her wrath.

If you like horror and 1800’s sailors’ narratives, this is just the story for you. Again, the story goes where you expect it will go, but it doesn’t bore the reader in the process. In fact you might just feel a slimy tentacle binding you to the pages.

Five Tales of the Aqueduct
Spencer Ellsworth
4 stars

I admit, as much as I enjoy reading surreal fantasy and science fiction, half the time I have no idea what’s going on. I think that’s why I like surrealist fiction, actually. I can disappear for a few pages into the free falling imagination of someone else’s brain, and experience what the disconnected world feels like from a different mind.

Five Tales of the Aqueduct is self explanatory. It’s five tales from the unnatural reservoir in the middle of the Californian desert. The tale takes you from the point of view of a drunk old woman and a talking catfish to a fishing pterosaur; from a young man and his elusive dream girl to a politician and a talking koi; and finally, all the way back to a catfish again.

Belly
Haddayr Copley-Woods
4 stars

I have a soft spot for fairytales, even dark, horror tinged fairytales (as most of the early ones were anyway). Belly, with its disgusting imagery, its helpless, trapped feeling, its down to the guts nauseating setting was no different. I loved it. I loved the narration, and the character, and while the ending went to places I hadn’t been expecting, it kept the fairytale feeling throughout the entire story.

Our protagonist has been swallowed by a witch. You’d think that was bad enough, but it’s far from the worst. See, this witch seems bent on making the protagonist’s life hell by swallowing all sorts of fowl, disgusting things, and making the poor girl swim around in it. But went one day a goat swallowed whole nearly thrashes a hole through the witch’s stomach, our protagonist gets an idea. One way or another, she’s escaping, but no one is going to be happy about it.

The Only Known Law
William Alexander
4 stars

This is maybe the most bitter-sweet story in the issue. For a while I was sucked into the protagonist’s indifferent, almost apathetic voice, but this is the trap. I was so moved by the end of the story that I couldn’t read the last one for a few hours while I recovered.

Nicolao doesn’t particularity dislike the jelly-like alien puttering around in a nutrient tank in his lab, but he doesn’t particularly like it either. Or maybe it’s just because his wife Yaretzi is going down to a new, uncolonized planet without him. And no, he doesn’t want to go with her. But Yaretzi is big on taking risks, and there’s nothing Nicolao can do about it except wait. And talk to this strange little alien Messenger who has some secrets to reveal, when it’s good and ready.

A Guide to the Fruits of Hawai’i
Alaya Dawn Johnson
three and a half

In A Guide to the Fruits of Hawai’i, Johnson gives the reader a vampire story that isn’t unlike many other vampire stories that have been written. We still have a protagonist who, for most of the story, longs to be a vampire and is in requisite love with one (I suppose that vampires are good at inducing Stockholm syndrome). The vampires themselves reminded me of those from the movie 30 Days of Night, which also placed the undead blood suckers in an unfamiliar environment. It is the Asia-Pacific setting that injects any newness into the story, and keeps it fresh enough to make it palatable. What endeared me to this story wasn’t the vampire element, or the human element–I’ve read that story before–but the Hawai’ian setting, and the way, as the title suggests, that fruit plays its part in preserving what remains of the human spirit.

Key is an overseer at a middle grade feeding facility for vampires. They’ve come, they’ve conquered, and now humans all over the world are but bottles in an endless bar chain. For Key’s part, being an overseer is better than being a bottle, but she still longs to see the man she loves, a vampire, perhaps the vampire who started all this on her Hawai’ian islands. When one of the humans in her care slashes up his veins and bleeds out all over the floor, Key might just get a chance. Her boss Mr. Charles sends her to investigate a similar suicide at the high end facility her vampire love Tetsuo runs.

The next book on my reading list is The Essential Bordertown edited by Terri Windling and Delia Sherman.

S is for…

SS is for self-righteous, shameless, and sickly:

Sabatini, Rafael
Salvatore, R. A.
Sanderson, Brandon
Sapkowski, Andrzej
Shikibu, Murasaki
Sinclair
, May
Shakespeare, William
Sophocles
Spyri, Johanna
Stevenson, Robert Louis
Suzuki, Koji
Swift, Jonathan

I thoroughly enjoyed Scaramouche by Rafael Sabatini. Like The Scarlet Pimpernel, Scaramouche is set in the French Revolution. It’s hero Andre-Louis is neither a supporter nor a detractor of the revolution, but a cynic who finds both sides equally ridiculous. He is, however, swept up into the fervor against the aristocracy when his best friend is murdered before his eyes by an unapologetic dick of a nobleman. To save his own neck, Andre-Louis flees to the country where he undergoes many changes of occupation before finally returning to deal justice for the death of his friend. Scaramouche has some great humor, amazing prose and a great ending which had me at least squirming.

I’m a huge Drizzt fan. I’m just going to say that now. R. A. Salvatore‘s Dark Elf trilogy hooked me hard, and I’ve nibbled up every book I could get my hands on since. I’m not even sure why. That sort of infallibly good hero type character isn’t one that I usually like. I think there’s just something so tragic about Drizzt’s story that endears me to him.

I have not read any of Brandon Sanderson‘s works. I know that makes my fantasy education incredibly lacking (it’s not the first time I’ve had to admit it during this challenge and it won’t be the last). I got these two books for Christmas last year which made me greatly happy. I’ll get on reading them probably next year.

The same applies for Andrzej Sapkowski. I picked up The Last Wish at the beginning of last year and shelved it. It was put somewhere on my TBR list and I haven’t gotten to it yet. I think it may be on my 2014 reading list, actually.

The Tale of Genji by Murasaki Shikibu is my favorite work of Japanese literature–and I haven’t even finished it yet. This hulking volume written almost a thousand years ago is considered to be the first example of a novel. It follows the sexual adventures of the illegitimate prince Genji as he sleeps his way through most of the royal court (including his stepmother) and gets into worlds of trouble in the process. Shikibu herself was a court lady, unusually educated for her time. She wrote The Tale of Genji as an entertainment piece for the empress, delivering it in installments for the ladies of the royal court to listen to. Because she wrote about such raunchy topics, and also because of how she addressed certain events and people in her semi-fictional royal court, she was denounced by religious leaders at the time, who told her she was heading straight for hell. Whether or not Shikibu ever cared what they said is a mystery, as is who wrote the final chapters of The Tale of Genji. There is some evidence to support the theory that it was written by her daughter after her death.

May Sinclair was the pen name of British writer Mary Amelia St. Clair. She could not have had two differently paired parents. Her father went bankrupt and became an alcoholic before he died when she was still young. Her mother on the other hand was strictly religious. May was involved in social activism as well as the super natural, being a member of both Woman Writers’ Suffrage League and The Society for Psychical Research. Her short story collection Uncanny Stories is one of two she wrote, in addiction to other contributions to English literature as a whole.

There’s not much I can say about William Shakespeare that the world doesn’t already know. As far as literature is concerned. Shakespeare was a master. As far as teenagers are concerned, he’s the bane of English classes. To date I’ve read seven of his plays and a handful of his sonnets. A Midsummer Night’s Dream is still my favorite, followed closely by Much Ado About Nothing and King Lear.

I’ve only read Oedipus Rex by Sophocles and while I was already familiar with the story before I started it, I enjoyed it quite a bit. Only seven of his one hundred and twenty-three plays have survived to this day in completion. He was the most celebrated playwright of his time for fifty years, and doesn’t have a small amount of fame these days, either.

I know the story of Heidi, either from having read it as a child, or having seen it as a movie. It’s foggy now in adulthood, which means I should probably read it again. Johanna Spyri wrote Heidi in just four weeks, and like much of the rest of her writing, the story is set in the Swiss countryside. She was socially active, and wrote stories which reflected this. Before she died in 1901 she had written over fifty stories.

I haven’t read Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson, but I have read The Strange Case of Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde. Stevenson had a difficult childhood. He came from a family of poor health, and the location they moved to to alleviate their symptoms only worsened his. He only moved to a more forgiving climate after his father died. After much bouncing around in life, he finally settled in the Samoan Islands, where he became something of a local celebrity there. There are too many interesting things about this writer to list on one post that’s supposed to be under three hundred words. If you’re curious, I highly recommend reading about his amazing life.

Ring, Spiral, and Loop are the three novels in Koji Suzuki‘s horror/thriller Ring trilogy. I’m sure everyone is familiar with the American film adaptation of the first novel, and I’ll tell you now, if there was ever a case of the book being better than the movie, it’s this one. Even the Japanese adaptation, Ringu is horrible by comparison. All the thoughtful, philosophical parts are cut out. The characters are changed and the interesting characters removed completely. Hell, the mail character isn’t even a woman! I highly recommend the first two books in the series (available in English), though the third one sort of lost me. It’s almost as though it’s from a completely separate series, and I don’t care much for precocious children stories anyway. I didn’t finish it.

I haven’t read Jonathan Swift‘s Gulliver’s Travels in its entirety, which is strange considering we have two editions of it. I read parts of it in high school, along with a few of his other works, and I really respect him as a writer. He packed a lot of political satire into his writing, much of which is still funny today.

Best enjoy this abundance of authors now, we’re heading into another decline after this. However, if you’d like to help me increase my S author collection, I always love hearing your recommendations in the comments below.

R is for…

RR is for retelling, roaming, and rebellion:

Radford, Irene
Renault, Mary
Rohan, Koda
Ross, Catrien
Roth, Veronica
Rowling, J. K

Got some popular names in this letter, and a bunch more authors I haven’t read.

Like Irene Radford‘s The Glass Dragon. This is apparently The Glass Dragon Alex was talking about when she recommended it to me. I still haven’t read either, but then again, I just brought this to Japan with me from where it was sitting in storage back home, so maybe it’ll be read soon.

I started reading The King Must Die by Mary Renault years ago. I’m not sure what possessed me to buy it when I did–not that it’s a bad book, it’s just not the sort of thing I would have normally been interested in at the time. Maybe that accounts for why it remains unfinished to this day. I’ll have to pick it back up again though, since I’ve heard good things about it.

Koda Rohan was the pen name of Kōda Shigeyuki, a Japanese author who wrote in the early twentieth century. His grandfather was among the last of the samurai still serving the shogun before the class was officially outlawed in the Meiji era. The book Pagoda, Skull & Samurai is a collection of three of Rohan’s short stories, The Five-Storied Pagoda, Encounter With a Skull, and The Bearded Samurai. If you like stories with a touch of the strange, a touch of the historical or a touch of the cultural, Pagoda, Skull & Samurai, or really any of Koda Rohan’s stories are a good fit for you.

It shouldn’t come as any surprise that we have a lot of Japanese literature in our house. Alex majored in it, and I’ve had my own interests in Japanese stories for a long time. Japanese Ghost Stories, compiled by Catrien Ross was a book I bought for Alex a while ago from one of the Japanese book stores that unfortunately went out of business. I haven’t read it yet, but it looks good.

I bought Veronica Roth‘s Divergent last year without really knowing what it was about, or really, even what genre it was. I didn’t even have any idea as to how popular it was at the time, or that there was a movie being made. I’m in a bit of a bubble over here in Japan, is what I’m saying. Anyway, I haven’t had a chance to read it yet, but my friends tell me it’s good, so I suppose that’s something.

I have, however read most of J. K. Rowling‘s Harry Potter series after much nagging by friends in high school. I didn’t get through the whole series. My interest died around the fifth or sixth book, I’m not sure which, but there wasn’t anything within it that made me dislike it. I won’t sing its praises, but I won’t part with it bitterly either.

 

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I’m starting to pick up more authors again. Got any others I can add here? Do you find yourself amazed or disappointed by the popular books of the times? Let me know in the comments.