The Black Prism: Afterthoughts

The Black Prism
by Brent Weeks
763 pages
four_half-stars_0

I can’t remember the last time a book put me through such an emotional wringer. Maybe The Man with the Knives or Last Argument of Kings. I don’t feel emotionally capable of experiencing my own life right now. Goddamnit, this was a good book. Not a flawless book, but a damn good one. How good? Well, halfway through reading it some asshole stole my Kindle and I was more pissed off that my reading had been interrupted than that someone had made off with a $100 piece of electronics. It was that good.

The Black Prisim
Or, what you get when you combine The Man in the Iron Mask with a bag of Skittles.
(Also spoilers, in case you’re new here)

The Black Prism is something of a bildungsroman epic/flintlock fantasy that is stripped of all the irritating parts of both genres. What’s left is a muscular narrative that is at times comedy of errors and at times painful tragedy, filled with charismatic characters, a fully fleshed out world, and lots and lots and lots of magic and battle and bloodshed.

The plot is somewhat buried and muted and typical of this sub-genre: ‘there is a growing and powerful uprising that threatens to unseat the entire sociopolitical and religious status quo that we must attempt to quell because we’re the good guys…. mostly. The marginally-better-guys, at least.’ But arguably the plot isn’t what makes this book shine. It’s the characters and individual events that punch you repeatedly in the emotion bone that make this book so memorable. And that twist! A book has never pulled the rug out from under me with such effect. I was floored, and completely happy to be so.

So let’s talk about the plot. The book more or less centers around Kip, a fat teenager with an abusive mother who watches his entire town and everyone he ever loved burned to the ground yadda yadda, and “Gavin,” the practically omnipotent religious leader of the free world who would be a textbook Mary Sue if he wasn’t so full of lies and dark secrets that you’d expect him to bleed tar. As Kip sets off on a journey to kill the man who destroyed his life, “Gavin” takes up a full bag of FML quests and sorry-not-sorry starts a war in the process. Kip is revealed to be “Gavin’s” son, which makes “Gavin’s” life much more complicated as he juggles the political world while also doing his best to hide some pretty ruinous secrets. As these things tend to happen, all hell breaks loose, the characters have to split up, Kip learns some pretty kickass magical tricks, lots of people die, and the heroes more or less get away. I mean, it’s epic fantasy, what more can I say?

One of the best things about this book is the in media res way it deals with the story’s history. The book takes place 16 years after a disastrous war that ruined an entire country and, predictably, is still rippling effects out into the world. Many of the characters live and breathe the past and present trauma of the war. The history leading up to the events of the book is vibrant and vigorous, and exerts as much influence on the plot as the characters themselves do.

The characters likewise all have complex interpersonal histories that are given to the reader in piecemeal revelations that add delicious layers of complexity to the story. The complicated relationship between Gavin and Dazen in particular injects a level of excitement and intrigue into the story that is refreshing in contemporary fantasy. Likewise, “Gavin’s” relationship to his political and spiritual position in society is rocky and unsettled, giving his character several layers of depth. And if his past weren’t enough to put him in the anti-hero’s seat, this internal moral strife certainly would.

Weeks’ literary talents really shine through in his delivery of an immersive world populated with complex characters and interpersonal relationships that reflect a large part of the human experience. However, there are some moments where the reader’s suspension of disbelief is stretched too far for comfort.

To begin with, Kip’s character lacks consistency in ways that can just barely be explained away by his age. At times he is meek and apologetic, only to be bold and sarcastically brash in the next breath. Weeks seems to be trying to play nature and nurture against each other in this character. On the one hand, being a Guile imbues Kip with a certain degree of bravado and exaggerated ego. On the other hand, his abusive, impoverished upbringing dampens his bravery and his self-esteem. These two competing faucets of Kip’s personality aren’t threaded together particularly well, and the end result is a character who is at times schizophrenically at odds with his own personality.

Secondly, I was pretty disappointed when Karris was captured. I think I actually put the book down for a minute and cried, “Why have you betrayed me?!” Up until then I had been enjoying every single character and arc in the story. I was just really bummed that the SFC had to be captured and subjected to a madman’s gross fantasy. I actually started skimming the chapters in which she was captured, just so I didn’t have to feel such disappointment. To be fair to Weeks in this, the capture scenario is downplayed in the ridiculousness of Garadul’s demands. Furthermore, from a mechanics point of view, Karris’ capture puts a perspective in the enemy camps without fracturing the number of points of view even further. And I did appreciate that “Gavin” didn’t go all White Knight when he learned that Karris had been captured. Weeks kept him focused on the bigger problems and instead sent Kip and Liv to blunder her rescue. So, this whole business with Karris is forgiven. I guess.

Finally, I wasn’t entirely convinced by Liv. Weeks does his best to set up her motivations throughout the course of her arc, however her sudden turn against “Gavin” in particular was hard to swallow. I could understand her misgivings against the Chromeria–Weeks actually does a stellar job of setting that up–however “Gavin” personally gives her no reason to turn against him in the way that she does. It’s her unfounded speculation that does it, which was hard to believe from a reader’s perspective. Likewise, how “Gavin” comes by the information of her turning sides is largely a mystery to the reader.

All that aside, however, The Black Prism is truly a gem within the fantasy library. Without going into too many spoilery details–because you really do have to read the book as it is presented to get the most out of it–here are some of my favorite highlights:

heart 2

– Gavin. Just, everything Gavin. All Gavin. He’s an amazing character all around. Flawless in his perfection and his imperfection.

– That twist. I cannot praise it enough. If you’ve read the book, you know what I’m talking about. It’s been weeks since I read it and I still giggle over it. My friends are tired of hearing me talk about it. And I’m gushing about it even here! Gah!

– The magic system. It was ridiculous at first, but the more immersed in the world I got, the more it made sense, and the more glad I was that color was used as the base for the whole thing.

– The Freeing ceremony. The whole thing was soul tearing. I was teary by the end. And loving “Gavin” as a character so much more.

– The final scene with Zymun. Admittedly, I was upset when I first read it. I shook the book and screamed, “You goddamn pyromaniac brat! Snot-nosed little fire starter! *RAGE*” But upon further reflection, it was a good authorial decision. A virtually omnipotent character can only work for the first book of a series. I’m sad, but in a good way.

– The prison break scene. Oh~ I was on the edge of my seat through the whole thing, and at the end, I was cry-laughing. The whole arc with “Dazen” was such a red herring, but in such a good way. I’m very pleased with it.

I’m itching to read the next books in the series. I ran out and bought the next three as soon as I was finished with this one, but sadly I have a semester of Durkheim, Marx, and Weber to read through before I have a month off to read more Weeks. Until then, it’s everything I can do to keep from peeking into the next books to sample what happens next.

Sixteen Seconds

2300 words
Originally published September 2013
Out of Print Blog

It was a day in March.

The sky was a flat, unimaginative northwest gray. Rain had been pouring for most of the afternoon while Charlotte ran her errands and then, just to be cheeky, wound down to a drizzle and finally stopped when she at last took shelter in the appointed cafe. Why couldn’t the month make up its damn mind whether it wanted to be spring or winter? It was hailing that morning for chrissake and it would be another two months before sunny weather became reliable. March was just a dismal reminder that pleasant weather was still a long way off. It should stop pretending to be spring, already.

The dark roast face in Charlotte’s coffee glowered sourly up at her as she stared into her cup. It was too expensive, too bitter and too hot to drink. She stirred in another packet of honey with nothing else to do. Aidan was late again, surprise surprise.

In her purse her phone buzzed. For a full minute she ignored it, blowing softly on the surface of her coffee, peeling away the heat one layer at a time in between each muffled vibration. Eventually, it gave up and stilled. She waited another minute before bringing her paper cup to her lips, scalding them again. She couldn’t have one victory — not one single victory today! Soaked to her skin by the rain, abandoned by Aidan, pestered by her phone, and burned by the one comfort she could usually count on. She clicked her tongue angrily and thrust her hand into her purse for her phone. Might as well just accept things as there were today.

She didn’t need to check it to know who had called. It was Suzie; the woman had been calling her all day. Her voicemail icon displayed a hopeful notification and disinterested, Charlotte tapped it and began counting.

It took sixteen seconds for her voicemail to get through all of the automated recordings telling her needless information: the date, the time, how many calls she had and how much space remained in her inbox. She didn’t care. She cared less about the message. At the end of sixteen seconds she flicked 7 on her screen, deleting it, and put it out of her mind.

Another honey packet went into her coffee and with her cheek pressed unflatteringly in her palm, she stared at the soggy world outside. Despite the weather, the streets were still busy with people just as soaked as she was. The rain seemed to have no effect on them. Like limp paper cutouts they carried on their business, expressionless and efficient. She envied them. She’d lived here her entire life and yet every year when the rains came and lingered for months like an unwanted relative she cursed the persistence of it, as though she’d never known a six month rainy season in her twenty-six years.

Her phone began to buzz again, edging threateningly closer to the edge of the table but she ignored it – spitefully now. The rain started again, coming down in full force and a black-capped mushroom grove of umbrellas popped up under it. Occasionally a brightly colored umbrella would bob by, on its own stubbornly rebellious against the gray of their world but Charlotte knew better; eventually, the rainy city bullied everything into monochromatics.

Fourteen… fifteen…sixteen. She turned her head without lifting it, mashing her cheek into her lips and she flicked the delete command again. Her phone sat reproachfully silent at the edge of the table. She slid it back into her purse and sighed, refusing to be guilted by a piece of technology.

Her stomach excused itself obnoxiously under her damp cardigan. There was no use in her starving while she waited; if Aidan had really wanted to eat lunch with her, he would have been on time. She stood and collected her purse. Her phone remained thankfully silent.

There were no other customers at the counter and the barista behind it looked for a moment as though she’d done her job in serving Charlotte once and wouldn’t do so again kindly. With aspartame sweetness she asked, “What can I get you?”

“The spring salad; low fat dressing. Do you have any more fruit cups?”

“No, sorry, we just sold the last one. Would you like a fruit tart instead?”

If Charlotte could eat a fruit tart, she wouldn’t have ordered wilted greens and a tasteless vinaigrette. She thrust her irritation into her purse in exchange for her wallet.

“No, that’s fine, just the salad.”

“Okay then— seven ninety-nine.”

A despairing sigh left Charlotte before she could check it, but she laid her last ten dutifully on the counter and watched it distill down into a handful of coins.

“Thanks,” she said, or thought she said— hoped she’d said as she took her change and her lunch and sat again. It wasn’t much of a meal, all things considered. A few brown edged leaves of romaine, cucumber sliced so thinly it could pass for a microscope slide and— was that dandelion?! Who the hell put weeds in a salad? Her head returned heavily to her hand and she mixed the deceptively sweet smelling vinaigrette into the over priced plastic bowl of yard trimmings. In her purse, her phone buzzed again. Why couldn’t Suzie take a hint? The woman couldn’t comprehend anything existing outside of her sphere of influence. It irritated Charlotte enough to be deliberately avoidant, just to throw a wrench in her plans. If she could, she’d tell Oliver outright that his mother’s micromanagement and constant badgering were suffocating, but then she’d have to deal with the hurt puppy looks and the passive aggressive silences.

She was halfway through her salad when the door banged open and shut and a new breeze of cold and wet spilled in. Moments later Aidan stood over her, shaking the rain from his coat onto the table and floor around him. Charlotte moved her purse and regretted for a brief, petulant moment that it also invited a seat for him. His childishness was starting to rub off on her and she lifted her head and straightened her back to hide it.

“You look like you’ve had better days.”

“Something like that.”

“Whatcha eating?”

“Weeds.”

“Sounds appetizing.”

“You’re late.” Her eyes turned up to him as he sat. She must have looked or sounded more accusatory than she’d intended. He frowned right back at her until she sighed and looked away. That look. That damnable, stony, chiding look that made her feel like a kid caught in the cookie jar again.

“Sorry,” she muttered without wanting to.

After a moment, the hardness of his expression cracked and broke away and his usual sunny features shone through. “Don’t worry about it. It’s the weather you know? Dark skies make people dark on the inside.”

“Except you?”

He grinned. “Except me. They serve anything here besides weeds?”

“Probably. Did you bring your bank account?”

“Even better.” He flashed her the gold surface of a MasterCard and then was gone again.

She took another sip of her coffee— too cold now, of course but at least the caffeine stood a chance at improving her mood. She stared spitefully into her half eaten salad.

Her phone went off again. She could almost feel Suzie’s impatience in every clipped buzz. They were even timed the same as the woman’s nervous lip smacks. She brought her phone out of exile just as the vibrations stopped. Three new messages. She was about to delete them all out of hand, when she noticed one was from Aidan. She tapped on the 1 key and brought the phone to her ear.

“Hey babe, it’s Aidan. I’ll be a bit late. Traffic around here is a nightmare. Don’t wait- go on and get something to eat. I’ll grab something later. See you soon.”

The message ended and she sighed. Only Aidan could make her feel so guilty with such friendly words. Well, Aidan and Oliver, if she thought about it. She didn’t want to think about it.

“Who was that?” Aidan dropped into the seat opposite her, surrounded by the smell of stracchino cheese and chives. Her mouth watered against her will and she quickly drowned it in another sip of coffee.

“No one. Just messages.”

“Yeah? Did you get mine?” He set a white paper package in front of her. It radiated warmth and was losing its opaqueness to grease.

“Just now.” She picked open the moist paper and stared at the cheese and chicken melted mess inside. “Aidan, you know I can’t-”

He held up a hand, his other cradling his own sandwich. “Come on, one meal off your diet isn’t going to hurt anything. Besides, everyone cheats, you know.”

There was something in the cheeky way that he said it that she didn’t appreciate. She almost sent the sandwich back across the table to him but another look down (it dolefully oozed a tendril of cheese to the paper) changed her mind. Of course, he was right – and God, it was good!

Her hone rang again.

“Fuck. I can’t even eat my lunch in peace.” Muttered of course; who knew where an overly sensitive parent might be lurking.

Aidan snatched her phone off the table while she was busy licking cheese off her lingers.

“Suzie, huh? You want me to answer for you?” He grinned an evil grin, his thumb hovering devilishly over the display.

“No!” She grabbed the phone before he could press the bright green button, careful not to nudge it herself. He lifted a shoulder.

“You’re still with Oliver, then?”

She dropped back into her purse. There was a grease smear on it that she’d have to clean up later.

“Yes, I’m still with Oliver.” She was so tired of this conversation. Life would be much simpler if Aidan would just live in the now.

“Are you ever going to tell him?”

“Maybe.”

“Do you still love him?”

“Yes, I think so.”

“Do you love me?”

“Of course.”

There was silence between them. Her coffee grew colder, but she was determined to enjoy her calorie bomb of a sandwich while it was still warm, Aidan and Oliver and Suzie be damned —double damned for making her second guess her choices. She was an adult, damnit! in control of her own life. Whose business was it anyway whose bed she was in?

“So,” Aidan sighed at last. “What does mother hen want?”

It took everything in her not to send him the warning kick he deserved — he didn’t need to be so antagonistic, even if he had every right to be. She nibbled up a string of cheese sullenly.

“Nothing important. There’s a gallery opening she wants me to attend. I haven’t gotten back to her yet.”

“When’s the opening?”

“Tonight.”

“Oh.” He hid his expression behind his own paper coffee cup. Four sugar and a teaspoon of cream. She didn’t know how he could tell the difference, but she’d given him two teaspoons of cream on purpose one morning and he’d sent her back to the kitchen with a warning and a swat to her ass. Confident and casually in command —she supposed it was what drew her to him in the first place. It was so easy to give control over to him when he miraculously made it seem like she was still the one in charge.

“I guess dinner and a movie are out then, huh?”

“I told you noon. It’s not my fault you were late.”

“No, but you could have at least set out a whole day for me. We used to do that you know. Whole days.”

“I know,” she said, and set her mostly eaten sandwich back on the table. She’d never been fond of crusts.

He sighed again. “Look, no pressure, but think about it. You’re complicating your life needlessly and you’re going to end up hurting him, one way or another. You know that.”

She knew it, though it was somehow worse that he knew it.

In her purse, her phone began buzzing angrily again. They both stared at it and it seemed to Charlotte that this time that the vibrations had no intention of shutting off. Aidan stood, collected their trash and headed to the bin. When he returned, Charlotte and her phone were silent.

“You should probably call her,” he said quietly. Charlotte nodded. “Will you be free later? After the opening?”

“Maybe. You know how Suzie is with her family outings. It could be a while. It could be all night.”

“Well, give me a call if you want to come over. If you’re not held up overnight. I’ll probably be up.” He wouldn’t be, but he’d pretend that were the case, if she called him. She watched him leave without saying goodbye. He’d understand she had a lot of heavy thoughts on her mind, after all, he’d put them there.

The rain had stopped again, and here and there a few fingers of sunlight poked through the dark cloud cover. Umbrellas snapped closed and jackets unbuttoned. Charlotte watched Aidan’s head bob up and down in the crowd, turn the corner and then disappear.

She stood and slid into her coat. Her purse buzzed against her back. Outside, she finally obliged her phone and held it to her ear.

“Hello?—

“Suzie! Hey, how are you?—

“No, no, I’m all right—

“Yeah, sorry about that. I’ve been running errands all day. The rain has just made it impossible—

“Of course I’ll be there. Is Sophia coming?—

“Great! Tell Oliver I’ll be around at about six—

“Of course I’m staying for dinner. I wouldn’t miss it for the world—”

 

Tangent Reviews: Beneath Ceaseless Skies #198

Beneath Ceaseless Skies is always a delight to read. I don’t always necessarily like all the stories that they publish, but they tend to pick up stories with either very lovely prose or incredibly thoughtful speculative fiction. Issue #198 features a story about the life of a puritan settlement in America battling against the constant threat of the devil, and a haunting eco-tale about the ghosts of whales harnessed to the lanterns that burn on their oil.

“Or I Wil Harrie Them Out of This Land” by Thomas W. Waldroon
“Whale-Oil” by Sylvia V. Linsteadt

I loved the voice in “Or I Wil Harrie Them Out of This Land,” though the length made the story a bit tedious, and many of the strands it starts felt a bit unfinished by the end. “Whale-Oil” is a story that bleeds vivid colors into the reader’s imagination. With a fairy tale feel and brilliant imagery, “Whale-Oil” is a great piece of speculative fiction.

Read the original stories in issue #198 at Beneath Ceaseless Skies. My full review is available at Tangent Online Magazine.

Tangent Reviews: Analog, 3/2016

I think it says a lot about the strength of a writer’s skill when they can grab the attention of a reader who doesn’t read in their genre very often. Science fiction doesn’t usually grip me as hard as fantasy, spec fic or horror does, but nonetheless, the science fiction stories published in Analog give me something to think about, and something to enjoy.

The March issue featured the following original fiction:

“Drummer” by Thomas R. Dolski
“Elderjoy” by Gregory Benford
“Snowbird” by Joe M. McDermott
“The Coward’s Option” by Adam-Troy Castro
“The Perfect Bracket” by Howard Hendrix and Art Holcomb
“Unlinkage” by Eric Del Carlo

It’s rare for me, but I enjoyed nearly every single story in this issue, with “Snowbird” and “The Coward’s Option” being my top picks.

Find my full review here at Tangent Online. To subscribe to Analog, click here.

The Writer’s Pinch

660 words

So here’s the scene: There’s this writer, you see? He’s there hunched over his desk, burnt out cigarette between his lips and fifteen of its cousins already stubbed out in the tray and on the desk and under the typewriter. There’s an empty bottle of whiskey rolling around under his feet and no less than seven dirty coffee mugs on the kitchen counter behind him. The one that’s sitting cold by his elbow needs a wash, but he’ll give it a rinse if he remembers, or pour the stale ghosts of beans past directly into it if not.

He’s alone, because that’s the responsible thing to do when your art is tearing you up from the inside to get out, but is shit at feeding a family or keeping the water hot. He’s barely got the lights on, which was what she said when she left the last time. He pretends not to care because the hurt makes the words more real. Pain is ink and he feeds it drop by plunking drop into the machine in front of him, hitting the keys like he’s in a brawl. Bare knuckle boxing against twenty-six opponents and their stuttering, stalling, questioning peanut gallery. And he fights on, hour after hour, endlessly, mindlessly typing because when he stops is when he hears them. Every single goddamned one of them and their poison-tipped words that keep him perched on the edge of a bottle: Kook, shut-in, layabout, mooch. Knife thrusts in what was supposed to be a fair fight. And he’s fighting, damnit but all the bets are against him, and they laugh at his bruises but don’t they know this is the only damn thing he’s ever been good at?

He’s got a stack of rejection letters eight miles high and four miles deep, but he wears his one acceptance like a badge of honor. Victory on the field of battle. Welcome home soldier, you’ve done your good duty. Sorry about the legs and all; we’ll get you looked after. And then he’s gone. Forgotten in the gutters and he digs viciously at the keys, recounting it all: the struggle over the mound of bodies, the rip of bullets through his flesh, and the flash of bayonets white-hot like match flames in the cigarette-smoky air. He tears his hair out at the sound of mail sliding through the door slot: planes overhead dropping their payload. Shell after shell of bills; he prays that the atom bomb of another rejection doesn’t land in the pile. It’s PTSD and he knows it but there’s no VA for writers who can’t get published, and no support for a man who can’t work a normal nine to five because the weight of it crushes his soul already undervalued beside what worth can be ripped out of the toil of his body.

He’s pinched. His stomach. His wallet. All of it. Pinned to the wall like a bug. One more beetle out of a hundred thousand others. And still he flexes, twitching in the last synapses of life before death. LOOK AT ME, he screams into the din. I’m special. I’m unique. Inspect me. Tear out my wings and catalog them. Every book: twenty-six letters: different patterns. Different spots in different arrangements. Pigment, flourish, camouflage. In an evolution of words his are failing natural selection. Failing to stand out. Falling out of the gene pool. He’d give his kingdom of cobwebs to be a butterfly right now.

His fingers slow to a stop over the keys. They hover and then drop, the mad hummingbird pace they’ve been keeping falters in uncertainty. Is this worth it? The world returns to him. The real world. Empty refrigerators, medical bills, and the sound of angry, bitter sex through the too thin walls. His head drops like a cracked clay pot into his hands. Ash stains his keys. He’s written fifteen thousand, seven hundred and eighty-four words today and erased fifteen thousand, seven hundred and eight-five.

Tangent Reviews: Clockwork Phoenix 5

Clockwork Phoenix 5 is an eclectic collection of speculative fiction stories from a diverse cast of authors. The stories selected reflect the diversity of the authors and while some of them failed to hit the mark with me, they all have something unique to offer the reader.

“The Wind at His Back” by Jason Kimble
“The Fall Shall Further the Flight in Me” by Rachael K. Jones
“The Perfect Happy Family” by Patricia Russo
“The Mirror-City” by Mary Brennan
“Finch’s Wedding and the Hive that Sings” by Benjanun Sriduangkaew
“Squeeze” by Rob Cameron
“A Guide to Birds by Song (After Death)” by A. C. Wise
“The Sorcerer of Etah” by Gray Rinehart
“The Prime Importance of a Happy Number” by Sam Fleming
“Social Visiting” by Sunil Patel
“The Book of May” by C. S. E. Cooney and Carlos Hernandez
“The Tiger’s Silent Roar” by Holly Heisey
“Sabbath Wine” by Barbara Krasnoff
“The Trinitite Golem” by Sonya Taaffe
“Two Bright Venuses” by Alex Dally MacFarlane
“By Thread of Night and Starlight Needle” by Shveta Thakrar
“The Games We Play” by Cassandra Khaw
“The Road, and the Valley, and the Beasts” by Keffy R. M. Kehrli
“Innumerable Glimmering Lights” by Rich Larson
“The Souls of Horses” by Beth Cato

I have five favorites in this anthology. First, Patricia Russo’s “The Perfect Happy Family” for its charming characters and its minimalist, surrealist apocalyptic setting. “Squeeze” by Rob Cameron is a wonderful benign ghost story, and the closest to a classical narrative in this anthology. Rich Larson’s “Innumerable Glimmering Lights” is a fantastic alien protagonist story that loops in a way that makes me smile. I appreciated Sonya Taaffe’s “The Trinitite Golem” for the way it slips fluidly between reality and myth and fantasy. Finally, “The Sorcerer of Etah” I enjoyed for its arctic setting and the interesting way it presented problems for the main character.

My full review can be found at Tangent Online. Clockwork Phoenix 5 can be purchased on Amazon.

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.

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: Fantasy & Science Fiction Jan/Feb 2016

It’s been a while since I had the pleasure of reading another issue of Fantasy & Science Fiction. They publish enough stories and at such great quality that there are usually several per issue that I really enjoy. The January/February 2016 issue is no exception.

“Vortex” by Gregory Benford
“Number Nine Moon” by Alex Irvine
“Smooth Stones and Empty Bones” by Bennett North
“The White Piano” by David Gerrold
“Caspar D. LuckinBill, What Are You Going to Do?” by Nick Wolven
“Robot from the Future” by Terry Bisson
“Squidtown” by Leo Vladimirsky
“Touch me All Over” by Betsy James
“Telltale” by Matthew Hughes
“The Visionaries” by Albert E. Cowdrey
“Braid of Days and Wake of Nights” by E. Lily Yu

Of the above twelve stories, “The White Piano” is hands down my favorite. The voice and the frame story both form a very complex piece of writing craft and I can absolute appreciate the work that went into the formation of this story. “Telltale” is another great story. It’s part of a larger, ongoing narrative, but new readers should have no problem understanding the character and the premise, nonetheless.

Read my full review at Tangent Online Magazine. The issue can be purchased from Fantasy & Science Fiction’s website.

Tangent Reviews: Heroic Fantasy Quarterly #26

I sometimes feel that it’s hard to place my specific tastes in literature. Much like my music listening habits, I’ll read almost anything (with a few exceptions) and I’ll dump on my favorite genres as often as I’ll praise works in genres I hardly ever delve into. There are a few things though, that I really look for to improve my opinion of a particular work: strong characters, decent plot, contextually plausible events, and if not humor then at least clever writing. I can enjoy pretty much any story, so long as it has those elements. Except I also have ridiculously high standards, and when I read a story that doesn’t quite do it for me, I say so. So it is with issue #26 of Heroic Fantasy Quarterly. I love the genre, fantasy is near and dear to my heart, but I couldn’t get fully into these three stories:

“The Blue Lamp” by Robert Zoltan
“Beggar’s Belief” by Jon Byrne
“The Voice of the Green Flame” by J.R. Restrick

The best of them is absolutely “The Blue Lamp.” It has a decent rise and fall of tension, and some characters I could get behind, but it meandered a bit and some of the mystery fell a little flat. Still, it’s a solid fantasy story for anyone looking for a read and run sort of experience.

My full review is at Tangent Online. If you wish to read the original stories, they can be found at Heroic Fantasy Quarterly.