Short stories

tagged Science fiction

Midnight Fireflies by Scott Niven

Under the (in hindsight apparently mistaken) impression that Scott Niven was a big name in Science Fiction who had started self-publishing older stories, I picked up this collection of "3 Tales of Speculative Fiction" from Smashwords.

Official Blurb:

Inside an intergalactic watering hole, a bizarre bet is made with high - yet unknown - stakes. In a nursing home, an elderly woman creates her own virtual reality. And in a medieval land, a boy in search of adventure stumbles upon a mysterious relic that will change his life forever. Midnight Fireflies collects these three tales of speculative fiction into one short story collection that will have you wondering "What If?" all night long.

A Mare Imbrium Wink

The backdrop of this story is a universe with various alien species, which may be watching humanity, which is still stuck on earth - so apparently "present day", more or less. The protagonist and viewpoint character belongs to an alien species that at one time in their life can merge with a (dead) member of another species, taking on their shape and parts of their personality. This specimen merged with a human scientist. Some characteristics he has taken on in that process - a longing for companionship and a certain cockiness - lead him into trouble.

This story mostly consists of aliens thinking or talking about characteristics of humanity at large. The ending breaks my suspension of disbelief and seems ridiculously harsh.

Fondest Desire

A nursing home provides immersive VR to its inhabitants. The protagonist of this story uses it to sit in a near-perfect copy of the actual nursing home, minus other occupants, to think about the past in peace - apart from a boy who sometimes shows up uninvited.

Nothing interesting happens. I get the impression this is meant as an essay about comparing VR and memories, encoded in fiction.

The Carrion Sphere

A young man kitted out with armour and sword goes into the woods for a rite of passage taking the shape of a solitary hunt. He finds a strange artifact that starts to talk... Sorry, I'm going to spoil the story here: He learns that the world has gone through cycles of humanity destroying itself through too much and/or the wrong technical advancement, and the artifact is supposed to tell people when to stop this time around.

The story ends with him deciding to take the artifact home.

In Summary each of the three stories gives me vibes of being constructed to convey a moral or message about humanity. Since I don't like that much, it all feels rather heavy-handed and lifeless to me. The fact that at least the first two stories have what I'd consider downer endings doesn't help. Not my cup of tea.

The formatting is tidy, including both a linked table of contents in the text, and one available through the reader, and copyediting seemed fine to me, too.

Total wordcount cracks 10,000; available for 99 cents on Smashwords

tagged Cats Science fiction

Three Kintaran Stories by Elizabeth McCoy

"Leaping Lizards", "The Best Revenge", and "What Really Matters" are three science fiction short stories published as separate ebooks. They take place in the same universe, and mostly follow Kinahran, a young cat-centaur growing up on a clan-ship of her people.

I've read and listed them in publishing order, starting with the freebie introductory story. (Covers below link to Smashwords sites.)

Leaping Lizards cover, showing two white cat-centaurs in front of storage boxes and a circuit-like design The Best Revenge cover, showing a white cat-centaur child with a hindleg in a cast sitting on the back of a grown black and white, in the background a brown tabby climbing on storage boxes What Really Matters cover, showing a group of cat-centaurs of different fur colours running from a spliced-in snapshop of a spaceship interior to an area with grass and trees
Decent tale, worth a try.
Jump to review
Not my cup of tea
Jump to review
Nice mix, recommended
Jump to review

As a general note I'd like to say: Elizabeth McCoy Obviously is obviously big on worldbuilding, including conlanging. The second in my eyes is a bit problematic. It's mostly that something like leaving "khih" and "nih" ("yes" and "no") and other words in the original Kintaran when translating a line of dialogue seems illogical to me, and makes reading less smooth than it could be. (The vocabulary is given in a glossary up front in each story.)

On the plus side, I think that she does a very good job of working in information about her universe in small, natural-feeling bits—in these stories I never had the feeling of being stuck in an unneccessary infodump. Aspects of Kintaran culture are shown organically through actions or thoughts of the characters in the stories.

On to the individual tales:

tagged Science fiction

Finished by C. A. Young

Finished is a science fiction adventure short story (~4800 words) published as ebook at Smashwords

Official blurb:

A life of larceny in a half-wrong body isn't what Aldin hoped for, but right now it's all he's got and he's making the best of it. When an unwelcome surprise sends him running, his prospects hinge entirely on his wits and an unlikely ally.

Aldin (our viewpoint character) is an art thief one job away from retiring and getting his sex reassignment surgery finished. When needing to evade authorities, borrowing transportation including driver at gunpoint seemed like a good idea...

Suspense, action, and a little commentary on gender change.

Content "warning": Starts off with a short section of pillow talk shading into foreplay, before that's interrupted.

There were no spelling, grammar or similar issues that jumped out at me.

My verdict: Worth a read.

Available at Smashwords for 99 cents.

tagged Fantasy Science fiction

Jokka Short stories

A while ago I posted short reviews of stories M.C.A. Hogarth collected under the headline "The Pelted SF". Today's the turn for another setting and culture she invented.

The Jokka are an alien species with three sexes, going through two puberties during each of which an individual's sex may change, at random. The stories take place in a pre-industrial age and do not feature humans or other aliens, so I guess if you file these as "fantasy" or "science fiction" is a matter of your personal definition of the genres.

Freedom, Spiced and Drunk, a story about a female who turns neuter at first puberty, is a good introduction to the biology that shapes the Jokkas' culture, and a poignant tale. (available for free at Smashwords and B&N)

New Stories involves an attempt to change traditions to changing traditions and getting over preconceptions.
It feels mostly like a puzzle piece to me; I think it works way better if you get the stories before and after than on its own.
(Smashwords | Amazon | B&N)

A Trifold Spiral Knot involves a Jokkad who h had been considered the chosen of a god, and whose sex-changes had been interpreted as signs. This story contains the most in-depth description of the sex changes themselves, and one of the Jokka's religions, as well as a jJokkad's musings on colour.
I find this story hard to pin down, but find the descriptions transporting.
(Smashwords | Amazon | B&N)

Money for Sorrow, Made Joy shows us a trading caravan of neuters planning to go exploring uncharted areas, but circumstances make it more difficult than expected.
As usual the descriptions are charming, but this one does not speak to me as much as most of the others.
(Available for free at Smashwords | B&N)

Unspeakable follows a male getting involved with a story teller who spreads taboo works. The short summaries of the stories cast interesting little spotlights on facets of the culture. (One of those taboos is loving someone not your own sex.)
This is one of my favourite stories by the author.
(available for free at Smashwords | B&N)

His Neuter Face is told by a female turned neuter. Not as physically capable as someone born neuter, and not salable like a female, it is thrown out by its clan, and must find a new place, and new confidence. Luckily there is a newcomer in town taking a liking to it.
While the previous stories about neuter characters focussed on their physical resilience, and often their role as hunters or workers, this story casts a greater focus of how the social lives of Jokka work. I really like the narrator's character development in this story. (At a bit over 12,000 words, this might pass as a novella rather than short story, depending on your definition.)
(Smashwords | Amazon | B&N)

The narator/viewpoint-character of Fire in the Void has made posing as an oracle to sell vague or common sense answers to people a lucrative business - but with his latest customer asking for help in matters of love, things turn more serious.
Usually I have trouble with present tense fiction, but M.C.A. Hogarth's attention to detail and all senses makes up for it. A slightly eerie story.
(Smashwords | Amazon | B&N)

I really recommend anyone who's interested in fiction about alien species to give at least the free ones a try. For me, the ones with a pricetag were worth it, too.

M.C.A. Hogarth is also working on a collected volume in print, to be titled Clays Beneath the Skies. She is looking for sponsors for the project, and the goodies on offer go up to the original illustrations she created for the collection.

tagged Science fiction

The Pelted SF: Adventure and Ethics, with Gengineered Furries

M.C.A. Hogarth calls herself "an anthropologist to aliens" in her author bio, and it shows. A lot of her stories explore different fictional cultures.

On the list of her available ebooks, she splits her writing by setting, and sometimes further. One of those settings is a science fiction universe in which humanity created furries, which formed their own cultures on other planets. I had a look at the stories in this universe not listed as "military SF"

The novelette A Distant Sun features as main character a committed history teacher. If you're going to present some historical information about your setting, there are certainly worse ways to do it, particularly since here it does not degrade into personality-less infodumps. The story touches on ethical problems of creating new intelligent species, but to me the practical matters, shows through things that personally affect our protagonist and his students, stand out more.
Interesting ideas, engagingly presented.
(available at Smashwords | Amazon | B&N)

Rosettes & Ribbons is another novelette. Working as an intern at an archaeology dig, Pelipenele gets to translate a previously unknown legend. She is also drawn into problems due to misunderstandings.
Of all five stories in this group, this feels most "stand alone"; a completed story in itself, rather than a snippet of or introduction to something bigger. I think that's a good thing. The interweaving of legend and present-day narrative was a bit very convenient, but, hey. I really enjoyed this story.
(available at Smashwords | Amazon | B&N)

In the short story The Elements of Freedom, a seismologist has to convince a tribe to leave their land before it is destroyed by earthquakes, and has to convince them by performing one of their rituals.
One of Hogarth's greatest strengths in my view is describing or conveying emotion and sensation, which is something that stands out to me here, in addition to the reveleations.
(available at Smashwords | Amazon | B&N)

The shortest work in this group, Tears is a sweet little story about a young woman with self-confidence issues caused by birthmarks that make her look like she is crying all the time.
(available for free at Smashwords | B&N)

Butterfly, lastly, is another novelette. A sibling pair of nobles try to bring their abandoned-at-birth sister Noelle "back" to her "home". Problems are not only the culture shock, but also the fact that Noelle was abandoned in the first place.
I'm afraid I couldn't really warm up to this one, a combination between the viewpoint being religious feudalists, and how it kept going on about how beautiful Noelle was. I suspect that was meant as a counterpoint to her assuming people would consider her a "freak" or "mutant", but having so much value put on looks makes me uneasy.
It still had beautiful word-pictures and interesting looks at a strange culture (including checking of assumptions).
(available at Smashwords | Amazon | B&N)

Bottom line: For the low pricepoint, they're definitely worth a try if the general topic intersts you. My favourite is Rosettes and Ribbons, which I'd like to recommend again.

(Disclosure: I have no link with the author other than liking a lot of her work, and bought those books myself.)

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