Short Fiction

May 21, 15:50 by John Frost
Comments on this month's coverage of short fiction.
May 21, 17:56 by Chris Dodson
On Baxter's "PeriAndry's Quest" (Analog, June) -- Totally agree with you. Baxter's always been one of my favorites, and that was one of his very best. In fact, that was one of the best Analog stories in a long, long time (seems like they always come along right as I start to think about dropping my subscription.)

On the June Asimov's: I actually thought that was one of the better covers I've seen lately. *shrug* My pick of that issue was Asher's "The Veteran," with the Kress and Chase stories falling very close behind.

On the June F&SF: Agree with you on Attanasio's "Zero's Twin." I've noticed that SF and romance usually don't mix very well, but that story is truly an exception to the rule. Haldeman's "Faces" was also pretty good, but I thought it read too much like a Joe Haldeman's Greatest Hits collection (throw the military, homosexuality, and musings on love into a blender, mix well, and serve.)
May 21, 18:22 by Thomas Reeves
My tastes and bluejack's are rarely in line. I think the majority of us at the Asimov's board thought the June cover was either good or in least very striking. Cut out the demon and I don't think there is much to complain about. The woman in the fedora looking at her monitor is wonderfully well done. The demon is even not bad after I read the story, but I think it would've been better off to look like a kind of gargoyle sitting ominously on top a file case. The robot dog should have been what she was facing, but left rather bland to show it's deemphasis. Or I'm nitpicking, but still it was a great cover and as I believe he saw the Asimov's discussion that "everyone agrees June's cover is bad" is just silly.

And yet in a surprse turn around I agree with his appraisal of the fiction. The two stories he picked were the ones I singled out as best. He also liked that Attanasio story that I liked, which is a kind of poetry. This is rather odd, usually our fiction tastes are remarkably different.
May 21, 19:42 by Bluejack
And yet in a surprse turn around I agree with his appraisal of the fiction. The two stories he picked were the ones I singled out as best. He also liked that Attanasio story that I liked, which is a kind of poetry. This is rather odd, usually our fiction tastes are remarkably different.

Maybe your taste is improving.
May 21, 19:58 by Thomas Reeves
Or yours is:)
May 22, 08:58 by Mike Bailey
Some thoughts on the SCIFICTION reviews (reposted from ):

Flight Risk by Marc Laidlaw

Laidlaw appears to be one of those authors who handles many of the components of story writing quite effectively.

Laidlaw opens well, in my opinion, drawing the reader into the story from the very first sentence.
"They brought Foster to the boy by a route of back alleys and parking garages, shifting him from car to car several times, until eventually, although he'd thought he knew the city very well, he found himself uncertain of his whereabouts."
How could anyone not read the story after that opening? We have to know what happens next! Even the structure of the sentence is great, with all the commas giving a sense of constant turning and pausing as Foster is shuffled around.

Laidlaw establishes a strong and consistent tone in “Flight Risk,” foreshadowing the dark nature of the tale with lines like, “There was just enough warmth in the air to carry a threat of the sourness and rot waiting beneath the ice.”

Amid voices “thick with menace,” forlorn and abandoned buildings, grime, and rusted playground equipment that “put the tang of cold metal in [Foster’s] mouth,” Laidlaw expertly builds tension and mystery. Who is the mysterious boy? What could the abductors want with him? Even worse, what will the lad’s final fate be? Great stuff! Laidlaw avoids open threat and violence, instead allowing our own imaginations to supply possible horrors.

I did not realize until about halfway through the story how very appropriate the title was to the tale. I did not catch on until the playground scene. I thought that was a clever choice of title, although it does not seem to have the foreboding tone of the rest of the story.

Foster’s study of the colony of flies in the dead bird filled me with a fascinated revulsion (if such a thing can be said to exist), further foreshadowing death and fear. More tension and believable dialog continue to build tension until a well-arranged climax.

I appreciated the ending, since it seemed unlikely to me from the beginning that the doctor would be allowed to leave alive, and especially after the playground incident. I felt it was consistent with the dark tone to imply the final punishment to come, and while an amateur writer might have been tempted to save the doctor, Laidlaw does not flinch from delivering a bit of harshness to balance the bit of victory.

As an aside, since I always like to dig for a meaning in a short story, if I had to guess at Laidlaw’s theme, I might say that he was trying to showcase the parental instinct. Even though the doctor was not a biological parent, I would make a guess that the theme was related to the notion that a parent is likely to sacrifice the parent’s own life for their child, or something similar. Also, there seemed to me to be an undertone that indicated the doctor was paying for his own past sins by making a final sacrifice.

With a strong open, strong finish, consistent tone, and a narrative filled with plenty of good dialog and eyeball kicks, Laidlaw delivers a successful story in “Flight Risk.”

-Now that I see bluejack's note about how fitting the name Foster is for the doctor, I am even more convinced about the parental theme.

May 22, 09:05 by Mike Bailey
MORE thoughts on the SCIFICTION reviews (reposted from ):

Elizabeth Bear’s “This Tragic Glass.”

I don’t think I could get away with the lush writing in Elizabeth Bear’s “This Tragic Glass.” I’d be afraid someone would accuse me of dabbling in purple prose. Some of Bear’s sentences are so lush that my eyeballs are still aching from the kicks they received during the reading. But the important thing is, in my opinion, Bear succeeds in pulling off sentences that surround the reader with images, but still manage not to suffocate us.

The first paragraph is a perfect example of this balancing act, as well as a shining example of how to capture a reader from the first line of the story.
The light gleamed pewter under gracious, bowering trees; a liver-chestnut gelding stamped one white hoof on the road. His rider stood in his stirrups to see through wreaths of mist, shrugging to settle a slashed black doublet which violated several sumptuary laws. Two breaths steamed as horse and man surveyed the broad lawn of scythe-cut grass that bulwarked the manor house where they had spent the night and much of the day before.

It is interesting to me that SCIFICTION readers seem to see subject matter coming in clumps. Ellen previously noted buying groups of ghost stories; for a while there were some stories about mental illnesses or conditions; and now we seem to be seeing a lot of academic references. But the role of academia in “Tragic Glass” differs from recent tales enough to be fresh (to me, at least). I believe Bear’s intended theme had more to do with the fight against social pressures that try to force us to be what we are not, where Severna Park’s recent academic tale, “The Three Unknowns,” seemed to me to be more of a cautionary tale about the dangers of arrogance, or of reward structures that encourage bad behavior.

Bear is not heavy-handed with the theme, and it might take some careful looking to find what I think is the main delivery of the lesson, when Satyavati offers counsel to the displaced Kit.
You are what you are," … "Someone will have to appreciate that."
But perhaps Saty needs to take her own advice (see below).

One aspect of the story seemed unclear to me: There is, in my opinion, some subtext that points to sexual tension between Saty and Kit, and I am unsure what contribution Bear intended that tension to make to the “single effect,” especially since it seems to contradict with Saty’s earlier behaviors. Saty had seemed repulsed by casual interpersonal contact (with male Baldassare and female Haverson) and had related a sexual harassment incident involving another woman. Based on Saty’s past and her reactions, I had no idea what her gender preference was (and she seemed rather neuter, to tell the truth). I’m curious to hear what others thought of that aspect, and what contribution they thought it made, if any.

I also loved the dialog in "Tragic Glass," but I'll leave that subject open for another intrepid review poster.

In all, as Ellen had anticipated, I did like this new story, and I shall endeavour to write half as well, and be pleased if I succeed in doing so. (Forgive me, I had to try to be archaic in at least one spot in the review.) ;-)

-Elizabeth Bear's response:

As a writer, I'm a firm believer that 50% of any story belongs to the reader and what he brings to it. As long as I've built something that will give him (forgive my non-gender-neutral pronounage) satisfaction when he'd brought his own interpretation in, I'm pretty happy.

That said, however, I will confess that I was thinking of this as a love story when I wrote it. But I wanted to write a very different sort of love story from the one that's traditional to American culture, in that I wanted to divorce it from our usual assumptions about love, sexuality, gender roles, and romantic partnership. And since so many elements in the story deal with the fallacy of categories, as it were, it seemed natural to set the Satya outside of the categories as well as Kit. So she was intended to be a bit neuter and spooky, as you saw her.

I had all these questions, you see, but I'm afraid I was short on answers, somewhat.

-My reply:

Thanks for the clarification of what you were intending while you wrote "Tragic Glass". The love story aspect of your story was subtle (and most-decidedly non-categorical) enough to slip by me, and I appreciate your comments.

The theme I fixated on had more to do with the fight against social pressures that try to force us to be what we are not, which seems closely related to your "fallacy of categories" ideas. In that light, the non-traditional love story does seem to me to contribute nicely to that theme. Kit and Satya would seem to be in the wrong age category, the wrong sex category, and the wrong racial category (according to today's dominant cultural attitudes). Hey, they are even in the wrong temporal category! If their fledgling love worked out, they would certainly triumph over all manner of social pressure!
May 22, 09:07 by Mike Bailey
Another aside:

Laidlaw apparently felt the good doctor Foster had a chance of surviving at the end of "Flight Risk." His response to my review was:

You're a careful reader. It sounds as if I'd stacked any more cups on the pile, it all would have fallen over.
Maybe I'm more naive than Dr. Foster, but I actually thought he'd come out of it okay. I'm glad I didn't stick around to find out if I was wrong.
May 23, 23:06 by Ellen Datlow
I'll support Marc's hope that Dr. Foster has a chance of surviving.
May 24, 09:57 by Bluejack
Hey, Mike,

Thanks for your extensive thoughts -- and interviews -- on
these stories. Quite insightful. What did you think of the
other two stories at SciFiction in April?

In light of Jay's article about authorial intent...

Maybe I'm more naive than Dr. Foster, but I actually thought he'd come out of it okay. I'm glad I didn't stick around to find out if I was wrong.

I think this came across. I was left feeling that the
Doctor was going to be in trouble, but I didn't have the
sense from the earlier actions of the captors that he
would actually be killed. Of course, the whole relationship
was shrouded in a certain mystery. Why was he there in the
first place? I mean, Foster in particular: why him?
So, I came away hopeful.
May 25, 14:41 by Lois Tilton
Other stories I am not going to dwell on include "The Gladiator's War: A Dialog" by Lois Tilton ...

May 25, 17:30 by Bluejack
Sorry, Lois! I really did like it. Here are my notes:

summary Two old warriors converse; one is Roman, interviewing the other for his history of the Spartacan uprising. The other, a gladiator, trusted confidant, betrayer, and finally, loyal friend again to the legendary Spartacus. All this, an alternate history in which the Triumvirate is knocked off, one by one, and the Republic saved.

thoughts thorough research; magnificent irony: on both the crisis of the Republic and the genre of alternate history. Dozois has always been a sucker for Roman history. Tilton really does deliver the goods in this one. Rich portrayal of the late Republic.

Probs? expect one has to be fairly well versed in the facts of history to twig on the speculative elements here. The demise of Crassus, Marius, Caesar, and Pompeius, however are all the richer for a smidgeon of actual history. Moreover, Tilton pegs Republican sensibilities, early Imperial military capabilities, and a number of cultural tensions between the various classes of Roman citizenry, between Gaulic and Roman traditions (military and otherwise), and between East and West. What about Octavius? How can the true genius of the age be absent? Was this too early for him? What will happen when he comes along? Editor's introduction suggests this may be part of a series... there may be hope for a Republican Octavius yet.
May 25, 21:00 by Lois Tilton
I didn't really expect that every reader would be able to recognize Crassus, Marius, Sulla, etc. But I did suppose that crucifying Caesar might have given most of them the most important hint. Those who read it, at least. But not everyone loves AH. [tho Bluejack certainly seems to]

Octavius? I don't think so. Without a Caesar, could there ever be an Octavius?

May 25, 22:15 by Camden
I got most of the history, or enough that what I didn't get it I could fill in with context. Granted I had a Roman history class not that long ago, but it was just a semester.

Kind of depressing. My interest is mostly Medieval China, I imagine anything altering that history would baffle people totally. (I'd like to think not, as China still exists and is a major power, but I think my only hope there would be to get my sister to translate such tales into Japanese and try to sell them there for me. Hmmm)
May 26, 22:57 by Bluejack
Octavius? I don't think so. Without a Caesar, could there ever be an Octavius?

You don't think so? The most brilliant political thinker in the history of the Western world? (IMHO) I think he would make a name for himself somewhere -- and in a Republic there would be plenty of opportunity to do so. I picture him as the leader of a brash New Wave, exposing the hypcrisy behind Cicero's oratory and -- somehow -- transforming Rome. The Republic was not structured to administer an Empire, so some crisis or another would have given a genius like Octavius the opportunity to influence events.

Yes, Octavius.
May 27, 08:24 by Lois Tilton
I'm often struck by the parallel but separate development of the Chinese and Greek/Roman military systems. The temptation, forex, to have Alexander reach China - but I manage to resist it.
May 28, 08:21 by Lois Tilton
Re: Octavius. I should better have said, he will remain Octavius, he will never be Augustus.

No matter his genius, w/o Julius Caesar as his patron, Octavius would have no political base, no connections to power and wealth.

His life would be an entirely different story.
May 28, 14:17 by Camden
From what I remember, I agree.
Jun 1, 19:13 by Mike Bailey

To answer your question: What did you think of the
other two stories at SciFiction in April?

I thought "Sin's Doorway" by Manly Wade Wellman was a great story. I felt it showed some of the plot simplicity of earlier fantasy stories while still effectively creating atmosphere, mood, etc. Sometimes more modern writing seems to trip over itself, and this story was refreshing to me.

"On Display Among the Lesser" by Carol Emshwiller was also enjoyable. Emshwiller does a good job of getting the reader to identify with the raptors and the meerkats by placing human characteristics in the interactions. Most of us can easily see humans caging and brutalizing animals, so even though meerkats are doing it to the raptors, we can identify with the situation. Same with the raptors. We can empathize with the captives. The sense of art, culture, even down to the meerkat desire to "own" the raptors; it all felt right to me instead of outlandish. That, in my opinion, is a sign of good writing. Of course there were plenty of good eyeball kicks and dialog as well, but lessons in human nature rank highly with me.
Jun 2, 10:09 by Bluejack
Ah, I haven't read the reprints. Only so many hours in the day, and all that. The other one I read was Elvis in the Attic, which I thought was charming and nicely written, but it didn't quite grip me.

One problem I have these days is that if my first encounter with a story isn't quite the right time and place for that story, I don't necessarily have the leisure to come back and give it another shot later. Some of my responses, then, are colored by factors beyond the author's control. For the stories I review in IROSF I do make sure I give them a second reading, although that be no means guarantees I will catch everything important. Alas.
Jun 2, 16:04 by Mike Bailey
I'm not so sure that "Elvis in the Attic" was intended to be gripping, especially since the story never tries to take itself too seriously. I think of its effect as more lingering than gripping. My very brief take on it is:

*Elvis in the Attic – Catherine M. Morrison

Tangent has an interesting take on this story. The reviewer, published author Eugie Foster, writes here ( that the plight of Kenny's Elvis can be compared to that of any misplaced wildlife. I hadn’t thought of that. But I did feel that the story succeeded in being quirky, funny, and moving at the same time, which, in my opinion, is almost impossible to do. I am still imagining a forlorn Elvis tied to a doorknob with a bit of string, mumbling his old tunes while I try to decide what to do with him. And this is weeks after reading the story. A job well done by Morrison.

*Morrison's response:
I found the Tangent interpretation interesting, too - certainly nothing I had intended.
Jun 2, 22:07 by Lois Tilton
The Emshwiller story is fascinating reading next to her June story about the Gliders.
Jun 3, 08:35 by Ellen Datlow
I bought "Gliders" after the earlier story but according to Carol it's the prequal to "On Display Among the Lesser." Not sure it makes a difference though.
Jun 3, 11:21 by Bluejack
*Morrison's response:
I found the Tangent interpretation interesting, too - certainly nothing I had intended.

Nice tie in to Jay's article!
Jun 3, 18:04 by Mike Bailey
Lois, I agree that the "Display" and "Gliders" stories by Emshwiller work well together.

I just finished posting my response to "Gliders" on Ellen's BB. Here it is, if you're interested.

*start repost*
“Gliders Though They Be” by Carol Emshwiller seems to continue in the universe of “On Display Among the Lesser. In fact, the unnamed protagonist might be a member of the Lesser tribe that captured a raptor and forced it to dance for them in her previous story. (Are we sure these are meerkats? Ellen said they were, but I did not know meerkats had feathers or nubs…)

I enjoy the way Emshwiller discusses vanity and envy in both stories. Instead of merely changing the characters from vain and envious humans to similarly twisted animals, Emshwiller has written the animals with a unique voice and culture. I feel this makes her stories in this particular universe more effective; the reader is lured into exploring the unique culture of the animals, wonders at the differences between the intelligent critters and our own mundane creatures, and the lessons about human pride and envy are slipped deftly into the mix.

One nice technique that Emshwiller uses to make her world seem real is using physical communication among her characters. Many authors forget that communication is 70% nonverbal, and by describing the physical communication that takes place in her story, Emshwiller gives her characters a sense of solidity, as well as offering insights into culture. A few examples:
I puff up so as to look even larger, though I lose some of my shine that way….
I hum a tune I know is theirs…
With my own, I'd chitter or some such, but I don't know what works with them. And I don't want to spark any jealousy among their males or attract attention to myself. But I do clack my teeth a few times…
I flatten my fur to give it more glow. I enter boldly…
I step around them, working my way closer, patting shoulders as I pass the others…
She raises her head as though to bare her throat to me. A good sign…
She shakes her shoulders and spreads her wings a little bit as though to show them off.
I shake, too, and hope my vest still hides my nubs. I say, "Glorious." I show my front teeth…

I also really enjoyed Emshwiller’s opening. Besides having a unique feel to the sentences (since it is written in critter voice), there is clever use of alliteration and pauses.
They live, as we do, by the shadows, by the warmth of stones on sunny days, by fissures in rocks. They scramble, skulk, and skitter—as we do. They die, as we do, by the sky, by the trees. Live by black brush, prickly poppies. Die by the drop and dive and skim of the masters from the air.
The opening reminded me of the great opening in “The Wages of Syntax,” by Ray Vukcevich (available in the SCIFICTION archives), which also started with a great voice making some sinister plans.

The horror of what the protagonist had done to the young fledglings was balanced by the epiphany experienced at the end, when the infiltrator thinks, “The only way any of us, we or they, ever really fly, is like this.”
I wondered if Emshwiller was sneaking in a message about death at the end, something like: All our human vanities and desires are meaningless at the end, when we face death, and we realize too late that everything was an unimportant illusion, a pale imitation of the purity beyond. She may not have been trying to sneak that in. I think her main theme was about the fruitlessness of vanity and envy, but the death message certainly puts everything else into perspective.

I can’t say too many times how enjoyable the story was because of the voice. What a great voice, and she was so consistent with it! Very good job, in my opinion.
*end repost
Jun 10, 18:03 by Mike Bailey
Another example of the gap between authorial intent and reader experience...

Emshwiller's response to my review from Ellen's BB:
...I like that you liked the opening. I worked so hard on that. About the "meanings..." Pride and envy and such, I never think about such things. I'm just deep inside my characters and have no thoughts about a message...ever. Messages just seem to happen now and then. Yesterday I read a section in a Coetzee book...end of ELIZABETH CASTELLO... that says as I feel. She says...more or less..."I am a writer, I have no beliefs.... I have beliefs but do not believe in them.... I am a secretary...." Anyway I thought Yay when I read that. I only have the beliefs that the story needs at the time I write the story. I hate the idea of messages....
Jun 11, 17:18 by chance
bluejack wrote:

*Morrison's response:
I found the Tangent interpretation interesting, too - certainly nothing I had intended.

Nice tie in to Jay's article!

*g* well as far as I am concerned I wrote a magic realism story. Imagine my shock when I found out it was SF.

Jun 11, 17:19 by Anonymous
hmmm - screwed the tags up - the new text i wrote was:

*g* well as far as I am concerned I wrote a magic realism story. Imagine my shock when I found out it was SF.
Jun 11, 19:49 by Mike Bailey
Tell me about it, chance.....

In juxtaposition, I write a SF story, and it turns out to be magic realism! Guess we never know what's coming from our crazy brains... Or what those wacky readers (each other) will think we really meant...

Good job on this one, and good luck with the next tale!
Jun 12, 08:36 by Bluejack

Another bug there. The software is supposed to close
all open tags. I'll have to look into why it isn't.
Jun 14, 00:38 by Camden
When is the June issue expected to come up?
Jun 14, 10:23 by John Frost
On the 21st (Always the 21st) -- so, a week from today.
Jun 19, 13:39 by Bluejack
Nicholas Whyte has a nice discussion of the this year's Hugo nominees on his website. Check it out. I must admit that I am dismayed by some of the mediocre stuff that made it into final voting, as well as some of the real gems that didn't get close. It looks like Analog readers are particularly well-organized at getting their favorites into the balloting.

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