Friday, May 18, 2018

Company Town by Madeline Ashby vs. Xenowealth by Tobias S. Buckell :: Battle of the 2016 Books, Bracket One, First Round, Battle 3 of 8


For the third battle of Bracket One of the Battle of the 2016 Books we have Company Town by Madeline Ashby doing battle with Xenowealth: A Collection by Tobias S. Buckell. The winner will be the book I (Aaron) most want to continue reading after 25 pages.

Company Town: Tor hardcover, 285 pages, May 2016, cover art by Erik Mohr. The eponymous Company Town is a huge floating city called New Arcadia, which the dust jacket tells us is actually a ginormous oil rig. Our heroine Hwa is a young woman with no bio-enhancements, who nevertheless earns a living as hired muscle, serving as a bodyguard for the United Sex Workers of Canada and teaching a self-defense class. While keeping an eye on some of her charges at a protest against Lynch, the megacorporation that has just purchased New Arcadia, she dukes it out with a man apparently brandishing a rifle. In fact, it was a long-range microphone. The fellow carrying it works for Lynch, and is so impressed with Hwa's fighting skills, he offers her a job also working for Lynch, which she is reluctant to accept.

Madeline Ashby is a Toronto writer whose previous books were the well-received Machine Dynasties series, vN and iD.

Xenowealth: A Collection: Self-published trade paperback, 192 pages, January 2016, cover art by Jenn Reese. Xenowealth is a collection of short stories set in Buckell's successful Benevolent Satrapy future history, often referred to as the "Xenowealth series," which includes the novels Crystal Rain, Ragamuffin, Sly Mongoose, and The Apocalypse Ocean. The opening 25 pages covers "The Fish Merchant," Buckell's first published story, in which a fish seller in Macau decides to risk helping the enigmatic Caribbean man called Pepper, and the first half of "Manumission," in which a memory-deprived Pepper tracks down a dangerous woman seeking to get off planet. Buckell's strange aliens have yet to make an appearance onstage.

Tobias S. Buckell, originally from Granada, now lives in Ohio. Xenowealth is a crowd-funded (through Kickstarter) self-published book, as Buckell experiments with how best to earn a good living writing in today's shifting publishing market.

The Battle: This battle is between two near-future science fiction adventures, both with a post-cyberpunk feel.

When judging two so similar books, the first question is whether either author has committed any failure in their execution of the central concept that would knock them out of contention. But Madeline Ashby and Tobias S. Buckell are not about to make matters so easy for me.

Through 25 pages, both Company Town and Xenowealth are very well written, with intricate worldbuilding, strong characterization, and both engaging action sequences and effective quiet moments. This is the type of excellent writing we expect to see in the Final Four of the Battle of the Books. It is the authors' misfortune that they face each other so early in the bracket, and my misfortune that I must already choose between two books I am so far thoroughly enjoying.

Xenowealth starts with the potential disadvantage of being a collection of short stories. Collections can face an uphill fight in the Battle of the Books because even if the first couple stories are very strong, they may not necessarily leave the reader anxious to read other unrelated stories. But Xenowealth is a collection of linked stories set in the same future and featuring the same key character. After 25 pages, I am already absorbed in Buckell's cutthroat future and his sullen protagonist Pepper.

But I am also already absorbed in Ashby's Company Town, and just a little bit more so. A few small points combine to make the difference. First, I am very interested in Ashby's oil-rig city, which feels very lived-in and believable. Second, while both books' main characters are strong and tough, Buckell's Pepper so far seems invincible, while Ashby's Hwa has a hint of vulnerability that makes her to me a more compelling and sympathetic character. Third, there's a dash of humor in Company Town, as when Hwa teases a tough guy she has encountered before, expressing how glad she is that they did a good job reattaching his retina. She is a spunky protagonist in a distinctive future setting, and I want to read more about her.

THE WINNER: Company Town by Madeline Ashby

Company Town advances to the second round, to take on either The High Mountains of Portugal by Yann Martel or Borderline by Mishell Baker.

To see the whole bracket, click here.

Wednesday, May 09, 2018

The Life Engineered by J-F. Dubeau vs. Asteroid Made of Dragons by G. Derek Adams :: Battle of the 2016 Books, Bracket One, First Round, Battle 2 of 8


By random chance the second match-up in the first round of Bracket One of the Battle of the 2016 Books features two books from Inkshares' new Sword & Laser imprint, The Life Engineered by J-F. Dubeau and Asteroid Made of Dragons by G. Derek Adams. The winner will be the book I (Aaron) most want to continue reading after 25 pages.

The Life Engineered: Sword & Laser, 240 pages, March 2016, cover art by Eric Belisle. The Life Engineered is far-future science fiction, but if the opening section is any guide, it features flashbacks to more familiar settings.

The novel opens in the year 3594, where our descendants share multiple worlds with robots called Capeks, with a (probably unnecessary) explicit tip of the hat to Czech author Karel Capek, who coined the term "robot." An onslaught of gamma radiation is driving humans into hibernation, to be awakened by the Capeks when the problem is past. But fearing that a subset of the Capeks has created the problem, the humans conceal their whereabouts from most of the Capeks. Flash forward to 5638, when a new Capek is being created, one supposes into a universe where humans are only remembered as legend.

In between these two far-future scenes, however, we meet Mel Paulson, a police officer and modern-day single mother. Mel worries about the effect on her young son of her brutal early morning hours, but then matters quickly get worse as she finds herself in a hostage situation, a crisis that ends with Mel being shot in the head. It turns out that Mel's life was one of hundreds of simulated lives our protagonist Capek, Dagir, has lived through to allow his individual personality to coalesce.

Asteroid Made of Dragons: Sword & Laser, 275 pages, April 2016, cover design by David Drummond. Asteroid Made of Dragons is humorous fantasy, modeled I suspect after Terry Pratchett's Discworld series.

The novel's prologue shows us a theater troupe preparing for a new play, but we have no idea yet how that relates to the main storylines. Then in Chapter One, a goblin researcher named Xenon uncovers an ominous message warning of the coming of Zero. Finally Chapter Two introduces us to (I suspect) our main characters, Jonas & Rime. Rime is a lady mage, Jonas her assistant and bodyguard. We meet them as Rime attempts to escape from stealing her own money back from her bank, pursued by its determined golem guard. This scenario ends with Jonas carrying her back to their rented room. When she wakes, Rime declares her intention to travel to Gilead. Jonas insists on accompanying her, even though we know he was exiled from Gilead for killing his last master.

The Battle: This is a close one.

There were two things I especially liked about the opening pages of The Life Engineered. First, Dubeau built some real tension with Mel's hostage crisis. But it seems that was a one-off bit; I don't expect Mel to return to the story, except insofar as she is incorporated into Dagir's personality. Second, I like the concept of having Dagir live through a series of simulated lives in order to develop a unique personality. In our last battle, I said the key to winning in the first round is to pull me into the story, and after 25 pages, I'm more interested in Dagir's storyline than in the plot of Asteroid Made of Dragons.

Having said that, Dagir's primary storyline is set in the distant future, yet so far the scenes of the future in The Life Engineered have rather a dated feel, as if Dubeau is emulating early Asimov or perhaps even Eando Binder. As far as we know from the narration, the scenes are set in empty white rooms, with none of the strangeness or lushness modern readers expect in far-future settings.

I can still enjoy early Asimov (Binder not so much), but I think G. Derek Adams has the better notion here, going for the style of Terry Pratchett. Of course, Adams is not there yet; one wouldn't compare Asteroid Made of Dragons favorably with an actual Discworld novel, but there are enough funny moments and good lines to say that he is on the right track. For instance, Jonas's surprise at the ease of his getaway while hauling Rime's unconscious form feels very much like a bit Pratchett might have done:
This is one of those times that Master would talk about. Where you were supposed to run into trouble, but Trouble spilled morning coffee on his tunic and got a late start. Jonas could see his master's lean face spreading into a low chuckle. But don't worry, young man. Trouble always keeps his appointments, late or no. Enjoy the days you missed him because he'll be double furious next time around.
Adams pulls even in this Battle of the Books with his amusing writing style, and then the clincher comes in the last few pages of Chapter Two. Rime stutters through asking Jonas if he will come along to Gilead, obviously hoping he will, even as she is uncomfortable at realizing how attached to him she has become. And Jonas declares that he will come, even though he knows that because of his history, she would likely be better off without him. It is the kind of simple but charming scene that makes one want to keep reading.

THE WINNER: Asteroid Made of Dragons by G. Derek Adams

Asteroid Made of Dragons advances to the second round to face Phantom Effect by Michael Aronovitz.

To see the whole bracket, click here.

Wednesday, May 02, 2018

Welcome to Deadland by Zachary Tyler Linville vs. Phantom Effect by Michael Aronovitz :: Battle of the 2016 Books, Bracket One, First Round, Battle 1 of 8


Our first match in the first round of Bracket One of the Battle of the 2016 Books features Welcome to Deadland by Zachary Tyler Linville versus Phantom Effect by Michael Aronovitz. The winner will be the book I (Aaron) most want to continue reading after 25 pages.

Welcome to Deadland: Nerdist (Inkshares), August 2016, 398 pages, cover design by David Drummond. Welcome to Deadland is a zombie novel set in the South, the author's home. (New writer Zachary Tyler Linville went to school in Florida and now lives in Atlanta.) After a very brief prologue showing us that someone deliberately spread the plague that turns nice people into disagreeable zombies--no clues offered as to why--the opening 25 pages consist of chapters before and after the apocalypse, from the points of view of young men Asher and Rico. After, Asher wields a baseball bat to defend a girl named Wendy from a zombie. Before, Asher was working at a college café where he met a pretty redhead named Stacey. Stacey invited him to a party, where she had too much to drink. Before, Rico got arrested during a drug-aided hookup in a parked car, to be bailed out by his divorced father, whom Rico deeply resents. After, Rico and a boy named Jayden find shelter in a boat floating just off the coast.

Phantom Effect: Night Shade, February 2016, 285 pages, cover design by Diana Kolsky. Michael Aronovitz has penned two previous novels and two short fiction collections from small publishers. Phantom Effect is a ghost story in which a serial killer is haunted by one of his victims. In the opening 25 pages, our antihero Jonathan Deseranto has just killed and dismembered a young woman, Marissa Madison, but his car has a blowout before he can dispose of the body. When a policeman stops to investigate, Deseranto kills him too, then promptly crashes his car fleeing the scene. As he gets out, the trunk pops open and, impossibly, one of the victims emerges. Deseranto sprints to an abandoned, soon-to-be-demolished Motel 6.

The Battle: We begin the Battle of the 2016 Books with a contest that illustrates what the first round of BotB is all about. To make it through the first round, you need to grab my attention right out of the blocks. Seize my interest with sparkling writing or strong characterization or an intriguing storyline.

Welcome to Deadland may ultimately turn into a satisfying adventure, but the opening 25 pages didn't much grab me. Linville attempts to do that in two ways. First, he shows us the perils of life after the apocalypse, as Asher and Wendy are attacked by a zombie in the opening chapter. It's a decent scene, but doesn't carry much impact, since zombie attacks have become so commonplace in books and media the past several years. I believe that by now it now takes some humor or irony to deliver a line like, "Thank you for bashing his skull in."

Second, Linville tries to draw in his readers by contrasting his dangerous future with the everyday lives our main characters used to live before the apocalypse. But to my tastes, those lives were a little too everyday and a little too similar to each other: Asher and Rico are two young men hanging around parties hoping to get laid. Flipping through the book, I see that Wendy becomes a viewpoint character around page 80. It might have been a good idea to give us her point of view sooner.

Meanwhile, Phantom Effect started to pull me in from the opening line: "I ain't scared, asshole."

The line is spoken by 6' 5" Jonathan Martin Delaware Deseronto, a man who finds satisfaction in killing young women who remind him of his mother. I like Deseronto's tough-guy voice, because it starts to break down almost immediately.

As the book opens, Deseronto ain't scared that a flat tire has interrupted his rainy midnight drive to dispose of the dismembered remains of his latest victim, Marissa Madison. But he starts to feel scared when a police cruiser stops to help. Then he's a little more scared as he crashes his car, now with two victims in the trunk, into a pit at a construction site. Then he's seriously unnerved when he starts hearing noises from the trunk. Could the policeman have survived? And as he scrambles away from the totaled car toward a deserted Motel 6, slipping in the mud, although he doesn't say so, this is the point when the reader knows damn well Deseronto is terrified:
There was a noise, and Deseronto looked back over his shoulder.
Marissa Madison was crawling out of the trunk.
She had already evicted the dead cop, a rumple and twist in the mud, and she was pulling up now, fingers curled around the edge of the lid, the other on the bottom lip, head bent with exertion, long hair hanging in front of her face like a sodden veil. There were hash marks where the body parts had been put back together, and some of them were affixed backward, insectile, sewn with what looked like the fishing line he'd kept in there on a wooden spool, the rough stitching cut off in stingers and barbs. The shoulders flexed and the joints angled in, the spider poised to emerge from the sack.
Deseronto pushed to his feet and turned toward the motel. 
This, dear reader, is a hook.

THE WINNER: Phantom Effect by Michael Aronovitz

Phantom Effect advances to the second round to face either The Life Engineered by J-F. Dubeau or Asteroid Made of Dragons by G. Derek Adams.

To see the whole bracket, click here.

Monday, April 23, 2018

Announcing Battle of the 2016 Books, Bracket One

Announcing Bracket One of the Fantastic Reviews Battle of the 2016 Books!

We started the Battle of the Books at the Fantastic Reviews Blog in 2012 as a fun way to try to keep up with the review copies we were receiving.

The good news is we've done eleven brackets of books so far, discussing 176 books! Along the way, we've read some awesome books, discovered some new authors, and gotten some great feedback. The bad news is we still have a mountain of unreviewed books. Although Battle of the Books has allowed us to sample and feature many more books than we could have done otherwise.

Aaron Hughes, our primary reviewer, will be judging this bracket of Battle of the Books.

Of the sixteen books, Aaron selected four "seeded" books that he was especially looking forward to reading (marked with asterisks), placed one in each quarter of the bracket, then we filled out the rest of the bracket randomly. Here are your initial matchups:

First Quarter of Bracket:


Zachary Tyler Linville
Welcome to Deadland
(Inkshares)
vs.
Michael Aronovitz
Phantom Effect***
(Night Shade)



J-F. Dubeau
The Life Engineered
(Sword & Laser)
vs.
G. Derek Adams
Asteroid Made of Dragons
(Sword & Laser)


Second Quarter of Bracket



Madeline Ashby
Company Town
(Tor)
vs.
Tobias S. Buckell
Xenowealth: A Collection
(self-published)



Yann Martel
The High Mountains of Portugal***
(Spiegel & Grau)
vs.
Mishell Baker
Borderline
(Saga)



Third Quarter of Bracket:



Gregory Lamberson
Black Creek
(Medallion)
vs.
Paul Inman
Ageless
(Inkshares)



Kat Howard
Roses and Rot
(Saga)
vs.
Thomas Olde Heuvelt
Hex***
(Tor)


Fourth Quarter of Bracket:

William J. Birnes
UFO Hunters, Book Two
(Tor)
vs.
Fred Chappell
A Shadow All of Light
(Tor)


Robert Chansky
100 Ghost Soup***
(Curiosity Quills)
vs.
Thomas Locke
Merchant of Alyss
(Revell)

To see the whole bracket diagram, click here.

How we do Battle of the Books:

In Battle of the Books, we start with sixteen books as contenders. The books are randomly matched-up in a single elimination tournament bracket. For every battle, a sample of the two competing books will be read by our judge / reviewer, and the book he or she most wants to continue reading (not necessarily the better book!) is chosen as the winner of the match.

We are subjectively judging books after reading *only* a portion of each book.

For first round matches, our reviewer will read the opening 25 pages of both books. Winners advance to the next round. In second round matches, our reviewer will read both books through page 50. Winners advance to the next round. For semifinal round matches, both books are read through page 100. Winners of the semifinals advance to the finals or championship round, in which our reviewer will read both books through page 200, and the book he or she most wants to read to the end will be proclaimed our Battle of the Books bracket champion.

For the complete rules, and how you can get a book in a future bracket of Battle of the Books, click here.

Notes on the books in the field for this competition:

-- All of these books were first published in 2016.

-- Classifying books before you read them is tricky, but this bracket appears to contain 4 science fiction books, 1 science fiction collection, 4 fantasy books, 2 dark fantasy books, 1 urban fantasy book, 2 horror books, 1 mainstream fiction book, and 1 paranormal book.

-- I believe 13 books are by men and 3 by women.

-- It looks 1 book is the first in a series, and 1 book is the second book in a series, and 1 book is a media tie-in.

-- As far as publishers: 4 books came from Tor; 2 books each from Saga, Sword & Laser, and Inkshares; 1 book each from Night Shade, Spiegel & Grau, Medallion, Curiosity Quills, and Revell; and 1 book was self published.


Good luck to all our contenders! Let the new bracket of book battles begin!

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Rendezvous on a Lost World by A. Bertram Chandler :: Amy's bookshelf

Title: Rendezvous on a Lost World
Author: A. Bertram Chandler
Tagline: Prisoners of a Cybernetic Paradise
Publisher: Ace (Ace Double F-117)
Copyright: 1961
Pages: 124
Cover Price: 40¢
Cover Artist: Ed Emshwiller
Series: Rim World series book four
Genre: science fiction

Note: republished as When the Dream Dies (1981)

Description from the first page of book:
THE ROBOT ROAD TO FARAWAY

   His was a dream few spaceman ever saw come true. Alan Kemp was an obsessed man - driven by the realization of a dream into the black emptiness between the stars.
   In a rebuilt, second-hand, obsolete space ship, Kemp and his three comrades took off - determined to set up a shuttle service between the planets at the rim of the galaxy.
   But trouble - in the form of two lost colonies, one inhabited by giant mechanical insects and the other by the descendants of a murderous pirate - threatened. Kemp's crew began to wonder: just how much will one man sacrifice to realize a dream?


A. Bertram Chandler (1912 – 1984) was an British/Australian science fiction author. He was born in England. Chandler was a merchant marine officer. In 1956, he emigrated to Australia and became an Australian citizen. He is most well known for his around 20 John Grimes science fiction adventure novels and his Rim World series. He published over 40 science fiction novels and over 200 works of short fiction.


This is another book from my stack of vintage Ace Double books. I decided to feature Rendezvous on a Lost World because it has, in my opinion, a striking science fiction cover, a spaceman confronting a smaller, spider-like robot. Is this one of the "giant mechanical insects" mentioned in the blurb? My copy of this book is in very good condition. As the last book, the pages have yellowed and the print font is small. The cover graphic was copied from A. Bertram Chandler's website, which contains good information about the author. I haven't read this science fiction book, so I can't say more. Perhaps something from my bookshelf to add to my to-be-read list?

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Secret Agent of Terra by John Brunner :: Amy's bookshelf

Title: Secret Agent of Terra 
Subtitle: Vultures from the A-Power Orbit
Author: John Brunner
Publisher: Ace (Ace Double F-133)
Copyright: 1962
Pages: 127
Cover Price: 40¢
Series: Zarathustra Refugee Planets book one
Genre: science fiction

Note: story reworked / revised as The Avengers of Carrig (1969)

Description from the first page of book:
MONARCH OF MONSTERS -- OR MONSTER OF MONARCHY?

   Planet Fourteen --  just a speck on a spacial stereo map, just a world inhabited by a group of barbaric refugees.
   But to Belfeor, it was instant cash. All he needed was an iron hand and a means to dig out its radioactive resources for export to his own world.
   To Maddalena it was a final exam; this would be her last chance to prove herself worthy of Corps Galactica membership.
   To Saikmar, it was a nation and a people stolen from him by cruel treachery.
   To Gus Langenschmidt, it was part of a job he had, watching the skies and helping men who were being enslaved. But how do you help people who don't know you exist and who must not be told?


John Brunner (1934 – 1995) was a British science fiction author. His book Stand on Zanzibar (1968) won the 1969 Hugo Award for best novel. Other notable books include The Shockwave Rider (1975), The Sheep Look Up (1972) and The Jagged Orbit (1969).


I randomly pulled Secret Agent of Terra from a stack of vintage Ace Double books. The shown book cover graphic is from Wikipedia, unfortunately my copy is a bit more worn. The pages have yellowed in the over 55 years since it was published. It's not many pages long but the print font is small. I haven't read this science fiction book, so I can't say more. Although digging out "radioactive resources", as mentioned in the description, sounds dangerous. I'm featuring this book because I thought the cover was interestingly retro looking. Perhaps something from my bookshelf to add to my to-be-read list?

Saturday, December 30, 2017

2017 Hugo Award Winners, fiction categories

Belatedly, here's the list of the Hugo Award winners in the four fiction categories (there are many additional categories) for 2017.

These awards were presented in August 2017 at Worldcon 75 in Helsinki, Finland.

The list of finalists or nominees can be seen in the previous post.
Best Novel

    The Obelisk Gate by N. K. Jemisin (Orbit Books)

Best Novella

    Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire (Tor.com Publishing)

Best Novelette

    “The Tomato Thief” by Ursula Vernon (Apex Magazine, January 2016)

Best Short Story

    “Seasons of Glass and Iron” by Amal El-Mohtar (The Starlit Wood: New Fairy Tales, Saga Press)

Wednesday, August 02, 2017

2017 Hugo Award Finalists, fiction categories

A little more than a week from now, on Friday, August 11, the 2017 Hugo Awards will be presented at this year's World Science Fiction Convention, Worldcon 75 in Helsinki, Finland. The Hugo Awards ceremony is always a highlight of a Worldcon.

Here's a list of the finalists in the four fiction categories (there are many additional categories), offered without comment, just in case you, like me (Amy), need a little reminder of the works that are up for these awards this year. May good stuff win!
Best Novel

    All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders (Tor Books / Titan Books)
    A Closed and Common Orbit by Becky Chambers (Hodder & Stoughton / Harper Voyager US)
    Death’s End by Cixin Liu (Tor Books / Head of Zeus)
    Ninefox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee (Solaris Books)
    The Obelisk Gate by N. K. Jemisin (Orbit Books)
    Too Like the Lightning by Ada Palmer (Tor Books)

Best Novella

    The Ballad of Black Tom by Victor LaValle (Tor.com Publishing)
    The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe by Kij Johnson (Tor.com Publishing)
    Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire (Tor.com Publishing)
    Penric and the Shaman by Lois McMaster Bujold (Spectrum Literary Agency)
    A Taste of Honey by Kai Ashante Wilson (Tor.com Publishing)
    This Census-Taker by China Miéville (Del Rey / Picador)

Best Novelette

    Alien Stripper Boned From Behind By The T-Rex by Stix Hiscock (self-published)
    “The Art of Space Travel” by Nina Allan (Tor.com, July 2016)
    “The Jewel and Her Lapidary” by Fran Wilde (Tor.com Publishing, May 2016)
    “The Tomato Thief” by Ursula Vernon (Apex Magazine, January 2016)
    “Touring with the Alien” by Carolyn Ives Gilman (Clarkesworld Magazine, April 2016)
    “You’ll Surely Drown Here If You Stay” by Alyssa Wong (Uncanny Magazine, May 2016)

Best Short Story

    “The City Born Great” by N. K. Jemisin (Tor.com, September 2016)
    “A Fist of Permutations in Lightning and Wildflowers” by Alyssa Wong (Tor.com, March 2016)
    “Our Talons Can Crush Galaxies” by Brooke Bolander (Uncanny Magazine, November 2016)
    “Seasons of Glass and Iron” by Amal El-Mohtar (The Starlit Wood: New Fairy Tales, Saga Press)
    “That Game We Played During the War” by Carrie Vaughn (Tor.com, March 2016)
    “An Unimaginable Light” by John C. Wright (God, Robot, Castalia House)

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

"Voices Without Voices, Words With No Words" by Amanda C. Davis :: Aaron's Story Recommendation of the Week

My Story Recommendation of the Week is for "Voices Without Voices, Words With No Words" by Amanda C. Davis, from Issue #73 of Cemetery Dance magazine.

Jeremy lives in a house inherited from his parents, a house with no power, no heat, no telephone. He has lost his job, his girlfriend, his life. Because he has time for nothing but his work. His work is: he picks up a dead phone and hears voices. He writes down names, numbers, and words that the voices give him. Then he goes to one of the few remaining pay phones in town with a stack of quarters. He dials the numbers, asks for the names, and tells them the words. Words like "Choose the green" or "Stop at two" or "Ask for Veronica."

So Jeremy is a loon, right? Except it's easy to believe he's not. For one thing, how come he can always reach someone with the right name at the numbers he dials? This is a guy who has devoted himself to work he didn't choose, at tremendous cost to himself, in the hope it's helping people he doesn't even know. He is a sad, pathetic, very noble character. Like someone who leaves a high-paying job to work with the homeless, or perhaps even a writer who devotes her life to telling stories she's not sure anyone else appreciates.

The story begins in earnest when Jeremy dials a number but it doesn't ring. He looks down and realizes it's his number, for his disconnected home phone. The message is for him: It ends. Be at the side of the lost queen at midnight. Twenty-five twenty-one. Will he puzzle out by midnight what that means?

This is a fairly simple story concept, executed cleanly and elegantly. I've been reading a lot of short fiction lately and I fear I've been getting a bit jaded – it's hard right now to get me to really care about what happens to a character in a short story. But Amanda Davis pulled it off. I was right there with Jeremy to the end of the story. I enjoyed "Voices Without Voices, Words With No Words" very much.

Amanda C. Davis writes horror, dark fantasy, and science fiction. Her work has appeared in Daily Science Fiction, Orson Scott Card's InterGalactic Medicine Show, Shock Totem, and many other publications. Incidentally, I think of Cemetery Dance as a horror magazine, but to me "Voices Without Voices, Words With No Words" is not a horror story. Good for them stretching their boundaries to publish such a terrific piece!

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

"Vaseline Footprints" by Jeff Bowles :: Aaron's Story Recommendation of the Week

My Story Recommendation of the Week is for "Vaseline Footprints" by Jeff Bowles, from the November-December 2016 issue of Black Static magazine.

A sister magazine to Interzone, Black Static generally focuses on horror and dark fantasy, but I'd be more inclined to label "Vaseline Footprints" as bizarro fiction, with story elements at once absurd, surreal, satirical and grotesque. I like bizarro, and if you can appreciate offbeat fiction, I think you'll like this one a lot too.

From the opening line ("I keep dead women in my closet."), the narrator of "Vaseline Footprints" is oh so far beyond unreliable. He has a tough go of things, what with a boss he'd like to kill and the constant need to replace his bloody socks and his gallon container of Vaseline. But he tries to stay positive:
I love the dead women in my closet very much. I keep pictures of them on my phone. The dead women in my closet are my reason for living. I think I would probably go a bit weird if I didn't have them.
No doubt! This story may not be for everyone, particularly if you're sensitive about your religious imagery, but I thought it was a hoot and a half!

Jeff Bowles is a Colorado author, whose work has appeared in PodCastle, Stupefying Stories and other markets, and has been collected in Godling and Other Paint Stories.