Let’s Read The Tor Stories: Week 8 (Witches)


Mid-way through this week’s reading, I found myself in a gloomy wood, dark and astray; Gone from the path direct: and e’en to tell; It were no easy task, how savage and wild those stories, how weird and rough their events, Which to remember only, my dismay; Renews, in bitterness not far from death. But try I will, to recount I must.

Gingerbread homunculi, bombshells begging kindness, and bayou-crossed lovers. I piqued my ears to catch the whispers of the forest and wrested these stories from the ghoulish clutches of gnarly wood. Week 8 approaches on the flight of witches.

97814668207539. The Witch of Duva by Leigh Bardugo

There was a time when the woods near Duva ate girls…or so the story goes. But it’s just possible that the danger may be a little bit closer to home. This story is a companion folk tale to Leigh Bardugo’s debut novel, Shadow and Bone.

The Witch of Duva is set in around the forested mountain town of Duva. The disappearance of nearly eight young women has thrown the village into a frenzy; rumors of lecherous conspiracy and cannibalism begin to infect the town. Nadya is a young girl who lives in Duva along with her father, mother, and older brother Maxim. When her mother dies from a wasting disease and hunger during a terrible famine, a woman named Karina Stoyanova begins to court Nadya’s now widowed father. Nadya suspects that Karina is behind the girls’ abduction and may in fact be a khitka, a spiteful bloodthirsty forest spirit who hunger for the flesh of newborns. For the khitka are capable of taking many forms, but the shape it favors most is that of a beautiful woman.

Leigh Bardugo’s Witch of Duva is an exquisite, grotesque, and captivatingly imagined short-story that draws from the generous influence of Russian folk-tales, recreating their cautionary atmosphere and imbuing them with grisly originality born from an astute contemporary self-conscience.

The extent to which (harhar) Bardugo illustrates through her words the cold isolation and stark desperation of the town of Duva goes a long way into convincing me to suspend my disbelief about the preternatural forces encircling it. With all the strange otherworldly happenings that surround this town, the story never lacks in casting suspicion on the townspeople themselves, acknowledging their capacity in becoming the greatest monsters of all.

You’ll think you how this story will go all the way up until three fourths of the way. Believe me, you don’t and you won’t. If you’re a fan of dark contemporary fairy-tales such as John Connolly’s ‘The Book of Lost Things’, you especially should give this story its due.

978146682679398. The Cairn in Slater Woods by Gina Rosati

Dylan has just moved to New Hampshire to live in a house his family has inherited from a great aunt he’s never met. There he meets his cousin, a bully who resents Dylan’s family, and a mysterious girl who claims she can lead him to buried treasure in the woods on the property. The key to helping the girl involves uncovering a dark family secret and righting the wrongs of the past.

  • Let’s just get this out of the way:
  • Is ‘The Cairn in Slater Woods‘ predictable? ✓ Yes.
  • Is it in enjoyable? ✓ Yes.
  • Should you read it? Read on and let’s find out…

The Cairn in Slater Woods is an enjoyable snapshot of adolescence coming-of-age, magic realism, and urban legend. The majority of characters are teenagers and as such they act as one could imagine teenagers (or ourselves) at that age. Some are bullies, others are meek, some are shy, others are brash and foolish. Dylan reacts as many teenagers would if put into his situation; he’s been taking from his warm and familiar home in Orlando to spend the last year of high school living in the family house of his departed Aunt Z in New Hampshire. He’s taciturn, hard to approach, and mopey save for in the company of a pretty girl. His cousin “Jimbeau” is an unapologetic ass, Teagan is kind and not-so-subtle love interest, and Vanessa, the “Anime Girl” with the strawberry-blond hair and schoolgirl uniform…well, the less said about her (or all them), the better.

Cairn’ is an intriguing fantasy-horror story that feels at home alongside the writings of R.L. Stine and early Dean Koontz. It’s mysterious, it’s fun, and thoroughly breezy and enjoyable overall. The cover art courtesy of Eric Fortune is an apt representation of the story and exquisitely rendered. If any of those things sound like your dish of choice, feel free to dig in. If not, wait on the next course.

978146683215244. Wild Things by A.M. Dellamonica

Ah, love. A many splendored thing. Here is a rather unusual love story, sweet and strange as could only happen in the post-magical reality of the Indigo Springs “event.”

Calla’s got herself a swamp man. And man, is he a piece of work.

“Instead of hair, he grew whisper-thin stems. Every morning we made a ritual of shaving his scalp, breaking those new-grown shoots. Once when time got away from us and they were left to grow a couple days, he broke out in catkins, a crown of fuzzy, pollen-laden locks of gold.”

She loves him anyway, and he loves her too. But there’s a problem. Aidan is an illegal immigrant.

a couple witches in Oregon had spilled (or unveiled or unleashed, depending on whose spin you were buying) magic into the U.S. Actual friggin’ magic, as June puts it: flying carpets, people wielding lightning bolts, monster fish in Puget Sound, the whole nine yards. Mount St. Helens erupted and terrorist wizards sank a U.S. aircraft carrier. The forest north of Portland overgrew and jammed up with trees—weird, enchanted, supertall trees—and monsters too.

But Canada was supposed to be mostly clean: the government had gone to the expense of posting signs at Burnaby Lake, promising it was safe.


Maybe we were all a little crazy now. Last Christmas our biggest problems had been climate change, the recession, and war in the Middle East. Now it was glowing rabid raccoons sneaking around Seattle, magic-wielding cults fighting the FBI, refugees, missing persons by the thousands, tsunamis, hurricanes, volcanic eruptions, quakes in the news every week, and people turning into animals.

Plus climate change, war, and an even worse recession.

Munere docendi cum eu, vim congue probatus repudiandae at, vel in vidisse tacimates. Sumo mundi eloquentiam nec ei, eum autem luptatum an. Eu eos autem splendide. Quis novum te sed, labitur meliore sea eu, odio possim expetendis mea ei. Te utinam tacimates gubergren sit, per an natum prima. Agam facer latine at sed.

See you next week, December 17!

Let’s Read The Tor Stories: Week 7 (Fairies)


Long time no read, Dear Reader, but I’m back and I’ve got plenty of new posts to share! Just as the seasons have shifted, so too has the seventh week of the Tor Story Let’s Read metamorphosed into something entirely new and strange after a long hibernation. The former shape just might reveal itself some day, but now is for “new” and not for the “what might have been”. A reverend mediating the interests of two alien faiths, An artist wrestling with the ethics of Peter Pan, and clockwork pixies facilitating the canonization of lovers. In Week 7 of the Tor Stories, it’s all about belief.


23. Shall We Gather by Alex Bledsoe

When one world brushes another, asking the right question can be magic…

Craig Chess is a Reverend who has worked for years to build a healthy congregation on the cusp of the Appalachian region. Late one night Chess is woken by Lula Mae Pennycuff, calling him on the behest of her father who is passing and wishes for the Reverend deliver his last rites. A typical duty, “All part of the job description”, with the exception of one vital detail. The people of Chess’ congregation have maintained a careful, mutually separate coexistence with the fairyfolk known as the Tufa. The Pennycuff’s are the only humans who live in “Cloud County”, the ancestral home of Tufa, with few outsiders allowed passage by the “First Daughters”, the inner circle of governing Tufa. But this occasion is special, not only for this but another reason.  Chess is approached with a request by one of the First Daughters, and what this request entails just might surprise the young Reverend.

Bledsoe purposefully and meticulously hangs the scenery of the premise within the first three-or-so pages of the story. It’s not a long story to begin with, but his pace in bringing readers up to speed with the going-on’s of the plot (what this community is, why things are the way they are, the role of faith and religion in the region, etc.) goes a long way in winning my attention and interest.  Chess is a relatable character, a Shepard of faith mediating his own conscious and internal questioning of faith, approached by forces outside his ken (and his faith) to probe a question on the mutual matters of life and death between the humans and the Tufa.

I liked the location, the broad gestures of implied relationships illustrating a rich past and enduring life for Chess after the events of this story. I liked the his goal and the outcome of pursuing, if not accomplising that goal. If I had to say anything in criticism, the ending felt a tad “flat” to me on my initial reading. But looking back on it now, I see it as one of those endings that grows upon consideration through the lens of hindsight.


80. About Fairies by Pat Murphy

Some things happen whether or not you clap your hands.

Jennifer is a young artist who, , after a chance encounter with the absent-minded CEO of a major toy manufacturer, is hired on as a creative consultant for a new line of fairy-based toys. Jennifer is a avid enthusiast of the origins and myths surrounding fairies with an intimate knowledge of the macabre details of James Matthew Barrie’s original Peter Pan. The chance discovery of a mysterious mirror, repeated encounters with the taciturn Web developer Rocky, and the deathbed ramblings of her elderly father coalesce and bring Jennifer into a fledgling new understanding of life, death, belief, and strangeness in-between.

Murphy does an extraordinary job of coloring the strained, begrudgingly caring relationship that Jennifer has with her father. A widowed former archaeologist with a IQ high enough to be inducted into MENSA, now an embittered old man; coldly sarcastic and indiscriminately hostile. But she loves him, as much as a daughter could be expected to love such a person they call their father. I see their relationship, along with her analogous fascination with gruesome fairies, as the fulcrum for which the rest of the story pivots. I can’t be sure what entirely was “gained” or “lost” through this story, aside from her loved one, but I think that the value of it is in brewing maturation of her faith and her own sense of self-certainty.

Rocko is an interesting character; You can never really read him, and I think that’s the point. It’s heavily implied that he is something ‘other’ than what he at first appears, but it’s never conclusively “resolved”. And come to think of it, it’s not entirely that big of a deal. I like a little persistent mystery, it broadens the “life” of story and offers the reader an opportunity to participate. Something I wish more stories would do, something I think the best short stories do. And definitely something to learn from.


94. Clockwork Fairies by Cat Rambo

Desiree feels the most at home with her clockwork creations, but Claude worries about all this science and Darwinist nonsense—after all, where do clockwork fairies fall in the Great Chain of Being?

Claude Stone is a brash and ambitious social-climber living in 19th Century, informally betrothed to one Desiree Southland, a mechanically savvy and mentally independent mulatto woman with a proclivity for building beautifully intricate clockwork automatons. Stone vies for Desiree’s hand in marriage and, despite the protests of her suffragist father, believes that the promise of her consent and dowery are all but assured. But when a mysterious Irishman enters the scene, Can Claude convince Desiree (and himself) of their compatibility?

Cat Rambo really knocked it out of the park with this one. Not only did I come out of this story adding a couple of choice, interestingly new words to my vocabulary (ex. nonpareil, verdigris, besotted, blacmange, etc.) but Rambo showcased her ability to gradually create an expository character that I grew to increasingly dislike over time, while still maintaining my desire to “empathize” with his perspective in order to pursue the rest of the plot, regardless of how disagreeable I find him. Claude is the epitome of Victorian sensibilities towards women, race, and women of minority race, ’nuff said. Desiree is a wonderful character, I love her inquisitive craftsmanship, her articulate self-awareness of being an independent free-thinking mulatto woman in an intensely patriarchal, unapologetically racist “high society”.

I loved the ending to this story. I take a particular pride in taking the particular strengths and weaknesses of a story and reducing them to broad yet descriptive suggestions, so as not to spoil them for prospective readers. I will say no more on the topic other than I highly recommend that you read this story for its adept descriptions of Victorian architecture and life warped ever-so-carefully through the fun-house mirror of speculative fiction/steam-punk.

See you later tonight, December 2nd!

Let’s Read The Tor Stories: Week 6


Hello Internet! My apologies for being MIA these past couple of weeks. While on route to Mars from Noir-ville, rocketing through the icky blackness in my slipspace-podship , I accidentally ricocheted down the gravitational drainpipe of a worm-hole and found myself spat out into a multi-verse of high-fantasy and  political tumult. You know what they say about “Best Laid Plans of Mice and Men.” Weeping monarchs, child clairvoyants, and young girls in love for the most worrisome of reasons. Love in all its dimensions. Hold on to your heartstrings folks, Week 6 has finally woken up.


70. Uncle Flower’s Homecoming Waltz by Marissa K. Lingen

In the war that never ends, dreaming the future is not an unmixed blessing.

Zally is a 12-year old girl whose dreams offer snippets of the future, centuries after her lifetime. She is not alone in this; Her grandmother is a year dreamer who works in the divination sector of the capital, so she’s acquired a sort of luxury in life attached to her position. The world of ‘Homecoming Waltz’ is one where humans have found a way to alter their brain chemistry to elucidate and consciously focus their dreams in divining the future, a sort of astral projection. Zally is ecstatic for the return of her Uncle Flower, a paternal figure to her who has been away at war for nearly two thirds of her life. At Flower’s reception, Zally moves to embrace her long-absent Uncle, seeking to impress him. But Flower’s is a changed man, addled by the shell-shock of warfare and profoundly disturbed by how the manipulation of dreams has stolen the last respite of innocence from everyone, even his beloved niece.

I really liked this story, and I had a feeling I would as soon as I read the first paragraph,

My grandmother says all stories begin with a death. My grandfather says with a birth. And Aunt Albert says they’re both wrong, and stories begin with someone not getting what they want.
But no one was born, and no one died, and I got what I wanted, and that is where this story begins.

Uncle Flower’s Homecoming Waltz is captivating story about a fictional society that has monopolized and mobilized their own dreams in the service of sustaining their nation, and the assorted costs and causalities attached to such an action. Zally wants so much to prove herself an adult in the eyes of her mentor, to have him shine praise for the sacrifice of her innocence in being trained to become a seer. But Flower does not want his niece to be swallowed by the same machine of war that he himself was just narrowly spat out of. Zally is perturbed by this, feeling that she can make no choice that is her own and no one else’s. Eventually, the crossroads of life deem that they must part once again. Flower, a man changed by war. Zally, a woman changed for their encounter, standing on the cusp of it.


117. Beauty Belongs to the Flowers by Matthew Sanborn Smith

In Miho’s world, nanos, plastic surgery, and robot girlfriends can fix just about anything…or break it.

In a future Nagasaki, Miho is a young woman who just wants to be loved by her beloved. Her father lies in a hospitable quarantined behind an air pocket of isolating fabric, a well-respected causality of a faultily contained nano-virus. His death marks the death of her family life and the death of her meager quality of life. But Miho wants nothing more than for Ichiro to love her. If only she could be beautiful or, as one of their mutual friends so delicately put it, if she didn’t look so plain and homely maybe then Ichiro might love her. And so Miho sacrifices her body for love, and tragically we all know the end to this story.

Matthew Sanborn Smith creates a beautifully engrossing portrait of ill-infatuation set against the backdrop of a living breathing city. I’ve never been to Nagasaki, but everything in this novelette felt like a plausible prediction of what a hyper-advanced eastern metropolis would look like. Water-slicked pavement doused in the reflection of looming neon billboards, seedy shops and curios burrowed out of the walls of thin, packed-in alleyways. Consumer technology so advanced and so pervasive that wanton desire becomes simultaneously a thing of the past and an all-consuming present obsession. And unfortunately for Miho, the chase for nebulous unattainable standard of “Beauty” becomes her own undoing.

True beauty fell beyond the reach of natural evolution. A lady at the salon had explained that. Nature was full of hairs and moles and flaking skin. It operated accidentally. But humans had evolved the appreciation of beauty, built from an amalgam of living samples. Humans could bring its elements together and set them in stone. Before human invention, there had been no sleek skin, no symmetry down to the micron or grace that only a digital brain and artificial muscles could achieve.

Before technology there had been no real beauty. Miho could do it all if she had the money…


109. A Weeping Czar Beholds The Fallen Moon by Ken Scholes

After untold ages of futurity, the world is old. Regret is endless. Deceit is ubiquitous. And for the Weeping Czar, love is new.

Lord Czar Frederico XIII has just lost the thirteenth great love his life. Mistress Jazrel of the Espira region has claimed her own life with poison, plagued by the grief that her affections and love could do nothing to cure her lover of the weeping disease that has seized his family for generations. In order to belay dissent and sustain the morale of his people, the Czar conspires with his Minsters of Interior and Intelligence to implicate “The Lunar Resurgence” for the fabricated conspiratorial murder of his beloved, a faction of ascetic moon-worshipers who have long been a minority opposition to the ruling government of Espira. During an organized raid of their local temple, the troops find a shining crescent horn of unknown origin and material that shakes the Czar to his core. Through this horn, the Czar begins a liason across the folds of space and time with a young noblewoman by the name of Amal Y’Zir, daughter of the Great Blood Wizard Raj Y’Zir. And for a time, the Czar knows a feeling called ‘Love’ once again.

I really liked this story for two reasons. One, the world is an intriguing mix of feudalism and aristocratic suspense. Watching the reluctant Czar being courted off to a room of eager female suitors, only to succumb to the grief of losing Jazrel and losing himself in drunken isolation was pretty captivating. Ken Scholes has a way with language that shapes the Czar as a captivating and compassionate character despite the inequity of his official practices. His budding impossible romance with Amal was both intriguing and heartbreaking. I can’t wait to read the Psalms of Isaak series and see what else happens in this world.

I am changing. He felt more confident; found himself doubting less in his own decisions. The fog of the sadness was lifting from him now.

And it came from the slip of a girl who believed he was a ghost.

Until her, he thought, perhaps I was.

And that concludes Week 7 of the Tor Let’s Re….wait, no. No, that’s not right. Well, God damn it.

Yes, I know. I’ve now missed two weeks worth of installments in this series. The outside world (school, home, career, etc.) takes precedence. But don’t count me down and out yet, I have a surprise for you! Week 7 and Week 8 will be posted as intended throughout this next week. Look forward to two Tor Let’s Reads this Tuesday and Thursday, with some long-belated shorter pieces interspersed between the two! You know I wouldn’t leave you, Internet.

Also, If you happen to have take a choice glance at the bottom-or-so-right of this blogspace, you may have noticed somewhere in that scrolling stream of spur-of-the-moment aphorisms that, hence forth after this week, I’ve officially extended the weekly deadline for future installments in the Tor Let’s Read to Wednesdays instead of Thursdays.  It’s proven to be almost depressingly more convenient, I have more time to read these stories and comment on them during the work week than I do on the actual weekends when all I have to do is homework and the occasional social obligation *sigh*. But yeah, rest assured that nothing’s derailing this train of speculative literature. We chug along, we chug hard.

See you tomorrow, October 29th!

Let’s Read The Tor Stories: Week 5


There I was, sitting with my feet propped up on my desk one dark Monday morning, chipping away at the last third of Nick Harkaway’s Angelmaker when she walked through my door. And by “She”, I mean three new stories out of the Tor Anniversary Collection.

Each of them was a  sordid character in their own right; an assorted rogues’ gallery of lovable misfits with more stories than they cared to share. Pouting paragraphs, snarling sentences, and the shape of secrets perpetually enshrouded in the silhouette shade of Venetian blinds. I should have known they were trouble from the start. As a matter of fact, I did. But a case is a case, and week five of the Tor stories waits for no-one. Kick your feet up and sit a spell, I got a tale to spin for ya…


47. The Strange Case of Mr. Salad Monday by G.D. Falksen

Inspector Wilde is a rabid fan of tit-tat, the broadsheet arguments that get printed several times a day; the Chief Inspector thinks he’s an idiot, but Wilde’s strange reading habits may just crack this case wide open.

The world of “Mr. Salad Monday” is a Neo-Victorian steampunk metropolis divided into a series of multi-stratified columns, all governed over by a censorship state comprised of “peace-keepers” and “special peace-keepers” who call themselves “the Legion of Peace.” Inspector Wilde is a benign cog in this otherwise lumbering totalitarian machine, occupying most of his time reading through the open-gossip columns of newspapers and chatting up the Chief Investigator’s blushing secretary Marguerite. But when a un-crackable case of supreme treason and sedition is foisted on the Legionaries, it’s Wilde’s peculiar hobby that offers him the tools to see “Justice” done.

I don’t know why, but my impression was pretty lukewarm to this story at first. That is, until I got to the meat of world-building that Falksen offers through Wilde’s clumsy yet comprehensive exposition about what exactly “Tit-Tat” is to his commanding officer. Then I was laughing my ass off.

“Tit-Tat” is basically a satirical print media equivalent  to the Internet forum phenomena (4chan, Reddit, Usenet, etc.), a series of publications that “refreshes” everyday through periodic issues posted three to four times a day. “Tit-tat” pokes fun at, or perhaps sheds an uncompromising light of truth on the habits of human conflict through written argumentation, with Tit-tat scuffles known to stretch on for days or weeks with no end in sight. People have their own inclusive acronym lingo (IMOT; ‘eye-moth: “It is my opinion that…” or IHN: “In Heaven’s name…“) Corresponding strings of response comments are tacked with code numbers (i.e. trip-codes, time-stamps), and persistent commentators attract an aura of prestige and begrudging respect for their terse insults and quippish reparte. One of these Tit-tat heavyweights is “Mr. Salad Monday”, a person of indistinguishable gender or origin seemingly as old as the Tit-tat itself, that no-one knows quite for sure who they are. Until now.

What started out as a straight-laced, albeit fantastical detective drama later became an “Existential Thriller” akin to that of G.K. Chestorton’s “The Man Who Was Thurday.” In hindsight,  I suspect that the use of week-days as a naming convention was likely intentional on Falksen’s part in order to illicit such a comparison.

But who is this mysterious Mr. Salad Monday; This socialist sympathizer, this instigator of public dissent,  champion agitator of civil liberties, health-care, and  the voice of the people?

You wouldn’t believe me even if I told you. Falksen’s definitely on my radar now, this story certainly didn’t get published by mistake.


50. A Clean Sweep With All The Trimmings by James Alan Gardner

Award-winning science fiction author James Alan Gardner brings us Damon Runyon-esque tale of courteous guys, bulletproof dolls, and the fedora-clad spacemen that bring them together.

An un-named cleaner in a retro-futuristic New York is tasked with disposing the body of a ventilated, formerly homicidal “spaceman” in a robotic brothel. A professional; he is asked and promptly delivers the specialty of his trade, “A Clean Sweep With All The Trimmings”, cleaning up the evidence of the spaceman and planting diversionary evidence to throw the “J Edgar Hoovers” off the scent of alien blood. It’s a standard job, that is until he meets Kitty, the “bullet-proof doll.” A “Doll” like that can make a man’s head all screwy, and our unlikely hero is five different shades of smitten. Then the spacemen come.

This was a very convincing, very “noir” story with a great deal of science-fictional creative license. One thing about reading alternate history speculative fiction is that the reader is constantly coaxed into finding the fork in the road, the point where the timeline diverged down the alleyway of olive-suited, fedora-totting, green-blooded spacemen with palm lasers and a replicant woman whose physical features and abilities morph in response to external male psychic stimuli. I myself couldn’t, but it hearing pistols referred to as “John Roscoes” and an interplanetary force of G-men collectively as “Mr. J Edgar Hoover” made me chuckle something fierce.

I thought Kitty herself was an interesting twist on the Detective story dame; a perfectly oblivious, tragically flawed Ingenue in every sense of the word. Totally aware of the mutability of her own body and personality by the external thoughts of men who desire her, but specifically designed to have no desire to change it. This rings with particularly sexist overtones to me, but I’ll have to think more on the objectives of the story before reaching a conclusion as to personal opinion. She reminds me a lot of the subject of the Electric Light Orchestra song, “Yours Truly,  2095.”

“There, there,” and one thing and another, but I do not think any man alive knows how to deal with persons of a female nature in such situations. When a doll cries, it is about something very small or very big, and both ways, a guy is out of his depth.


I Say, “Smile,” and she smiles so brightly, it is like she has never shed a tear in her life, even though her cheeks are still drippy.. I think of other things I can tell her to do, and she will likely perform those actions too, and once again I feel as sad as a sack, although this time it is for Kitty, not me. She is a book everyone gets to write in except herself.


103. Jack And Queens At The Green Mill by Marie Rutkoski

Few know that the Great Chicago Fire was started deliberately, as a genocide of deadly creatures called Shades. Fewer still know that they didn’t die, not quite…but one human will confront the truth when an ominous beauty makes him gamble for his life.

On October 8th, 1874, in an alternate universe, the people of Chicago orchestrated the mass extinction of a race of amorphous creatures known as the “Shade.” This genocide was disguised under the pretense of a massive firestorm that near burnt the entire city to cinders, the so-called “Great Chicago Fire.” But this was not the end of the shadow war, as another alternate universe of Shades immediately felt the excruciating absence of an aspect of themselves; a sort of “phantom-limb” sensation of the body and soul. Zephyr is one of the last of the shades in this universe and is determined to amass a stockpile of weapons to go to war for the existence of her people. The only thing between her and what she wants however happens to be a young Mafia guard with a disfigured face and a knack for sweet-talk.

I was surprised with how short this story felt overall considering its approximate 32 page length. It was a total breeze, undemanding and wholly comprehensible. The explanation of the alternate universes and how the shades’ empathetic link allows them to feel and traverse across different dimensions could have been better explained, but overall it felt like a serviceable story.

The central “conflict” and it’s “resolution” felt a bit ham-handed. Why would Zephyr spare Joe? Some reluctant affection for an individual funneled through the misguided indignation and resentment of an entire race? I don’t know. It was an okay story though. Not great, not euphorically prosaic and life-affirming, just okay. Besides, for such an average story there’s a ton of really great descriptions and line in this one. And Okay stories are…okay. They do what any story is supposed to do, to brandish the words of Stephen King, “These are great stories, and we’re lucky to have them. To read Now, and maybe again Then, later on, when we need what only a good story has the power to do: to take us away to worlds that never existed, in the company of people we wish we were… or thank God we aren’t.”

“When I step into my body, it feels like water before it hardens into ice. Like silk before it’s stretched and stitched onto a wire frame and called a lampshade.”

“Silk and ice,” he said, running the words together so that they sounded likesilken ice. “That’s you, all right.”


“It doesn’t exist,” she said. “Jazz was never invented. And here . . . the Green Mill has the best jazz. Your employer demands the best.”

Music floated out. It infused the night, rich as brassy ozone, light as pattering rain. An upright bass plucked throbbing notes, a drummer brushed the cymbal, cartwheeled a stick across his set. Zephyr heard the trumpeter mute his horn, and it all flowed out into the alley, a music made of the unexpected. A loose-limbered sound, one that made a philosophy of choices, highlighting the fact of them by pretending they didn’t exist, by tripping lightly from one rhythm to the next, from key to key, as if nothing was certain, improvisation was everything, and practice was for fools.

Zephyr knew better. She knew that the musicians practiced for their master. But this was their art: to make their work seem like a game.

As I walked away from the exploded shipyard warehouse thrown up in a firestorm, roaring “Everything must go!”, I was relieved. My suit jacket ventilated by stray and true bullets, ballistic nubs of coarse metal compressed hard against the mesh of my bullet-proof vest. I was exhausted, my chest as heavy as a pound of cinder blocks, the incessant pulsing ring in my ears showing no signs of failure. But I was relieved. I won. Another installment in the Tor Let’s Read Series was behind me. Another job, well-done. I lugged my way back home and collapsed into bed. There was only one thought that traced my mind before I passed out,

“I’m dreaming…of a Red planet…”

See you next Sunday, October 13th!

Let’s Read The Tor Stories: Week 3


In this week’s installment, there’s a rumor of angels in the city as quiet as death and heads are sure to roll. We’ve got delapidated farms in ethereal dust storms, Caribbean favelas with non-euclidean geometry, and a telepathic unicorn named Steve. The Tor Stories Let’s Read just keeps rolling on, so let’s roll with it…

9781466852709Ø. “A Rumor of Angels” by Dale Bailey

 A teenage boy walks away from his father’s wasted farm to follow the other travelers heading west where there is a rumor of angels.

Tom Carver is a young boy living with his father, a farmer, during the period of the Great American Dust Bowl. As all hope seems lost, Tom finds himself compelled by the strange “magnetism” of rumors, whispers of work not only westward but the specter of angels roaming the countryside with great and terrible power. After abandoning his father and being taken in by the Overtons, a displaced family of roaming farmers not unlike Tom’s father, the four continue to push forward west in hopes of collecting on the promise of whispers, hearsay, and myth.

Great winged monsters, they say, and they never stay for long and the more devout among them messengers from the Lord and this required no abjuration, for God had perished in the dust, in the wind-torn wheat and in those smudged handbills that fluttered across the prairie. God? God had perished in their hearts.”

Bailey’s writing is nothing short of immaculate, communicating depths of despair and hope, futility and that unique, stubborn human endurance of the spirit to bear with grace the weight of the unbearable.  Visions of Steinbeck and McCarthy by way of Mark Helprin come to mind when reading Bailey’s prose. The central driving question that hangs in the air, “Will we meet angels?”, is as ephemeral and omnipresent as the story’s namesake. I really enjoyed this one. I strongly believe that this story deserves to be read in literature courses as a sterling example of fantastic realism and how to capture the by-and-large ineffable spectrum of human emotions in a few, choice words. Tom himself is a gifted storyteller, adept at the “spendthrift flow of words” not unlike his long-dead mother. A Rumor of Angels trumpets the power that stories have to uplift us, to allow us to travel to places far beyond our physical location, drawing strength from the invisible well to which all words are in part a doorway.

Do yourself a favor today; Take some time out and read this story. You’ll thank yourself afterwards. I know I certainly did.

9781429924986140. “The City Quiet As Death” by Steven Utley & Michael Bishop

Between the incessant music of the stars and the spectre of a giant squid caught inside a locket ball, it is difficult for Don Horacio to maintain a restful mind.

Jesus-Jackrabbit-Pole-vaulting-Christ, in “The City Quiet as Death” Utley and Bishop have channeled Lovecraft’s cosmic-fueled death ramblings and done him one better. Stories like this are the reason why I even started this read through series in the first place.

Horacio Gorrión is a taciturn, reclusive misanthrope and the sole beneficiary of a massive inheritance living in the city of Infante Sagrado, the capital city of Isla Arca, a fictitious island nestled in the Caribbean Sea. For years Horracio has alone been hounded by unceasing music of the spheres, the clamorous static of the stars, the unbearable dog-tone of the Big Bang. Basically,Horacio is living inside a Lovecraftian nightmare and even makes a overt comment on this.

After his repeated, perpetually-abandoned attempts to claim his own life, his sole companion and family maid Adelaida requests the aid of Doctor Vega and Father Casares to appeal to him on behalf of his mortality and sanity. Each offers something to Horacio, either the promise of answers through business or the potential of salvation through faith. Both of these offers orbit in some way around Adelaida’s locket, a gift from her long-deceased husband who may or may not have tamed the offspring of a particular Old God and confined it within the necklace.

The prose in this story is unbelievably tight and well-written, to pick one particular passage to demonstrate the deft mastery of implied horror that Utley and Bishop possess feels like a disservice in divorcing it however momentarily from the entire piece. I seriously loved this story and have made a serious mental note to check out whatever Utley or Bishop write in the future purely on the strength of this one story alone. It covered all the paces of a satisfying supernatural horror story and in true Lovecraftian fashion, it ends in total madness.

Go check this story out. Seriously, go right now and read it.

1609368977. “Heads Will Roll” by Lish McBride

Lena’s not your typical animal trainer. And when she and her unicorn partner, Steve, decide to enter a fight, it’s definitely not your typical fight….

Lena and her unicornis companion “Phantom”, cheekily named “Steve” in reality, have entered into a dangerous cage fighting tournament that pits endangered mythological creatures against one another in order to fight for freedom from the inside. Things go successfully, though not entirely predictably, according to plan.

“That was the thing about humans. They found it so easy to discard the implausible and the unbelievable. People ignored anything that made them uncomfortable. A forgetful, ungrateful race that looked at unicorns and saw purity, and looked at me and saw the weakness they thought inherent in my sex. Gone is the memory of the unicorn as the protector of the forest, the guardian of the weak and innocent. Vanished are the warrior women of antiquity. The furies. The morrigan. The valkyries. Violence was in our blood, but humans have forgotten all that.”

McBride certainly wasn’t kidding when she titled this story. Violence, carnage, and pandemonium abound and it’s frickin’ fantastic. Lena and Steve make a wonderful pair of fantastical vigilantes bringing the fight to the people and creatures on the wrong side of celestial law, kicking ass and taking names when they have the time. I definitely would look forward to reading about more of their adventures in a longer-form narrative. I’ll have to investigate and see if McBride has anything like that in mind. Hmmmm.

And once again, another chapter in the epic saga of the Tor Let’s Read is concluded. These three have got to be some of the heaviest hitters in this series so far, I sincerely hope they only get better from here on out because this is quality of writing is nuts. I’m still up in the air as to which three stories I’ll be doing for my next installment. Weird shit or Weird Noire? Heads or Tails? A flip of the coin, a decision suspended in mid-air….

See you next Sunday, September 29th!

Let’s Read The Tor Stories: Week 2


I think that this might just become an unofficial routine of this series. Pick one from the site’s current roster, two from the actual ebook collection. I am nothing if not a creature of habit. In this next installment we’ve got ghosts, fish tentacles, cold war threats, and mice made of dynamite!* Read on and read well, dear reader…


Ø. “Warm Up” by V.E. Schwab

David is a man who, after surviving a terrible accident during a mountain climb, is mysteriously endowed with psychokinetic abilities. Naturally, his ressurection from “death” and his dangerously unfocused powers put a strain on his marriage and family life, with his wife Samantha taking his son and leaving him for their own safety. After 297 days of self-imposed isolation, David ventures into the outside world to continue living his life and possibly find answers. But there are other forces at work beyond David’s comprehension, many of which do not have his immediate safety as one of their priorities.

This was a pretty intriguing and simple story. The use of “29- days since…” as a narrative refrain connecting David’s past, present, and future actions was a interesting and effective way of hooking the reader’s attention, giving them a set of constants in which to piece around the chronology of the story. I feel like this sets the stage for a world with elements that are likely to be continued on in a novel, filled with super-humans battling it out to regain a shred of normalcy or carving out a new form of “post-normalcy.” Warm Up ended on a terrific cliffhanger and I can’t wait to read more of this universe in Victoria Schwab’s novel “Vicious”.


3. “Foundation” by Ann Aguire

I think I can confidently look back and point to this story’s artwork in particular as one of the moments that seriously put Tor.com’s original content on my radar.

In Ann Aguirre’s award-winning novel, Enclave , humans have taken refuge in colonies below ground. “Foundation” is the story of what drove them there, told through the eyes of a teen who would later have vast influence over the fate of many, and who gave his heart to the one person who needed him most.

The main character, Robin Schiller, grows to make a life for herself in the enclaves. After being isolated for years alongside her mother and father, Robin comes in contact with a young boy named Austin who becomes her friend and confidante.  There are more people living in the enclave, twenty-six in total, who must learn to work together in rebuilding a sense of community and shared sanity. Disease and desperation run rampant, the world is seemingly pushed beyond the point of repair, and eventually all of those left must venture out of the confines of the enclave into a world that is so much stranger, sadder, and predatorial.

A decent enough short story, I wish that more in the way of actual events happened but given the main environment is a vacuum-sealed disease shelter one can’t reasonably complain too much. Robin seems like an interesting character, I wish I got to know a different side of her from the latter half of “Foundation”. Perhaps later I might venture reading Ann Aguire’s continuation series, “Razorland.”


4. “The Department of Alterations” by Gennifer Albin

Karoline Swander is the wife of a high-ranking minister  in the fictional city of Arras. Arras is a obviously a profoundly patriarchal place, as women are aggressively pressured to be demure, silent, and subservient to the demands of their husbands.

 she is for some reason incapable of bearing children, and her husband resents her for compromising his social standing by “withholding” a family from him. Because of this,  Karoline has enlisted a “tailor” to perform an operation that will allow her to give birth. Things do not go entirely as expected.

Apparently this story is also a mini-prologue to a novel by the same author titled “Crewel”, and in that sense I feel that “Foundation” is superior. It would seem that one would have to have already read or been aware of the novel in order to fully understand or enjoy “Alterations”, as I felt that many vague broad strokes of world-building were implied but never fully went about “building” a world for me. I have no idea what the city of Arras is like, aside from how they treat their women.  I don’t know what a “Loom” is, I don’t know who Ambassador Cormac Patton or his army of thick-necks are, or for that matter what exactly  “The Department of Alterations” really is and how it pertains to this story.

I would have liked it if there was more in the way of this story in framing for me the severity and stakes of Karoline’s “treason”, why such an action is treasonous at all,  and perhaps other aspects that would flesh out the personality of her husband and home-life.

I wish I could say that this story was as provocative or as gorgeously macabre as the artwork, courtesy of Goni Montes. I wish I could read the story that artwork is trying to tell, because it’s not this one.  So far right now, the only incentive I might have to venture reading “Crewel” is Montes’ visuals, not Albin’s prose.

*One or more of those descriptions may have been a outright, bald-faced lie!

A little late on this one. This is what the Sunday/Monday afternoon grace deadline is for! It just so happened that coincidentally, each of these short stories was in a way a promotion for a upcoming long-form continuation. Though the success of execution varies from story to story in that regard, overall the majority of these stories were quite enjoyable. Roll on to the next batch!

See you next Sunday, September 22nd!

Kickstarter Highlight: ‘Hyper Light Drifter’


I hope that readers won’t think that I have some superficial infatuation with dark premises, cloaked anti-heroes, neon-tinged graphics and pixelated art styles. I just thoroughly enjoy them, and think that they look cool 😉


Should have brought a guitar…

“Hyper Light Drifter” is a top-down action platformer that feels reminiscent of SuperGiant Games’ Bastion meets the aforementioned art style of SuperBrothers’ Sword & Sworcery and thematically inspired by Hayao Miyazaki’s landmark 1984 film Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind. Naturally, that all sounds like a strong batch of delicious nerd gumbo, and all that is brought you by Alex Preston and Beau Blyth, who worked on the upcoming 2014 multiplayer samurai fighting game “Samurai Gunn” (which looks bad-ass in and of itself), and a core team including two music and sound designers (Disasterpeace and Baths).


I think I see an Evangelion “Angel” in there somewhere…

Drifters of this world are the collectors of forgotten knowledge, lost technologies and broken histories. Our Drifter is haunted by an insatiable illness, traveling further into the lands of Buried Time, steeped in blood and treasure hoping to discover a way to quiet the vicious disease. Echos of a dark and violent past from the dead eras resonate throughout and he can’t help but listen.

The graphical design reminds me vaguely of the music video for ‘Aldgate Patterns‘ by Little People, where a nomadic wanderer with a weird geometric mask goes on a search for his long-lost memories, stored on a floppy disk.


Automaton Golem

The game is projected to release in June of next year, and has already reached its initial goal of $27,000 as of its first day! The team is still looking for funding pledges beyond though, with stretch goals that include expanded levels, hiring additional animators, fleshing out the music score, more enemies to fight and more weapons and gear to fight them with!

If you’re interested (C’mon, how could you not be?!), Check out their Kickstarter page and consider becoming a backer.

Is that a God Warrior I see in the corner?(!)

Is that a God Warrior I see in the corner?(!)