So, if you've been hanging around for a bit, you might have noticed the odd review float by, and you might have noticed that I settled on a format: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly. Highly original? Of course not, but it works.
Then what's this? Well, it's a review of a book that really doesn't work with that… in point of fact, it's not even a review of a whole book. It's about half a book, since there's a fairly clear delineation between the two halves. This is a review of The Long List Volume 2. Or the short stories therein, at least.
What is The Long List? Well, to know that you have to know The Hugo Awards. They're fan-voted awards in the SF/F community, and one of the categories is for best short fiction of the year. There's only 1 winner and 5 semi-finalists, for lack of a better term, but there are a lot of other stories that get mentioned almost enough to make that "short list." That's The Long List, and it's been compiled into an anthology by the wonderful David Steffen over at Diabolical Plots, and made available for everyone's compact, easy reading pleasure.
So why am I only doing half? Well, there are a lot of shorts, but for stretch goals for the crowdfunding to make the book happen, novellas were included. I'll be doing those as a separate post. Or possibly more than one, depending how in-depth I go with each one. But that's enough of this pointless chattering explanation: onto the fiction!
(Note: there are two non-fiction pieces in here as well. If I cover them, they'll be on their own as well.)
Damage by David D. Levine: This was a well-written piece, but not particularly mind-blowing. It's a solid story with good writing, and it was an enjoyable read, but I do feel like I've seen all the elements before, just not in precisely that configuration.
Pockets Amal El-Mothar: If you enjoy magical realism, this will be a real standout for you. I was thrilled to see representation for a genre that seems to be largely pushed aside. That said, the plot is the weak point. This story is all about concept and execution, and in those places it succeeds.
Today I am Paul by Martin L. Shoemaker: Holy shit, guys. This one. I had specific complaints about the first two. They were good, but flawed. This story is… perfect. If nothing else, try this one out of the anthology. And keep the tissues ready.
Tuesdays with Molakesh the Destroyer by Megan Grey: Not only well written, but placed very well after Today I am Paul to lighten things up. It's got brash humor and adult language and it works beautifully: what else would you expect from a rebellious teenager and a retired demon?
Wooden Feathers by Ursula Vernon: Both beautiful and bittersweet, this story all by itself convinced me to take a harder look at Ursula Vernon. Gorgeous imagery, surprising plot twists, and subtle writing make this both brilliant fiction and a wonderful statement about art and artists.
Three Cups of Grief, by Starlight by Aliette de Bodard: This one is unique, and it revels in that. With a distinctly non-Western vibe permeating everything, it's intriguing, but perhaps not for everyone. Don’t look for a tight, gripping plot. Don't look for a plot at all. At most, you'll find a shadow. But these three short vignettes create something magical and haunting that's well worth the read.
Madeleine by Amal El-Mothar: This, for me, is one of the two weakest stories in the collection. It's still very strongly written, has emotional impact, is compelling enough to carry you through the story… but we really have seen this exact thing quite a lot. Don't go into this one expecting really anything original at all.
Pocosin by Ursula Vernon: This is really, truly an atmospheric piece. A good high-middle quality piece for this collection. It's all about the setting and the main character. Nothing else really matters, and that's okay. That's exactly the way this story should be. It's perfectly quirky and odd in all the right places.
Hungry Daughters of Starving Mothers by Alyssa Wong: Wow. This one doesn't seem like much of anything at first, and it unfolds a million delicate, beautiful petals. It's very rich and sensory. If you like strong descriptions, you'll love this one, no doubt.
So Much Cooking by Naomi Kritzer: All right then. If I were to include an "Ugly" section in this review, it would be occupied by this story. Yes, the writing is cogent. I understand it. I obviously don't have a problem with epistolary storytelling. I have four books that do it. But this… it was dull. It felt dated by the threat of Bird Flu, as though this was written when that was a headline, but then kept in a trunk for whatever reason. And possibly the thing that hit it the hardest: it didn't feel like an SF/F story. The one speculative element—a much stronger Bird Flu epidemic—felt unimportant. It could have been any threat at all. But it also felt… mundane. It just missed all the marks for me, unfortunately.
The Deepwater Bride by Tamsyn Muir: All right, this one sort of straddles the line between short story and novelette, so I'm tucking it in here. This one is delightful. I love the eldritch horror/lovecraft thing, I love psychics, and I love the general vibe this story provided. More than worth the read.
And there's that. I don't know when we'll finish off this review, since I'm plugging away at my work, but here's hoping it won't be too long. Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go shovel myself a walking path.