SHORTS: Campbell, Turtledove, Corey, Rusch, Balder

Our weekly exploration of free and inexpensive short fiction available on the internet. Here are a few stories we’ve read that we wanted you to know about.

“Sasabonsam” by Tara Campbell (Dec. 2017, free at Strange Horizons)

The vampirish Sasabonsam lurks in the trees near an African village, its limbs hanging down like swaying vines to snatch unwary villagers that the Sasabonsam then eats. Its first victim: a man who is returning to the village one night, reeking with fear.

You run, but of course that won’t help you. Whichever tree you’re near is the one I’m in. That’s how it works with Sasabonsam.

The Sasabonsam smugly expects that his victim’s flesh and soul will be completely absorbed soon, but the man’s soul is still inside of him when the monster grabs its next victim. And the turmoil of emotions inside of his first victim, Adofo, heightened by the identity of the second victim, turns out to make Adolpho’s soul easier for the Sasabonsam to hear and understand, and slower to fully digest.

The Sasabonsam (or Asanbosam) is part of the traditional legends and folklore of the Ashanti people in Ghana and Togo. Tara Campbell has created a neatly plotted story based on this legendary monster, with a deliciously creepy ending. ~Tadiana Jones

“The Eighth-Grade History Class Visits the Hebrew Home for the Aging” by Harry Turtledove (2014, free at, 99c Kindle)

It has a pedestrian title, but this short story is anything but. As usual for Turtledove, it’s alternative history; as not so usual for him, it’s a subtle, understated tale. The plot of this story is … well, exactly what the title would indicate. A class of thirteen- and fourteen-year-olds visits 84 year old Mrs. Anne Berkowitz in a California old folks home, to hear her tell her story about her experiences in WWII.

The story begins with small details, focusing on the daily pains and difficulties of growing old (“As she always did, she marveled at the little old lady who peered back at her from the mirror. How did that happen? How did time get to be so cruel?”), but picks up pace once Mr. Hauser’s middle grade history class arrives and Mrs. Berkowitz begins telling her story.

An unusually quiet and poignant story by Harry Turtledove with a moving twist to it. ~Tadiana Jones

Gods of Risk by James S.A. Corey (2012, $2.99 Kindle, $4.95 audio)

David Draper is a student who is well on his way to a brilliant career in chemistry. But until he gets into university, he lives on Mars with his overbearing parents and his tough and always-exercising aunt Bobbie Draper (an ex-marine familiar to readers of James S.A. Corey’s THE EXPANSE series).

David’s family doesn’t know that he uses his talent for chemistry by working as a designer and cooker for a local drug dealer. One of the ways the dealer controls David (besides money) is with access to a girl named Leelee who David thinks he has fallen in love with. When Leelee disappears, David is frantic to find and protect her. That’s when Aunt Bobbie gets involved …

I’ve enjoyed reading the EXPANSE novellas. They offer small but vivid glimpses of Corey’s universe and can serve as extra scenes for fans of the series or as teasers for those who haven’t read the novels yet. Kindle editions are available for a reasonable price, but I collect the Hachette Audio versions when they’re on sale at Audible. Gods of Risk is 2.5 hours long and is nicely read by Erik Davies. Gods of Risk isn’t essential to the EXPANSE canon, but it’s a good stand-alone story. ~Kat Hooper

The Application of Hope by Kristine Kathyrn Rusch (2014, $3.99 Kindle, $1.99 extra for audio)

This 83-page novella is a prequel for Kristine Kathyrn Rusch’s DIVING UNIVERSE novels, which I am planning to read. The Application of Hope introduces Tory Sabin and Jonathan “Coop” Cooper, who are captains in the Fleet and also occasional lovers. When Coop encounters hostile aliens and activates his anacapa drive, his ship disappears. That’s déjà vu for Captain Sabin, whose own father disappeared in the same manner when she was a child.

As Tory hunts for Coop’s lost ship, we learn her story in a series of flashbacks. We learn about her losses, her relationship with her parents, and her life at the academy. All of these experiences made her the successful captain she turned out to be, but they may not be enough to help her find her lost father or lover.

I enjoyed this story and am eager to learn more about the anacapa drive, foldspace, Captain Cooper, and the mission of the Fleet. The audiobook, which is 2.3 hours long, is nicely narrated by Flora Plumb. ~Kat Hooper

“A Cigarette Burn In Your Memory” by Bo Balder (Jan. 2018, free at Clarkesworld, Kindle magazine)

Gouda Smid is a private investigator in Amsterdam who searches for missing people. A man named Jansen visits her, asking for her help in locating his teenage daughter who disappeared in Dordrecht two years ago. So many people disappeared two years ago that Gouda thinks something must have happened at that time, but the internet no longer works and it’s difficult to fathom what could have happened. She takes the train to Pynacker to investigate, but only finds more questions than answers, especially when a sheaf of ticket stubs falls out of her pocket: all tickets to Pynacker, evidence of trips that she doesn’t remember taking.

It’s like there’s a crater in her brain, with curling, cauterized edges, which has obliterated her memories. She probably can’t get them back, burned things don’t get unburned, but she would like to know what caused the impact.

The concern and dread build nicely through this story, and I enjoyed the setting in the Netherlands, a rarity in speculative fiction (Bo Balder is a Dutch author). But the answer to the key question, when it finally came, was vague and unsatisfying, and left me with the feeling that I’d read something like it before. If I could only remember where … ~Tadiana Jones

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TADIANA JONES, on our staff since July 2015, is an intellectual property lawyer with a BA in English. She inherited her love of classic and hard SF from her father and her love of fantasy and fairy tales from her mother. She lives with her husband and four children in a small town near the mountains in Utah. Tadiana juggles her career, her family, and her love for reading, travel and art, only occasionally dropping balls. She likes complex and layered stories and characters with hidden depths. Favorite authors include Lois McMaster Bujold, Brandon Sanderson, Robin McKinley, Connie Willis, Isaac Asimov, Larry Niven, Megan Whalen Turner, Patricia McKillip, Mary Stewart, Ilona Andrews, and Susanna Clarke.

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KAT HOOPER, who started this site in June 2007, earned a Ph.D. in neuroscience and psychology at Indiana University (Bloomington) and now teaches and conducts brain research at the University of North Florida. When she reads fiction, she wants to encounter new ideas and lots of imagination. She wants to view the world in a different way. She wants to have her mind blown. She loves beautiful language and has no patience for dull prose, vapid romance, or cheesy dialogue. She prefers complex characterization, intriguing plots, and plenty of action. Favorite authors are Jack Vance, Robin Hobb, Kage Baker, William Gibson, Gene Wolfe, Richard Matheson, and C.S. Lewis.

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  1. Isn’t the Turtledove story lovely? It’s a little slow-moving at first, but I feel like that particular woman has earned the right to go at her own pace.

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