There is so much free or inexpensive short fiction available on the internet these days. Here are a few stories we read this week that we wanted you to know about.
“Lois Lane: A Real Work of Art” by Gwenda Bond (2015, free at Amazon)
The first of two prequel stories for Gwenda Bond’s Lois Lane: Fallout, “A Real Work of Art,” is a quick story in which pre-Metropolis Lois Lane puts her investigatory skills to use at a new school. She’s been forced to enroll in an art class, despite possessing no artistic talent, and discovers that the art teacher, Professor Jacques, is more than just an unpleasant creep. Will the police believe her seemingly outlandish claims about his true identity? The resolution comes a little too easily, but it’s always fun to watch Lois in action, putting her brain to good use and assisting the local authorities (who didn’t know they needed her help in the first place). This all takes place before the events of Fallout, so reading this story won’t spoil anything in that novel for new readers. ~Jana Nyman
“Lois Lane: Cloudy with a Chance of Destruction” by Gwenda Bond (2015, free at Amazon)
The second of two prequel stories for Gwenda Bond’s Lois Lane: Fallout is “Lois Lane: Cloudy with a Chance of Destruction,” in which our intrepid heroine (at yet another nameless suburban high school) must defuse a potentially disastrous situation involving a heartbroken basketball player and his misguided attempt to win back the cheerleader who’s too good for him. If that sounds silly and fluffy, well, you don’t know the type of trouble Lois Lane seems to fall into. If my high school chemistry class had been this interesting, it would have been a lot easier for me to pay attention!
I thought “Cloudy with a Chance of Destruction” was a lot of fun, and was a great way to tide me over until Fallout’s sequel, Lois Lane: Double Down, is published next year. ~Jana Nyman
“The Truth is a Cave in the Black Mountains” by Neil Gaiman (2014, Amazon/Audible)
The best way to experience Neil Gaiman’s novelette “The Truth is a Cave in the Black Mountains” would be to go back in time to August 2010 and attend Gaiman’s reading of it at the Sydney Opera House. As Gaiman explains in this video, during the performance he read the story accompanied by the music of the FourPlay String Quartet and the projected illustrations of artist Eddie Campbell… Unfortunately, you can’t actually go back in time to see that performance because the show is sold out… So, the next best thing would be to purchase the “Kindle Edition with Audio/Video.” You can listen to Gaiman read the story accompanied by the music while you flip through the images on your Kindle or other device.
The story is dark and suspenseful. A dwarf-like man who lost his daughter years ago asks a reaver to guide him to a cave on the Misty Isle. The cave is supposedly filled with gold, and it’s there for the taking, but the gold is said to be cursed. In fact, the reaver says he won’t go into the cave, though he did when he was younger. As the two men travel and get to know each other, we learn a bit about each of them. Then there is a twist.
This isn’t my favorite Gaiman story, but I always enjoy listening to him read his own stories, and the accompanying music and images makes this a unique experience. “The Truth is a Cave in the Black Mountains” was originally published in Gaiman’s collection Stories: All New Tales. ~Kat Hooper
“Ponies” by Kij Johnson (2010, free at Tor.com)
In Kij Johnson’s “Ponies,” winner of the 2010 Nebula short story award, all the girls have cute pet Ponies: short, fat, and brightly colored in various rainbow hues. The Ponies have small round-tipped unicorn horns and fluffy little wings, and they can talk. But to be friends with TheOtherGirls, each girl must bring her Pony to a “cutting-out party” where the Pony must give up two of the three: its horn, its wings, or its voice. Barbara and her Pony Sunny are excited when they’re invited to a cutting-out party so they can finally be part of the group, but the reality of the party is far worse than they imagined.
Kij Johnson weaves together the contrasting threads of cartoon fantasy ― the Ponies are (intentionally, I think it’s safe to assume) reminiscent of the ponies in My Little Pony, and they bleed cotton-candy scented blood ― and the everyday horror of girls’ cruelty and cliquishness. The story is simple and straightforward, an allegory that is not subtle in the least. For example, “TheOtherGirls” have only names like TopGirl and SuckupGirl, and the Ponies’ games include Who’sPrettiest. Nevertheless, “Ponies” packs an effective and highly disturbing punch. ~Tadiana Jones
Jana, I see from your brief comments on “Ponies” on Goodreads that you really liked that short story. I’d love to hear more of your thoughts on it. Its choice for the 2010 Nebula was a little controversial, but I know there are a lot of people who really loved it.
I really liked “Ponies” when I read it (in Jan. 2015) but I was also watching a lot of My Little Pony at the time, which probably contributed. I haven’t felt compelled to re-read it since then, although some of the imagery stuck with me.
The lack of subtlety read to me as part of the story, since Barbara is young and naive. Normally I do prefer more depth, but I was willing to accept that Johnson was writing from within Barbara’s perspective. And Marion’s dead-on, it’s far more social SF than anything else.
“Ponies” is story that raised the ire of the pro-slate Hugo group last year. From what I read, I thought it wasn’t science fiction or fantasy; but it sounds like it’s clearly social SF. I wasn’t that interested before but after your review I want to go read it.
That’s interesting, Marion, since “Ponies” didn’t really strike me as the kind of “liberal” SFF that the Puppies groups were objecting to. But it’s primarily a social commentary rather than traditional SFF, so there’s that. My main objection to it is that its message is so blatant. I tend to like SFF with more layers and subtlety.
What I read was that it “wasn’t even SF.” I certainly sounds as if it is,though.
I don’t see how anyone could argue that this story isn’t fantasy. Sure, it’s a parable, but it’s clearly a fantasy parable.
Gave Lois Lane: Fallout to my niece for Christmas. Haven’t gotten around to reading it yet and now you’re giving me two good prequel stories? Sheesh, it never ends . . .
And the sequel, Lois Lane: Double Down, is scheduled to come out in May of this year. :D