Our weekly exploration of free and inexpensive short fiction available on the internet. Here are two more reviews of recent Hugo and Nebula award-nominated stories.
“The Rose MacGregor Drinking and Admiration Society” by T. Kingfisher (2018, free at Uncanny magazine, $3.03 Kindle magazine issue). 2019 Hugo award nominee (short story).
“The Rose MacGregor Drinking and Admiration Society” is a charming little diversion, among a steadily-growing list of charming short works, by T. Kingfisher. This one also happens to be a 2019 Hugo Award nominee!
A group of surly men — or, at least, that’s how most of them appear — gathers around a campfire, “hypnotized by its dance,” to drink vast quantities of beer and bellyache about a feisty and frisky young woman named Rose MacGregor who managed to get the better of each of them. It seems our Rose sought companionship among the green grass hills and stony beaches, and though stories traditionally warn against pursuing any kind of, ahem, relationship with fae creatures, she didn’t listen. To my delight, and to the dismay of the fae gathered around this campfire, Rose had her own opinions about interacting with the fae. And the fact that this group isn’t meeting for the first time is a clear indicator of the lingering effect she had upon them, rather than the other way around.
“The Rose MacGregor Drinking and Admiration Society” is a quick read, one that frequently brought a smile to my face as the various society members gripe about “the one that got away” before they could (at best) leave her in the lurch or (at worst) “drag her down into the lake and drown her.” And at the close, we see Rose herself: happy, self-assured, and reveling in fond memories of her well-spent youth. Delightful. ~Jana Nyman
Editor’s note: This story was previously reviewed by Tadiana Jones in our April 19, 2019 SHORTS column, who also rated it 4 stars.
Fire Ant by Jonathan P. Brazee (2018, free at File 770, $2.99 Kindle version). 2018 Nebula award nominee (novella)
Four-foot six-inch tall, 72 lb. Floribeth (Beth) Dalisay, who makes up in determination what she’s lacking in size, has risen from the underclass on the planet New Cebu to become a pilot for a megacorporation. Flying a tiny, one-person ship called a Hummingbird, she’s on a routine mission to explore new solar systems and planets when she runs into alien spaceships. Unfortunately, they’re hostile aliens who promptly start shooting at her ship. Using some tricky flying that involves nullifying her ship’s AI and taking the controls, Beth manages to escape through the stargate she had set up, blowing it up behind her.
This action, though by the book, runs Beth into deep trouble with her employer, which acts like the typical Evil!Corporation and inexplicably severely punishes her rather than rewarding her. Luckily for Beth, the Directorate Navy hears of her adventure and is now interested in our hotshot pilot, especially since she’s the only human that has ever come in contact with a spacefaring alien race, hostile or otherwise. But can she make the grade as a Navy fighter pilot?
Fire Ant is a quintessential MilSF novella, long on action and intrepid main characters and space battles and rather short on memorable characterization, depth and imagination. It’s readable, and fine if what you’re mostly interested in is space battles and a standard “rising through the military ranks through skill and bravery” type of SF story. It’s the first in a series, so it feels like an origin story, and there are some major hanging plot threads (mostly: what are these aliens and why did they start shooting before taking the time to find out more about humans?).
Fire Ant is a Nebula nominee, but (I think it’s safe to say) only because of some gaming of the Nebula voting system, and I would have given it a pass if I hadn’t found the free copy through File 770. I also think it’s safe to assume that their link to a free copy is temporary during the Nebula voting period, so grab it now if you’re a fan of traditional MilSF and are interested. ~Tadiana Jones