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.
The Sea of Ash by Scott Thomas (2014)
The Sea of Ash is a wonderful little novella. It’s creative, creepy and oh so very ‘Lovercraft.’ My only complaint is that it’s too short. So much of the Lovecraftian world is in short stories and novellas; I’m not quite sure why there isn’t more in a longer form. This story follows a modern researcher investigating the strange happenings and disappearance of Dr. Albert Pond, using his Pond’s unfinished journal as a guide. Regarding the journal:
His was a documentation of a journey into an unknown New England, into an unmapped reality.
This is a story of a reality just beyond one’s view. Something of the natural world, just not from our own. I highly recommend this read. ~Jason Golomb
“When It Ends, He Catches Her” by Eugie Foster (2014, free at Daily Science Fiction)
“When It Ends, He Catches Her,” nominated for the 2014 short story Nebula, is about two ballet dancers, still loving their art and trying to maintain it when everything around them has fallen to pieces.
When the last stages and theaters in the artists’ district had barred their doors, when all the performances had gone forever dark, Aisa had found this place, this nameless ghost of a theater. So ramshackle to be beneath the Magistrate’s attention, so ruinous that no one had bothered to bolt the doors, it had become her haven, the place she fled to so she could dance by herself in the darkness and the silence. No matter that the world had turned to chaos, in the end, a dancer danced. It was the only peace, the only sanity that remained.
I was entranced by the lovely language that captured so well the passion an artist feels for her art, and moved by the plight of Aisa and the joy she still takes in her talent. And who knew that poignant and zombiepocalypse could go together so well? To say much more would be to spoil it. But the first time I read it I was surprised by the twist in the plot, and the second time (yes, I read it twice, all the way through) I got all choked up. Highly recommended. ~Tadiana Jones
“The Girl Who Ruled Fairyland ― For a Little While” by Catherynne M. Valente (2011, free at Tor.com)
This short story is a prequel to Catherynne Valente’s YA fantasy, The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making. This story had me from the first few paragraphs, where it compared history to your aunt’s crotchety old cat:
Sometimes it rests in a sunbeam for a peaceful century or two, but on the whole, history is always plotting, and it bites very hard. It stalks around the world, fickle and dissatisfied and often angry. It demands to be fed just a little earlier each day, until you find yourself carving meat from the bone as fast as you can, faster than you thought possible, just to satisfy it.
And with that wonderful imagery already putting me in a pleasant, eager-to-like-it mood, I was ready to be delighted with all of the whimsical notions that populate this story. Mallow is a young girl who lives by herself in a country home in a corner of Fairyland. She has no inclination to marry or engage in “Politicks” or trade in the market. She tells others:
I shall only engage in commerce if books are the coin. Come to my door if you have a book—and a good one, not just your great-aunt’s book of doily patterns—and I will give you an egg or a cake or a pair of woolen socks. I am a practical girl, and a life is only so long. It should be spent in as much peace and good eating and good reading as possible and no undue excitement. That is all I am after.
But Mallow also has a curious streak, and when King Goldmouth issues a proclamation that there will be a World’s Foul and that attendance is mandatory, Mallow willingly leaves her home to travel to the World’s Foul. But what is this Tithe that is to take place at the Foul? No one is quite certain.
Told in a whimsical fashion, this begins as a light-hearted tale, but soon the Tithe slowly weaves its way into the story like an ominous dark ribbon, and it gradually becomes clear that not everything is as it should be in Fairyland.
This is a charming and delightful story, very readable as a stand-alone story, although its ending is a bit abrupt unless you continue with The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making, which reveals what later becomes of Mallow. ~Tadiana Jones
“Vilcabamba” by Harry Turtledove (2011, free at Tor.com)
I’ve got a deep amateur interest in the story of the Incas… particularly the story of the Spanish Conquest and the downfall of one of the great American empires. So the title of Harry Turtledove‘s short story, “Vilcabamba,” caught my eye.
Vilcabamba is the Andean jungle hideaway of the last rulers of the Inca nation, who held out against Francisco Pizarro and his conquistadors. Turtledove’s story paints a parallel portrait of a future America overrun by aliens. Like the Incas, humans weren’t completely obliterated as soon as the aliens arrived. The Inca hid (sometimes in plain sight), and some chose to try and get along with their new rulers. Those who hid continued to run their own government within their isolated mountain fiefdom.
Turtledove’s story follows a similar path. The President of the Free United States seeks ways to fight back against a vastly superior fighting force. There aren’t many options beyond coordinated guerrilla tactics.
The story was fun and, at only about 20 pages long, Turtledove did a terrific job fleshing out a couple of key characters, which would make for a strong start to a longer form work in this universe. ~Jason Golomb
I loved “When it Ends, he Catches Her.”
I’ve only read a few of Turtledove’s alt-history, but I always like them.
I read “Vilcabamba” last night after I saw Jason’s review. It’s a dark, frustrating and sobering story. Turtledove makes some very thought-provoking comparisons between what happened with the Incas in Vilcabamba historically, as well as in the U.S. with the native Americans, and this alien invasion. There was a fascinating discussion/argument in the comments to this story on Tor.com, whether the story is too dark and would have been better with a more hopeful element. While I’m a sucker for humanity’s ingenuity and ability to rise to the occasion, I tend to think the story is best as it is.
Tadiana – there’s not wrong with straight-up dark. It’s kinda like real life.