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Archive for the ‘Short Story’ Category

Short fiction read in 2016, part 2

Posted by Tracy Poff on May 11, 2017

A few more notes from last year’s short fiction reads.

“The Stars are the Styx” by Theodore Sturgeon

Humanity, in a very long project, sends out ships with volunteers to enable instantaneous transportation around the galaxy. This is the story of five such potential volunteers, and the man whose job it is to certify them for departure–who readies them, mentally and emotionally, to depart. And it is a story of love and murder.

“Down & Out on Ellfive Prime” by Dean Ing

A colony station is struck by disaster, and saved–barely–by ‘scams’, people living outside the system who know how to make the most out of the available resources.

Pretty interesting. The premise could probably support a longer story.

“The Great Moveway Jam” by John Keefauver

Black comedy, I suppose. A massive traffic jam persists for fourteen months. In the end, since there was apparently no hope of clearing the jam, the entire area is simply paved over, burying car and motorist alike. Written as journal entries by a man killed in the event.

Not too bad.

“Unaccompanied Sonata” by Orson Scott Card

People are observed and tested from the hour of birth to find the job they are most suited for, that will make them happy. Christian is a Maker, composing music with no other inspiration than nature, forbidden to hear any music but his own. A man smuggles him a recording of Bach, and Christian listens to it, so his compositions are irrevocably tainted–derivative. A Watcher comes for him and takes away his instrument, sending him off to other jobs, forbidden to compose or perform music. When he breaks this law, his fingers are cut off so that he cannot play a piano, and at last his voice removed so he cannot sing. Finally, he is made a Watcher, too, protecting the system that made him miserable, but makes so many others happy.

I am strongly reminded of a story by Asimov, about a boy who wants to be a computer programmer, but instead, IIRC, becomes a creator, inventor, whatever.

Very good.

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Short fiction read in 2016, part 1

Posted by Tracy Poff on March 16, 2017

I wrote this post late last year, but never quite finished it. Since it’s concerning short stories, it’ll stand well enough in this state–better published than forever held back.

The great danger of the internet’s astonishing availability of information is that you are likely to find only what you seek, so in order that I may not read too limited a variety of fiction, I’ve been reading a selection of old (science fiction, generally) short stories.

I’ve written book reviews longer than some of these, so I’ll not go into the usual detail, but here’s a sampling of what I’ve been reading. Caveat lector: given the brevity of the stories, I shall not try too hard to avoid spoiling the endings.

“Valley of the Kilns” by James B. Hall

A man who lives in a society totally devoted to making objects of clay realizes (perhaps incorrectly?) that their creations are not, in fact, being used to create grand cities in faraway places, but merely discarded as the people move on in pursuit of more clay. Interesting, unique setting. The plot, though, is lacking.

“Invisible Stripes” by Ron Goulart

A former serial killer–serial strangler–is to act as a consultant for a ‘nostalgic’ television program looking at serial killers of yesteryear. He was highly susceptible to being influenced by television, so that if he saw anything on a television he was driven to imitate it, even murder. Having been pronounced cured, he is free, so long as he doesn’t look at a television, but a jealous police detective frames him for a string of murders and has him killed by taking advantage of his affliction.

Not that interesting. This one, notably, features a future (2005!) with air not suitable for breathing, and TV tending toward the pornographic. Better as an example of high exaggerated future than as a story.

“Time Warp” by Theodore Sturgeon

Told from the perspective of an alien, Althair the Adventurer, otherwise known on his home planet Ceer as Althair the Storyteller. The problem of very lengthy transit times in space is solved, on Earth, by building a ship that can travel backward in time. This puts Earth at risk from aliens (“26 things, alive and awful which together are called Mindpod”) who desire the technology. Ultimately Althair plus some humans destroy the Mindpod, along with the whole planet they were on.

Average.

“Found!” by Isaac Asimov

Interesting. Here we have the idea of computers in orbit controlling space flight, with each computer calculating each result several times, and initiating self-repair if there is any discrepancy. Something similar was done in 2001, I believe. Anyway, it ultimately ends up that artificial life forms have begun attacking these orbiting computers in order to harvest materials for reproduction. A sort of grey goo story, I suppose.

The nameless (but apparently Russian) viewpoint character is probably female, since she is mentioned as having a husband.

“The Weariest River” by Lloyd Biggle, Jr.

Interesting. Terminal patients are displayed for the entertainment of persons requiring ’emotional therapy’, who watch their suffering to supplement an otherwise emotionally empty life. Meanwhile picketers outside the hospital champion the right to die with dignity, and there is perhaps a threat from within.

“Whale Song” by Leigh Kennedy

Average. A story in a few scenes about the declining population of whales. Occasionally from the POV of the whale.

“The Chessmen” by William G. Shepherd

Good!

An anti-communist story. A Russian man carves a chess set with pieces modeled on communists and capitalists. Somehow, inexplicably, the ‘corrupt’ capitalist pieces always win, even when Stalin himself plays.

“Controlled Experiment” by Rick Conley

A very brief story with a–rather obvious–twist. A researcher trying to determine whether mice can exhibit psionics is unknowingly controlled by those mice.

“Count the Clock That Tells the Time” by Harlan Ellison

People who waste time–waste their lives–are pulled to a grey, empty world, occasionally accompanied by scenes from great battles–wasted moments of history. This is the story of one such man, Ian Ross. Reminds me of “The Langoliers”.

“Body Game” by Robert Sheckley

A future where the rich can live forever by buying new bodies, and the poor–can’t. Written as a letter to a senator, ultimately declaring an intention to kill the rich: all the rich, sinners as well as saints.

“A Thousand Deaths” by Orson Scott Card

An anti-communist story. A man, convicted of treason against a Russia that has taken over the entire world, is killed repeatedly (and graphically), his memories then transferred into clones, in order to induce him to sincerely–or convincingly–repent at his televised ‘trial’. In the end, he grows used to death and cannot be swayed, so he, along with other incorrigible criminals, is exiled to another planet. He resolves, as he is being prepared for the journey, that he, or his descendants, will one day return to free Earth from communist rule.

This story is, apparently, part of Card’s “Worthing Chronicle”.

“A Hiss of Dragon” by Gregory Benford & Marc Laidlaw

A fun little story with bioengineered dragons. Reminiscent of Pern, in that.

“New Is Beautiful” by Tony Holkham

Following a war, a ‘New Way’ is established, which somehow involves people living at thirty times the usual speed–a whole life little more than two years.

I’m not certain of the import of this story. Is it meant to parallel presently ongoing changes in society? Or is it a sincere wish for a future without war or base yearnings, as intended in the story? Perhaps it’s meant to cause us to question how far we should be willing to go–how much humanity must be willing to change–for peace.

“Newton’s Gift” by Paul J. Nahin

A time travel story with a predestination paradox. The twist is not unexpected. Some words are spent by the protagonist attempting to explain to Newton the working of a pocket calculator, in a scene reminiscent of my own past flights of fancy. Average.

“To Race the Wind” by Jack C. Haldeman II

In a future where humans have ruined the Earth, a man prepares to participate in a simulated skiing event at the Olympics. Virtual reality and environmentalism, hope and despair. An interesting story.

“The Hole Thing” by Dean R. Lambe

Two nuclear bombs are stolen by–as it turns out–proponents of peace. The twist was predictable, and the whole story was little more than so much moralizing. Only of interest as a sign of the times.

“And Whether Pigs Have Wings” by Nancy Kress

Alien beings–Uriel, Gabriel, and the nameless protagonist–strive to save the Earth by introducing wonder to people. The nameless one, with the aid of a bracelet with transformative power, becomes a mermaid, a rabbit, a UFO, and a ghost, by turns. Like the previous story (“The Hole Thing”), moralizing, hand-wringing about the future. Not unwarranted, but hardly enough for a story, by itself.

“The Ancient Mind at Work” by Suzy McKee Charnas

A man may be a vampire, or he may be ‘only’ a rapist. The POV character is interesting.

“Lobotomy Shoals” by Juleen Brantingham

Submarine scifi. Sharks (and other creatures) can be conditioned and have hardware implanted that forces them to obey commands. Using this tech, sharks are employed, at the direction of ‘herders’ to herd fish to fisheries. They say the ‘Voice’ which controls the sharks is one-way, but there are no old herders, and the protagonist feels as if she belongs under the sea, imagines she understands the sharks’ thoughts, begins to think like a shark herself…

“The Singing Diamond” by Robert L. Forward

Every bit of the writing is interesting, but the story not so much.

“The Blizzard Machine” by Dean Ing

A former employee of Lockheed builds a robot-driven snowmobile, with nearly-disastrous results.

“Third from the Sun” by Richard Matheson

A man, together with his family and their neighbours, abandons his planet to flee an impending war that he is sure will annihilate all life. The twist is that they are fleeing to Earth, not from it. Foreseeable, and the parallel with Superman’s origin story is obvious.

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The Girl in the Painting

Posted by Tracy Poff on September 2, 2011


Carla is the new girl at school, and somehow she’s been voted to be in the auction for the Fall Ball. The rumor is that it must be a joke being played on her by Troy Lester and his friends, and Carla agrees. After all, she’s no prize, or so she imagines. But when Troy bids on her–and wins–at the auction, she’s not sure what to do.

Though my last experience with romance novels was somewhat less than satisfactory, I thought I’d give them another shot, though I didn’t want to commit too much time to being so fair-minded. So, I read The Girl in the Painting by Eve Bunting, a “Fastback Romance.” Despite being bound as a single book, it’s really more of a short story–a little more than five thousand words, I guess.

The story was written in 1978, and I don’t know if it’s just me, or that time marches on, but the way the girls were talking about being sold in the auction, and fetching a good price, was distinctly creepy to me. It was also weird that Carla skipped a class to go home and do housework while she tried to decide what to do. Okay, sure, I might clean a room when I’ve got something on my mind, too, but frankly, after all the talk of selling the girls, it just struck me as having unfortunate implications.

These things aside, though, the story isn’t bad. Bunting manages to fit in a little moral ambiguity in the 37 pages of The Girl in the Painting: as it turns out, initially, Troy did have Carla voted into the auction as a joke, but he came to see that she was an interesting person, and ‘bought’ her because he really wanted to go to the ball with her. There’s complication, provided by Lorraine, and the resolution is fairly satisfying.

One further note, regarding the cover. The two people on the cover don’t match Carla and Troy (who I suppose they’re meant to be) at all. Neither is wearing glasses, and, frankly, there’s no way the girl on the cover could be mistaken for being unattractive. I suppose they wanted the cover to be appealing, to sell the book, but it’s a shame, given that the message of the book is that it’s what’s below the surface that counts.

The Girl in the Painting is a decent, quick read, if you can find it, though I wouldn’t go out of my way to get a copy. It reminds me of the short stories that filled the anthologies we used in English classes in middle school–not a bad thing, but nothing worth writing home about, either.

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Passage

Posted by Tracy Poff on August 31, 2011

Brett is working as an English teacher in Vanuatu when the news comes of the plague in America. His Bislama isn’t so good, but the word is that in America, people are eating one another.

Passage” by Lavie Tidhar is a slice of life, with a (distant, unseen) zombie plague. At a little over a thousand words, there’s not much time for plot or development–we just see a series of glimpses into Brett’s life as he deals with his changing situation.

It’s a little unsatisfying, but the message is clear: even with a zombie apocalypse in America, life goes on. After all, what can you do?

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