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My alter ego's new short is released today. It's the first of a series of short stories, but can be read as a standalone. More details below:
book details )
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As previously noted, the book log is woefully out of date. However, I want to try and write up this year's Hugo Voting Packet while it is still of some use to other people (and indeed me, for purposes of doing my ballot), so I'm skipping straight to this month instead of trying to keep it in order. Here are the three short story nominations I've read so far (if it wasn't in epub, it didn't go on the Kobo):

35) “The Water That Falls on You from Nowhere”, John Chu (Tor.com, 02-2013)

Hugo short story finalist. The water of the title falls on anyone who lies -- the less truthful what is said, the harder and colder the water falls. It's possible to avoid the water by being careful with your phrasing, but that just makes it obvious that you're being economical with the truth. What does it do to relationships, for both good and ill, when it becomes impossible to lie convincingly? Beautifully written character-driven short.

http://www.tor.com/stories/2013/02/the-water-that-falls-on-you-from-nowhere
http://store.kobobooks.com/en-US/ebook/the-water-that-falls-on-you-from-nowhere
Amazon uk
Amazon US

(DRM-free)

36) “The Ink Readers of Doi Saket”, Thomas Olde Heuvelt (Tor.com, 04-2013)

Hugo short story finalist. Wishes for the year are sent floating down a Thai river, and it's one village's duty and privilege to gather the wishes up and grant them, in exchange for the money and gifts attached to the wishes. It's a situation that's ripe for exploitation, but all the lives around the river are connected, and wishes can be granted in surprising ways. It's a fun concept and there's some nice writing in it, but the story didn't quite gel for me.

http://www.tor.com/stories/2013/04/the-ink-readers-of-doi-saket

(DRM-free)

37) “Selkie Stories Are for Losers”, Sofia Samatar (Strange Horizons, Jan-2013)

Hugo short story finalist. First person narrative by a young woman who has good reason to believe that selkie stories are for losers. It's difficult to say much about it without spoilers. I liked it but thought it took time to get going.

http://www.strangehorizons.com/2013/20130107/selkie-f.shtml
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I have a new short story out today. :-)

Not Quite Shakespeare cover art Bread and Butter Pudding. Erotic romance short story, 3,600 words, contemporary, m/m. First published in the Dreamspinner Press anthology Not Quite Shakespeare, which is now available at Dreamspinner's website in both ebook format (ISBN-13 978-1-63216-020-1) and trade paperback (ISBN-13 978-1-63216-019-5).

(It's not showing up on Amazon yet, but give it a day or two and it should be.)
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Only 3 entries in the Hugo short story category this year, because of the 5% rule. I think this is actually a good thing, because it's a reflection of there being so much good stuff to choose from that it was difficult for any one story to muster the minimum 5% of nominations.


Ken Liu -- Mono no Aware

A young Japanese man is sitting in the control room of a generation ship, minding the solar sail. As the story cuts between his present and his memories, the story gradually reveals how and why he came to be there, and why the choice he makes at the end of the story matters so very much. Beautifully written study of loss and survival, and made me want to read the rest of the anthology it appeared in.


Aliette de Bodard -- Immersion

A lot of things are stuffed into this short story. Imperialism, whether economic, cultural, or in the recent past nakedly military. Class and money. Identity, and how it ties into the imperialism. The use and abuse of technology. Common themes, but handled deftly, and with a genuine sf slant to them. There's some superb world-building done in a short story word count, and characters whose fate I care about. This one's my pick for the Hugo, although it was a hard choice between this and Ken Lui's story.


Kij Johnson -- Mantis Wives

Take praying mantises, give them human intelligence and emotions so that we can identify with them -- and leave them their insect behaviour patterns, described in beautiful language that heightens rather than hides the horror of what's going on.

I can see why this made the Hugo ballot. But it really doesn't work for me. Not voting for this one.
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... but alas, my trib copy of The Mammoth Book of Quick and Dirty Erotica has been mangled by a minion of Royal Mail, who shoved it into my letter box without regard as to whether it could actually fit through without tearing the envelope and contents. I may have to write a letter of complaint tomorrow. And yes, I will be only too pleased to display the damaged item if need be.

Anyway, my contribution, "A Sparrow Flies Through", amounts to 4 pages out of 554. But there are 119 other stories for your entertainment contained within this volume, so if you wish to make a lot of authors and their editor and publisher very happy, you can pre-order it now at Amazon UK, Amazon US, and other fine book emporia. Official release date is 18 April, at least in the UK (US Amazon is showing a June date).
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79) Pati Nagle - Pet Noir

Note: I received a review copy of this through the LibraryThing Early Reviewers programme.

Short fix-up novel about a genetically engineered cat whose creation is commissioned by the security chief of a large space station. The chief wants an undercover agent who'll be overlooked by criminals who might be suspicious of humanoids. A Maine Coon who's been genetically engineered to have human level intelligence, opposable thumbs, and a tongue that can wrap itself around human language is a useful thing to have loitering around fast food outlets and in cargo holds, picking up the gossip. An ordinary-looking cat won't be suspected because the high cost of gengineered animals means they're still rare -- but it's a price that's worth it for someone who wants to bust a drug-smuggling ring.

The book is structured as a series of short stories covering the first year or so of Leon's life, a first person retrospective from the day the Chief collects a know-all kitten from the labs to a year or so later, when Leon's experienced enough to understand how very inexperienced and naive he was that day. The general tone is that of a hard-boiled detective story, only here the hard-boiled tone is distinctly feline-flavoured and the setting is futuristic.

It's a lot of fun following Leon's emotional and intellectual development alongside his cases, and the cases themselves mostly make good stories. There are some good observations of feline behaviour worked into this. Leon's mostly plausible as a portrait of a cat with boosted intelligence, and his relationship with his human partner Devin, a mix of self-centredness and genuine affection after a rocky start, works well. However, there are two flaws which badly broke suspension of disbelief for me.

The first is that Leon is not just super intelligent, at 4 weeks old he speaks fluent English and he's already showing a better grasp of human culture than a human ten year old. Yes, cats develop much faster, but there hasn't been time for him to physically assimilate that amount of information, even if he does spend all day in front of the tv.

The second is that Leon speaks to other, unenhanced animals, who appear to be also human level intelligence in their conversation, even if they're speaking in cat rather than English, which rather undermines the point of him being genetically engineered for human level intelligence. There also appears to be a single human-level language across at least three species who are not regarded as fully sentient by the humans and other sentient species on the station. It felt as if the author was trying to appeal to readers who like to think of their cats as being just little humans in fur coats.

One of the things I did like about the book is that it touches on the ethics of uplifted animals. It's a very light touch, and anything stronger would have unbalanced the book, but it's made clear that Leon is under an indentured contract and is required to pay off the costs of his creation by working for whoever owns the contract. He's effectively the property of Gamma Station Security for several years, and he's unimpressed by this.

Overall, something of a mixed bag. It's a fun light read, and has some laugh out loud moments, but there are some niggles which mean I can't wholeheartedly recommend it. A free sample consisting of the prologue and first chapter are available for download at Book View Cafe, which will give you a reasonable idea of the style.

LibraryThing entry
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71) Barry Perowne -- Raffles of the M.C.C.

Not the original Raffles stories, but one of the pastiche collections. Alas, I have not yet read the original as created by EW Hornung (though I'm currently enjoying the 1970s tv series on DVD), so I have no idea how well this compares, either in fidelity to the tone of the original, or in quality of writing. It was simply the Raffles book that happened to be possessed by my local library in the dim and distant past, when the way one tracked down books one had heard of was to consult the library's copy of "Books in Print". I liked it well enough as a teenager to grab a copy when I saw it a few years ago, and thought I'd re-read it in conjunction with watching the DVDs.

I don't find it quite as good now as I remember it being thirty years ago, but that's a change in my reading tastes rather than a criticism of the book. It's still good fun, and staying on my bookcase. This collection includes 11 short stories, each a nicely constructed mystery/caper. Some of them also include as secondary characters historical figures that a contemporary reader at the time of publication would be expected to recognise, although in the period of the story they were as yet unknown to the public at large. I suspect that this conceit could prove irritating to some readers, but I enjoyed it.

LibraryThing entry
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Back to posting July's book log...

69) Agatha Christie -- "How does your garden grow?" and other stories [audiobook]

Five short stories taken from the collection "Poirot's Early Cases", read on 3 CDs by the man who plays him so perfectly on tv, David Suchet. The stories included in this set are "The Plymouth Express", "The Submarine Plans", "Problem at Sea", "How Does Your Garden Grow?" and "The Market Basing Mystery". Entertaining short mysteries, and Suchet is an excellent reader. I'd like to get more audiobooks read by him.

LibraryThing entry
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67) Margery Allingham -- My Friend Mr Campion and other mysteries

Collection containing the novella The Case of the Late Pig, four short stories, and a short essay excerpted from a radio broadcast by Allingham.

This was my first encounter with amateur sleuth Albert Campion, as I'd not even seen the tv adaptation. It struck me as covering some of the same territory as Dorothy Sayers' Lord Peter Wimsey, although much lighter in tone. Very enjoyable light reading, but the stories didn't really stick in my memory for the most part, and I thought the solutions rather too obvious in one or two stories. I suspect that they suffered somewhat from the strictures imposed by the short story format.

LibraryThing entry
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First of the books read in April...

30) Reginald Hill -- There are no ghosts in the Soviet Union, and other stories

Collection of half a dozen crime stories first published in 1987, which has some bearing on the tone of some of them. The collection is laced with a biting humour, and some superb if sardonic observations of human nature.

My favourite in the collection is the eponymous novella, in which Inspector Lev Chislenko arrives at the scene of an accident at a government building in Moscow, where the witnesses say they saw a man in old-fashioned clothes fall down a lift shaft - only there is no body. It's an embarrassing case to be involved with, especially as the higher-ups want the rumours of ghosts quashed as un-Soviet. There are no ghosts in the Soviet Union. But to his discomfort, Chislenko's investigation intended to prove the non-existence of ghosts by showing that no such accident happened even in the past leads him in a direction he hadn't expected to go.

Other stories include "Bring back the cat!", private detective Joe Sixsmith's first case; "The Bull Ring", a nasty little tale about brutal training methods used on Great War recruits; "Auteur theory", a nominally Dalziell and Pascoe story which turns out to be meta discussion on more than one level; "Poor Emma", which I can only describe as one of the odder pieces of literary fanfic gamesmanship I have encountered, probably as likely to infuriate Austen fans as please them; and "Crowded Hour", about a "take the wife hostage at home" armed robbery attempt that twists and turns.

I didn't like all of these stories, but they were all well-crafted pieces that made me think. Only half of them are ones I'd really want to read again, but I don't regret the time spent on any of them.

LibraryThing entry
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15) Agatha Christie -- The Complete Miss Marple Stories

Does what it says on the tin - every short story about Miss Marple, collected into a single volume. We have here the collection "The Thirteen Problems", the six Marple stories from "Miss Marple's Final Cases and Two other Stories", and "Greenshaw's Folly". Twenty short stories in total, and in my edition there is also an introductory essay by Stella Duffy, which is well worth reading.

I think that reading all of these in one or two sittings would be a bit much; they would seem too formulaic. And in fact I listened to some of them in audiobook format read by Joan Hickson, and then read the others on and off over a period of a couple of weeks. But taken 2 or 3 at a time, the formula can become an asset to the story-telling, particularly in the Thirteen Problems collection. You have the same set-up in each story (a group of friends telling each other stories in the evening, and trying to guess the solution), and then the fun of watching the different approach each character takes to telling his or her story for the others to try to solve. Christie has created distinctive personalities for each of her recurring characters in these stories, and uses various quirks in their personalities to present and hide clues.

They're short stories, so by their nature they can't have the depth of the novels. But each story is an engaging puzzle, with the sharp observation of human nature, wittily told, that is Christie's trademark. The quality varies from story to story, but as a whole this is a collection well worth reading.

LibraryThing entry
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Book 3)

Anthology of 20 short stories with the theme of elf love, published by new small press Pink Narcissus Press. This is an ARC I received through the LibraryThing Early reviewers programme.

While the cover art suggests fantasy-subgenre romance stories, the contents are a good deal more wide-ranging. There's a good sampling of traditional themes about elves, some in modern settings and some not, and the endings cover the full span from happy through bittersweet hope to tragic. The genre styles vary considerably as well. And to go with the prose stories, there's one in graphic form.

Unfortunately the quality varied considerably as well, and for me a few of the stories were a waste of dead trees; but the best were well worth my time. There were several authors whose stories felt a bit unpolished but made me inclined to find more of their work once they've got a few more kilowords under their belts. Of particular note was Duncan Eagleson, who provided my two favourite prose stories in the anthology, together with the art for the graphic story (and the cover art, which I liked less than the graphic story).

There's some violence, and some sexually explicit and some erotic content (the two are not identical) covering a range of sexual orientations, mostly not gratuitous.

In spite of the uneven quality, this is a worthwhile anthology -- this is a good selection covering a range of story types, and I could have quite happily read the whole thing in one sitting without feeling that the stories were too repetitive. While my copy was an ARC, I personally wouldn't have been disappointed had I paid the full cover price of US$15 for the trade paperback. Whether other readers feel the same will really depend on how many of the stories work for them, and regrettably I have to say that the anthology is sufficiently uneven and unpolished that I can't wholeheartedly recommend it at that price.

I'll try to write up some detailed notes on individual stories later, but in general I'd agree with TPauSilver's comments on LibraryThing.


Released in February 2011, but available now for pre-order direct from the publisher.

LibraryThing entry.
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Book 90 (there was a glitch in earlier numbering, which I've corrected from here on, and in the master list for the year which will be posted soon)

Re-listen of the second CD set taken from The Thirteen Problems, read by the incomparable Joan Hickson. The four short stories on this double CD set are the titular "The Blue Geranium", "The Four Suspects", The Companion" and "A Christmas Tragedy". The format is a group of friends telling each other creepy mysteries after dinner, allowing the others to try to guess the solution, and then revealing the answer. Miss Marple, of course, is able to solve each by her observation of human nature. Superbly read by Hickson, and highly enjoyable, though probably best listened to one or two at a time rather than the whole lot in one sitting.

LibraryThing entry
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Book 55

This is a 2-CD audiobook of the first five stories from the Miss Marple collection "The Thirteen Problems", read by the late, great Joan Hickson, who played Marple on tv in the 80s and 90s. In each story, a small group of friends gathers together each Tuesday night, and spend part of the evening with one member telling the story of a mystery they encountered, and the others trying to work out what actually happened. Miss Marple, of course, is always the one to solve the puzzle, by drawing on parallels she has seen in village life down the years.

Hickson's reading is an absolute joy to listen to, not only because she is Miss Marple for myself and many other fans, but because she is a superb reader. Her reading is perfectly paced, and brings the characters to life. The stories themselves are entertaining enough, although are probably best taken two or three at a time rather than all at once, as otherwise the consistent pattern of the stories could become annoying formulaic rather than pleasurable. I found that I usually worked out roughly what had happened and who had done it, but the exact details of how weren't that easy to spot -- although clear enough in hindsight...

A marvellous way to spend a couple of hours, although I may go out and buy the set with the complete "Thirteen Problems" to replace this set and its companion set "The Blue Geranium and other problems", which don't quite cover the full 13 between them.

LibraryThing entry
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Anthology of sf crime short stories from the prolific book packager Martin H Greenberg. I normally like the anthologies Greenberg puts together, in both sf and mystery, but I've got a bad case of "it's not you, it's me" with this one. I can see why other people might like it, but it doesn't quite work for me, and I think it's because I'm not quite keyed in to the relevant genre conventions. Half way through, and I still haven't encountered a story I'd regret not having read, and have read one or two that left me feeling I'd just wasted a small piece of my life -- even though I know and like the work of several of the authors (and indeed, bought the anthology specifically because it included a short by one of my favourite authors). I've finally learnt that I don't have to finish a book just because I've started it, so I'm bailing at this point -- but even so, I think this one could work for a reader with slightly different tastes to me.

LibraryThing entry
at Amazon UK
at Amazon US
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This anthology collected the first 30 stories from a monthly series of mystery shorts Asimov wrote for Eric Potter at Gallery magazine. The frame story for the series is a group of four men who sit together at their club. One of their number claims to have a background in intelligence, and has a habit of telling stories about problems he has solved for the police and intelligence services. The problems are typically in the form of lateral thinking puzzles, and Griswold invariably finishes by commenting that the answer was obvious, and waiting for his companions to admit that they can't work it out before giving them the answer (thus also giving the reader a chance to try to work it out before the answer is revealed). With only 2000 words to play with each month, the stories are of necessity fairly pared down and low on characterisation. They're often great fun, and I find it entertaining to watch the ongoing frame story about the narrator and his two friends trying to decide whether Griswold is telling the truth about his past or pulling their legs; but if you don't like bad puns you won't like a fair few of these little mysteries, and some of them have dated badly.

I enjoyed the collection, though it's more of a book for dipping into occasionally than reading all the way through in one sitting. I find them excellent for when I want something that will occupy me for five or ten minutes without making it difficult for me to put down the book at the end of a chapter. The collection has kept me entertained through more than a few bouts of 3 am insomnia when I wanted something light and short to focus on that I could put down again as soon as I felt sleepy.

It's not really worth going to a lot of effort to lay hands on a copy, but if one comes your way it's well worth trying a few of the stories.

LibraryThing entry
at Amazon UK
at Amazon US

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