Short Fiction Roundup: Halloween Edition!

This Saturday is Halloween, and what better way to count down the days than to read some free short fiction of a spooky nature? I’ve rounded up some excellent specimens for your perusal below. Enjoy!

plunderpuss_HungryDaughtersHungry Daughters of Starving Mothers

© 2015 by Alyssa Wong | Art © 2015 by Plunderpuss

by Max Gladstone

PUBLISHED ON TOR.COM | October 29, 2014

© 2014 by Max Gladstone | Art © 2014 by Dave Palumbo

Vlad has grown distant from his wife. His son has trouble at school. And he has to keep his sharp teeth hidden.

This short story was acquired and edited for Tor.com by editor Marco Palmieri.

Vlad no longer shows his wife his sharp teeth. He keeps them secret in his gums, waiting for the quickened skip of hunger, for the blood-rush he almost never feels these days.

The teeth he wears instead are blunt as shovels. He coffee-stains them carefully, soaks them every night in a mug with ‘World’s Best Dad’ written on the side. After eight years of staining, Vlad’s blunt teeth are the burnished yellow of the keys of an old unplayed piano. If not for the stain they would be whiter than porcelain. Much, much whiter than bone. Read more here.

nightmarecoverIt Was Never the Fire

He was the kid who looked at the sun too long. He hunted for lighters like sharks hunted for blood. Christ intrigued him for all the wrong reasons.

He only ate smoke.

Cigarette smoke. Wood smoke. Car exhaust. Incense. Liquid nitrogen on rare occasions.

Smoke. 

Read more here.

Lyssa_JasonRainville_LargeDisplay-500x647Blood and Stardust

by Laird Barron

PUBLISHED ON Far Fetched Fables, Episode 73 | September 8, 2015

© 2015 by Laird Barron | Art © 2015 by Jason Rainville | Narrated by Nikolle Doolin

Three years later, as I hike my skirt to urinate in a dark alley in the slums of Kolkata, my arms are grasped from behind. The Doctor whispers, “So, we meet again.” His face was ruined in the explosion — its severe, patrician mold is melted and crudely reformed as if an idiot child had gotten his or her stubby fingers on God’s modeling clay. I can’t see it from my disadvantaged perspective, but that’s not necessary. I’ve been following him and Pelt around since our original falling out. Listen to the full story here.

fantasy scrollSea Found

by L R Hieber

PUBLISHED IN Fantasy Scroll Magazine Issue #9 | October 2015

© 2015 by L R Hieber

Something heavy hung in the air the summer the ghost and I finally met. Lovecraft was right: New England is inherently odd. But, in the end, that’s a good thing…..

Read more here.

And last, but certainly not least, here’s a perfectly ghoulish tale to get you in the Christmas spirit!

poe-ho-hoOne More for Christmas Dinner

by David Barnett

PUBLISHED ON Postcards from the Hinterland, the author’s personal website

© 2009 by David Barnett | Art © unknown

Here comes Poe, tramping through the snow at the dying of the day, his passage along the slush-covered pavement kept on even keel by the ballast of the full-to-groaning bags-for-life that dangle from each woollen-clad hand.

Bags-for-life! The irony was not lost on Poe as he hefted each cotton sack to better distribute the weight. Bags-for-life! But he had never got on very well with the plastic carrier bags, hated the way they stretched and ripped, their handles cutting into his hands even through the knitted gloves he always wore, whether snow or sunshine, rain or wind.

Consider Poe. A man was never better named, some might say. Consider that tombstone brow, the sparse hair the colour of ashes, the sallow complexion, the nose that hung from his face like a death sentence delivered by a stone-faced judge. Consider the thin line of a mouth beneath that nose, straight and true like the final layer of bricks sealing a man into a cellar, say. Consider the eyes, grey and dry, very much like the afterlife might look. Read more here.

Want more? Check out Nathan Ballangrud‘s “Skullpocket” over on io9!

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Max Gladstone and the Giant Space Bees of Star Wars

With the recent announcement of the cast of the newest Star Wars movie, I must bring your attention to this absolutely delightful post written by Max Gladstone. In it, he outlines his theory that the humans depicted in the Star Wars franchise are in fact, not at all human. The post originally appeared on Max’s blog, and you can read the full text below. Max’s third novel, FULL FATHOM FIVE, will be available for sale on July 15, 2014.

Star Wars: A Long Time Ago, in a Hive Far Far Away?
by Max Gladstone

October 21st, 2013

honey-moon-shirt-510x459

“Honey Moon” Image from fashionablygeek.com

There are no humans in Star Wars. This should be obvious from the title card.  We’re a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away.  Human beings evolved on this planet, Sol 3, over the last sixty million years or so depending on how you count.  If we don’t want to go all “Chariots of the Gods?” we have to throw out the notion that the people represented by human actors in Star Wars movies are in fact human.  They’re something else.

Why represent them as human?  Let’s assume that the Star Wars movies are dramatizations of real history: that Luke, Leia, Han et. al. actually existed in a galaxy long, long ago (etc.), and that George Lucas accessed this history via the Force and wanted to represent it on film.  Star Wars tells the story of a dominant-species empire arising from a pluralistic society, then being overthrown by courageous rebels and warrior monks.  Lucas had to cast this drama with human actors, and the obvious choice was to use unmodified humans to represent the most common species.

While convenient, this approach does present one problem: watching the Original Trilogy, we assume that the ‘humans’ of the GFFA (Galaxy Far Far Away) are biologically and sociologically identical to Sol 3 humans.  When obviously they’re not!  In fact, I think a few important context clues present a very different picture of the dominant race of the Original Trilogy.

Gender is the most important clue.  The Original Trilogy has a shortage of women when considered by the standards of a two-sexed mammalian species.  Leia is the most prominent female, and the only one to feature in all three movies.  Aunt Beru and Mon Mothma also have named speaking roles.  Aside from these three, I can’t think of another definitely-female-definitely-’human’ in the series.  In RotJ Leia describes her mother, who is obviously a queen.  These females all possess at least local political and social authority.

Family is a second important clue—or, rather, the absence of family.  With one notable exception, people in the series don’t talk much about parentage.  No non-Force sensitive male ever describes his family, if I recall correctly.  Han, Lando, Wedge, Biggs, Tarkin, Dodonna, and so forth, all might as well have sprung from the brows of their ships.  In six+hours of film about war, I would expect to see someone to drop at least a single reference to parents of some sort.  The lack of strong family ties suggests that parenting relationships are much less close for most GFFA ‘humans’ than for Sol 3 humans—which in turn suggests large brood sizes, short gestation periods, young ages of maturity, or all of the above.

So we’re looking for an organism with large brood sizes, young ages of maturity, short gestation periods, and relatively few fertile females who naturally assume positions of social and organizational authority. Here is my modest theory: the GFFA’s ‘humans’ are in fact sentient hive insects, organized around a single queen, a handful of fertile males, and a horde of infertile female soldiers.  For parsimony’s sake, let’s assume that Force sensitivity in this species is possessed by fertile males and females, and that male actors used to represent non-Force sensitive characters are actually representing infertile females.

This explains a few things:

  • The Emperor’s Reproductive and Political Strategy.  The Emperor, a fertile male, has  replaced the old Queen, substituting the use of clone warriors for ‘normal’ biological reproduction.
  • The Horror of the Clone Wars.  The true horror of the Clone Wars thus becomes clear.  They’re not just wars in which cloning technology is used.  They’re wars in which the fundamental structure of the ‘human’ species is inverted: wars in which queens are killed, hives consolidated, and clones take the place of biological reproduction.  Wars about the use of clones instead of queens.
  • The Deal with Jabba’s Humanoid Slaves.  Doesn’t it seem weird that a presumably hermaphroditic gastropod should be so fascinated by displaying captive females of another phylum in bikinis?  The Hive Insect theory makes this habit a clear and calculated display of dominance, communicating to ‘human’ visitors that Jabba is to ‘human’ queens as queens are to drones and soldiers.  (This also suggests that Jabba’s interested in twi’lek girls because they look like ‘humans,’ but may be easier to come by—giving his character a bit of extra complexity, since he wants to communicate dominance to his followers in this way but isn’t able to do more than pretend until Leia comes along.)
  • Why Kill the Jedi?  I mean, sure, kill the old ones, but wouldn’t it be easier to convert younglings than wipe them out?  Well, drones in the absence of a queen naturally rear fertilized eggs into new queens.  If Palpatine is trying to destroy queen-dom, he cannot permit the existence of any drones who are not perfectly loyal to his New Order.  Conversion is apparently a brutal process.  Vader survived it; Luke might survive it.  Perhaps no one else did.
  • What’s with all the Death Stars?  It isn’t hard to annihilate all life on a planet from orbit.  If you’re in orbit, you’ve already done the hard part—just tractor some rocks into the surface.  Obviously a superweapon is nice to have, but why not buildjust the weapon and the shielding system?  That would be cheaper, certainly.  It seems that the superweapon is only part of the purpose of the Death Star—the Star is in fact an artificial hive, built as the perfect environment for the Emperor’s new clone-based society.

Admittedly, this doesn’t explain what’s going on between Leia and Han.  It’s possible that Han is in fact a drone and doesn’t know it—he is phenomenally lucky, after all, which suggests Force sensitivity.  On the other hand, it seems reasonable, given the importance of queens, that some sort of queen-soldier pairbonding could occur.  This may even be the sort of relationship that the Emperor is intending to replicate with Vader.

So that’s a theory.  I mean, what’s more likely—a Galaxy Far Far Away full of psychic alien super-bees, or one in which you can cross thirty solar systems and run into three women with speaking parts?

— DISCLAIMER: I love Star Wars.  It rocks.  And precisely because of this, it’s fun to tweak.  Obviously, the above argument only refers to the OT; the EU features a much broader range of characters and situations, and I don’t want to be responsible for creating a consistent interpretation of the prequel trilogies.  (Though just off the top of my head, Naboo-’humans’ do seem to fit with Hive Insect theory.)

 

ABOUT MAX GLADSTONE: Max’s first two novels, Three Parts Dead and Two Serpents Rise were published by Tor Books in 2012 and 2013.  Full Fathom Five, the next book in the Craft Sequence, is due out on July 15, 2014. Max has taught in southern Anhui, wrecked a bicycle in Angkor Wat, and been thrown from a horse in Mongolia.  Max graduated from Yale University, where he studied Chinese. Follow him on Twitter: @maxgladstone.

Review Roundup: Two Serpents Rise by Max Gladstone

Max Gladstone‘s second book in The Craft Sequence, Two Serpents Rise, recently pubbed on October 29th, 2013. This is not a comprehensive list of his review coverage, but I thought I’d take a minute to list some of the most recent coverage he’s gotten. If you’ve got a review of your own you’d like me to list, please contact me.

Happy reading!

Publishers Weekly Starred Review

Gladstone outdoes himself in this exciting and imaginative return to the brilliantly realized world of Three Parts Dead. In the city of Dresediel Lex, the civic water supply is managed by the magical Concern of Red King Consolidated (RKC). When one of their reservoirs is contaminated with demonic Tzimet, RKC risk assessor Caleb Altemoc is assigned to determine the cause and manage relations with Heartstone, an RKC acquisition with intimate links to the old Quechal gods. With the help of an enigmatic woman named Mal, who’s considered crazy even by other death-defying cliff runners, Caleb discovers that the wars in which the old gods fell still cast a long shadow over the present day, posing a threat to the city and beyond. The alternate Los Angeles that is Dresediel Lex is charged with its own versions of ethnic tensions and environmental strain, and Caleb is an engaging protagonist for this taut and unique blend of legal drama, fantasy, and noir. Agent: Weronika Janczuk, Lynn Franklin Associates, in association with D4EO Literary. (Nov.)Reviewed on 06/14/2013 | Release date: 10/29/2013 | Details & Permalink

Library Journal Review

VERDICT Gladstone follows his acclaimed debut, Three Parts Dead, with another fast-paced fantasy thriller set in the same world. This time, he focuses on the sprawling city of Dresediel Lex, rich in a history and culture reminiscent of the Aztecs, which serves as a dramatic backdrop for the novel’s action. This worthy sequel should receive attention from fans of China Miéville and Steven Erikson.

Booklist Review

 Two Serpents Rise is an epic, solidly city-based fantasy with strong characters and a wonderfully built world. It’s also a fast-paced thriller, thoroughly entertaining.

Reviews and Guest Posts

Tor.com – excerpt            09/30/2013
Badass Book Reviews – October releases spotlight            10/01/2013
Books, Bones, & Buffy – mentions            10/01/2013
Tor/Forge blog – mention 10/01/2013
Don Dammassa – review 10/02/2013
SF Revu – review             10/02/2013
Tor.com – guest article/short fiction/mention         10/09/2013
The Book Plank – interview          10/23/2013
Unequally Yoked – interview (part 1)        10/27/2013
Books, Bones, & Buffy – review   10/28/2013
Mind of the Geek – guest post      10/28/2013
Unequally Yoked – interview (part 2)        10/28/2013
SF Signal guest post        10/29/2013
Think Progress – interview           10/29/2013
Fantasy Book Critic          10/30/2013
Mind of the Geek – guest post      10/30/2013
My Favorite Bit blog post for Mary Robinette Kowal’s blog   10/31/2013
Whatever/The Big Idea guest post           10/31/2013
Elitist Book Reviews – review       11/05/2013
Reddit AMA      11/05/2013
My Book, the Movie guest post    11/06/2013
Thing Progress – guest post         11/06/2013
Whatchamacallit Reviews            11/08/2013
Between Dreams and Reality – guest post and giveaway    11/13/2013
Interview on terribleminds.com (Chuck Wendig’s blog)      11/13/2013
Best Fantasy Books – review (Three Parts Dead)   11/15/2013