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  • Ryan Britt 5:00 pm on 2014/12/16 Permalink
    Tags: adam wilson shelly oria, ann vandermeer, , justin taylor, , neil clarke, , , , , , stone mattress,   

    Short Stories to Stuff Your Stockings: 9 of 2014’s Most Giftable Collections and Anthologies 

    The Time Traveler's AlmanacGift-giving can come with a lot of commitment issues. If you buy a novel for a certain someone and they “just can’t get into it,” it’s like you failed as a person who buys books as presents. However, short stories don’t have quite that same threat, because even if the person doesn’t love ALL the stories in a collection or anthology, they’re bound to like a few. Here’s a list of 9 short story collections or anthologies published in 2014 to help you hedge your holiday book-buying bets.

    Flings, by Justin Taylor
    You ready for short stories about guys in mushroom costumes, struggling poets, and Ph.D students? Of course you are. With his usual brand of smarty-pants wit, Justin Taylor has done something you wouldn’t think possible: topped his debut short story collection, Everything Here is the Best Thing Ever. A perfect gift for someone who thinks they don’t like reading short stories, or reading period. Meanwhile, if your giftee already loves good contemporary lit, Taylor is one of the masters.

    New York 1 Tel Aviv 0, by Shelly Oria
    If you’re not sure what the immigrant experience is like or the bisexual experience is like or the human experience is like, these stories have you covered. Shelly Oria’s prose is as addictive as her occasionally jokey epiphanies. The stories in this collection often come across as being orderly little lessons about what its like to be a person, and that’s exactly what they are. This is the perfect gift for someone who experiments with the truth of their life and finds something beautiful or sad every time they do. Essentially, give this book to your best friend for the holidays if you want to keep them. Give this book to a friend you’ve lost if you want them back.

    Unexpected Stories, by Octavia Butler
    If you’ve only read Octavia Butler’s excellent time-travel novel Kindred, that’s okay, but if you’re looking for a gift for someone who loves genre-straddling stories by a master of both science fiction and literature, then this is the one. Collecting Butler’s short fiction into one volume is a smart enough idea, but this one is made even more special because it includes unpublished material, specifically her story “Childfinder,” which sci-fi raconteur Harlan Ellison asked her to write for his unpublished The Last Dangerous Visions.

    What’s Important is Feeling, by Adam Wilson
    Featuring a weird rock band, a lobster, and impressively deft explorations of male friendship, Adam Wilson’s What’s Important is Feeling is a great gift for your grouchy brother who’s always complaining about everything. Either that, or your friend who always wears a bandanna and tells everyone she’s creating new kinds of art with colors that haven’t yet been invented. Not a book for your mom. Unless your mom was once like those people or any of the characters in this book. In which case: perfect.

    Stone Mattress, by Margaret Atwood
    Is it even fair how talented Margaret Atwood is? How does she possibly put out as many books as she has? If you’re looking to buy a book of stories for someone who’s an Atwood completist, then you’re in good shape. Or maybe you’re looking to get someone into her work without overwhelming them with the complexity of the Maddaddam trilogy. If so, these stories represent Atwood’s bananas creativity coupled with her excellent sense of humanity. Really, though, if you have any friends who are mistaken for vampires for whatever reason, this is the gift for them.

    The Time Traveler’s Almanac, edited by Ann & Jeff VanderMeer
    There’s no one who doesn’t like stories about time travel. Except maybe actual time travelers. If you’ve got a Doctor Who–obsessed person in your life and you need to give them a gift that will totally educate them on the best short-fiction explorations of time travel, this new anthology from fantastic sci-fi editor Ann VanderMeer is the ticket. The thing is, because it’s all about time travel, you need to make sure your prospective present-getter hasn’t already read it…in the future.

    American Innovations, by Rivka Galchen
    Deceptively casual is the only way to describe the tone of the stories in American Innovation. If you’re buying a gift for someone who everyone thinks is an evil genius, you may want to consider this book. Everybody says certain kinds of stories are heartbreaking, but these ones really are, but subtly. So maybe they’re not heartbreaking, but instead, heart-fracturing? Galtchen’s subtlety is definitely for the literati, but a particularly introspective non-literary person would love these tales, too.

    Redeployment, by Phil Klay
    You heard this won the National Book Award, right? Do you buy this for the veteran in your life? Yes. Do you buy it for the literary snob in your life? Yes. Do you buy it for your landlord, your postman, or your former high school teacher? Yes. Yes. Yes.

    Clarkesworld Year 6, edited by Neil Clarke 
    There’s a lot of great science fiction being published online these days, but Neil Clarke over at Clarkesworld always manages to put out a physical version of all the best stuff he’s championed in a given year. If you’ve got a budding sci-fi/fantasy writer who needs some inspiration this holiday season, any of the Clarkesworld anthologies are a surefire win.

  • Joel Cunningham 3:30 pm on 2014/09/24 Permalink
    Tags: acceptance, , , , exo, , golden princess, , jonathan jackson miller, karen miller, , , martha wells, , s.m. stirling, , , , star wars new dawn, , stephen gould, stone mattress, stories of the raksura, the falcon throne, ,   

    September Sci-Fi/Fantasy Roundup: Solving for Area X, a Bloody Battle for the Throne, and Performing Shakespeare in the End Times 

    sffroundup9-14Golden Princess: A Novel of The Change, by S.M. Stirling
    Stirling has now written 11 novels in the Emberverse, his sci-fi/fantasy mashup series that explores an alternate timeline in which a mysterious event in 1998 caused all electricity, gunpowder, and advanced machinery to simply stop working, leaving the U.S. as we know it in shambles. The books focus on survival, political infighting, and epic quests. If you’re a fan, you’re picking this one up; if you aren’t (yet), you’ll want to start with Dies the Fire.

    City of Stairs, by Robert Jackson Bennett
    Robert Jackson Bennett continues to march his way through a list of fantasy subgenres, from fantasy horror (Mr. Shivers), to sci-fi (The Company Man), to, now, epic fantasy, albeit in a highly original vein. In a fantasy realm that retains many modern world trappings (from trains to telegrams), a low-level diplomat is pulled into a conspiracy involving murder, magic, and a plot to resurrect a god.

    The Witch with No Name, by Kim Harrison
    This is the can’t-miss final installment in The Hollows, the series that, in large part, helped define what we think of when we say “urban fantasy.” Harrison’s Rachel Morgan is the quintessential UF protagonist, and this book ends her story. Read about why we’re so sad to bid farewell to this series here.

    The Falcon Throne, by Karen Miller
    Australian author Karen Miller (Kingmaker, Kingbreaker, the Godspeaker Trilogy) launches her new epic fantasy series with a mammoth first installment packed with political intrigue and widescreen action. A battle for the throne. Scheming potential successors to the crown. Meddling princes. Despotic dukes. And one unfortunate young pawn trapped between both sides.

    Stories of the Raksura: Vol. I, by Martha Wells
    Though a she’s a former Nebula Award nominee, I’d argue Martha Wells deserves to be much more well-known, particularly for her strikingly original Books of the Raksura trilogy (The Cloud RoadsThe Serpent SeaThe Siren Depths), set in an entirely new world and featuring zero familiar tropes: no pseudo-European feudal system, no kings, no knights, no humans at all. In the first three books, she developed an entire anatomy and culture for her strange, bipedal, shape-shifting gargoyle creatures, and now she’s come back to it with the first of two planned volumes of short stories that revisit favorite characters, introduce new ones, and explore the rich history of her invented world.

    Acceptance, by Jeff VanderMeer
    I like the whole “let’s release the entire trilogy in a year” experiment that the publisher went with for VanderMeer’s astonishing Southern Reach trilogy. It’s only been six months since the debut of Annihilation, which charted the terrible fate of the twelfth expedition into the mysterious, ecologically mutated Area X. Book two, Authority, went inside the Southern Reach, the shadowy organization that oversees the ill-fated research missions. Acceptance shifts the focus again, and answers all your lingering questions in a deeply unsettling manner. (Available Sept. 2 in paperback and NOOK.)

    Stone Mattress, by Margaret Atwood
    Though you’ll find her shelved with literary fiction, there’s no question that much of Atwood’s work appeals heavily to genre fans, and her latest collection of short stories is no different. From a story about a man who bids on an auctioned storage unit and finds a sinister surprise inside (“The Freeze-Dried Bridegroom”), to one in which a woman born with a genetic disorder is mistaken for a vampire (“Lusus Naturae”), these nine tales twist the real world in unexpected ways. (Available Sept. 16 in hardcover and NOOK.)

    Star Wars: New Dawn, by Jonathan Jackson Miller
    Whether you’ve followed the Star Wars Expanded Universe since elementary school or don’t know the Solo twins from Hope Solo, this is the book all Jedi Padawans need to read. Disney has totally rebooted the franchise, reclassifying dozens of previous books as “Star Wars Legends,” and is relaunching the continuity with this novel from a frequent writer of Star Wars comics. From now on, what happens in the books will line up with the new movies and vice versa. (Available Sept. 2 in hardcover, audiobook, and NOOK.)

    Afterworlds, by Scott Westerfield
    Don’t let this title pass you by just because it’s classified as YA. Westerfield goes metafictional with the story of a young woman who moves to New York to pursue a dream in publishing, interspersing the narrative with chapters from the genre novel she’s writing about a girl who slips into an alternate reality to escape from terrorists. Soon, reality and fiction begin to intersect on multiple levels, creating a narrative puzzle you’ll love teasing out. (Available Sept. 23 in hardcover, audiobook, and NOOK.)

    Station Eleven, by Emily St. John Mandel
    Published as literary fiction, this novel does the postapocalyptic thing to near perfection. Years after a global cataclysm, much of culture has been washed away in the ensuing tides of upheaval. A dedicated group of survivors struggles to keep the flame burning through roving performances of Shakespeare plays. Harrowing, haunting, and elegiac, this is one crossover novel you don’t want to miss. (Available Sept. 9 in hardcover, audiobook, and NOOK.)

    Exo, by Stephen Gould
    The author returns to his popular Jumper series with another story about troubled teleporting teens getting into mischief. Blending YA tropes with well-considered sci-fi elements, the book offers a perfect mix of popcorn fun and hard science. The focal point this time is Cent, the daughter of original jumpers Davy and Millie, who appeared in Jumper and Impulse.

    Which sci-fi and fantasy novels are you excited about this month?

  • Ellen Wehle 5:00 pm on 2014/09/04 Permalink
    Tags: , , , stone mattress, the twilight zone   

    Margaret Atwood’s Stone Mattress Chills and Satisfies 

    Stone MattressI once climbed through a window to hear Margaret Atwood read from her latest novel. The reading location had been changed at the last minute, my friend and I arrived late, and when the side doors were locked and we couldn’t find the entrance (it was a HUGE university building), we shimmied through a ground-floor window. I remember laughing like crazy as I banged my knee on the sill.

    Tens years later Atwood is still writing fiction worth breaking and entering for, and Stone Mattress: Nine Tales shows her at her best. While just three of the stories are connected, sharing several characters, all share the same quirky, sinister tone. Think The Twilight Zone, only edgier.

    In the title story, a woman takes an Arctic cruise and there among the doddering seniors comes face to face with the old boyfriend who, fifty years before, raped her in high school. Ironically, it’s his own cruelty that made her a woman uniquely suited, now, to wreak vengeance: because of the assault, Verna has spent her life as a black widow. The tension becomes unbearable as we wait to see when—and whether—her vengeance will fall.

    Sex and death intersect again in a story about Sam, a con man who gets thrown out by his wife. As Sam charges around the house packing his duffle bag, he replays a favorite fantasy in his mind: “Why does he find it soothing to imagine himself lying on a mortuary slab while a forensic analyst—invariably a hot blonde—probes his corpse with delicate but practiced fingers?” His obsession with death seems like just another personality trait until the last few pages, when the story takes a left turn. Like the magician who distracts you with one hand while her other hand does the trick, Atwood has let us think Sam’s problem is getting thrown out: Where will this aging Romeo go, how will he eat? Suddenly we see that the real problem is the storage unit Sam buys at auction (I’ll say no more). Neat trick!

    Whether it’s a girl whose family wants to kill her, or a writer who hears her dead husband’s voice giving advice, these are characters we care about. Sure, their circumstances may be odd—it’s not often, after all, that your family comes for you with sharpened stakes, convinced you’re a vampire—but their emotions are 100 percent familiar. Like the best writers of horror or science fiction, Atwood understands that regardless of the situation, human beings do not change. She knows how people walk, talk, and think, and she writes with such authority that we easily suspend disbelief.

    Best of all, the stories are rarely predictable. Pick up Stone Mattress and I defy you to call the ending to a single one. Lovers and liars, monsters and freaks, the characters set out in one direction and then surprise us with where they end up. This is a first-rate collection, certain to win Atwood new admirers.

    Are you a Margaret Atwood fan?

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