Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Some Seriously Cool Shorter Fiction

While I'm in the middle of some big sprawling novels -- writing or reading -- I like to take breaks with the odd shorter work. Short fiction can be hard to blog about; there is always the risk that the blog might be longer than the story, and then there is always the concern, if one is aiming to read a certain number of books per year as I am, about whether or not these novellas or longish short stories should "count." But I shan't let that stop me; I like to point my readers towards the good stuff no matter what!

So below are some cool shorter works  that I've been enjoying lately. Oh, and all of them are CHEAP for your Kindle, and most of them are cheap for other devices via Smashwords as well.

"We're all double and triple agents, and the only way to uncover everything is to wait until someone's too dead to keep hiding."

This novella covers something very dear to my heart: the very modern problem of handling a recently deceased person's "digital legacy" -- Facebook page, Twitter account, blogs, all the little straws that different services have poked into his online financial stream, etc. The titular character here specializes in that, a new employment niche for the 21st century.

This topic is of great interest to me personally -- Google the name of "Mac Tonnies" and you'll get an idea of why -- but might not in and of itself make much of a story. Hard to find an excuse for an action scene, for instance, in sorting through megabytes of data to find a dead man's Tumblr password. Fortunately, O'Duffy, known to many as a writer of kick-ass modules for White Wolf and other pen-and-paper role-playing-games, knows how to spin an exciting and absorbing story out of such stuff: just add a murder. Or suspected murder. Or a conspiracy. Or all of the above.

Now, my mentioning of Mac Tonnies may have led some of my readers into a certain set of expectations; Mac wrote a lot about the paranormal when he was alive. I feel obliged then, to disclose, that there are no such elements in The Obituarist unless you think cell phone apps and the ubiquity of online porn are paranormal. What there is, is a cool little mystery story in the classic noir sense (if perhaps a little soft-boiled; our hero is a computer geek), with a scary villain, a femme fatale, and secrets only our hero can uncover. All written with a punchy, jaded charm that forces one to read along with a rueful half-smile, and loaded with surprises that this reader, at least, really didn't see coming.


If you're not a Kindler, The Obituarist is available in every other electronic format, from PDF to EPUB to Palm to just a plain old text file, at Smashwords.

Why Yes, Aladdin and His Wonderfully Infernal Device is a steampunk fairy tale, updating the most famous story from the Arabian Nights into a tale of ingenuity and automata! This story preserves that of the "original" Aladdin in its outlines, focusing on his first encounter with the evil magician who tries to trap him in the cave of riches but whose schemes Aladdin ultimately counters with the help of an enormous clockwork genie and his own version of a magic carpet -- an ornithopter with blades of rug scraps. Tee Morris's Aladdin is perhaps even more resourceful than the original, stealing gears and bits and bobs to build his gadget, and the genie, Giles, is a charmer.

Some slight formatting problems mean that there are some weird indented passages and this could have used one more editing pass to fix some minor errors (usually a missing or wrong preposition -- as I said, minor), but that didn't spoil the amusement much, anymore than knowing already that Aladdin was going to triumph did.

Sorry, non-Kindlers, this one is only available via Amazon. But hey, even if you don't have a Kindle, you can always fire up the Cloud Reader or read it via the Kindle App on your IOS or Android device. And it's free to borrow for Prime members, so there's that.

Who doesn't love a weird western now and then? In Marked Men, John Mierau has brought together the human evil of greed and single-mindedness with that of a nebulous supernatural horror that exists to punish human sinners. Our hero Daniel bears a strange mark on his hand, transferred to him from a dying man who cackled to rid himself of his burden of misdeeds. On the darkest night of the month, the Collector comes to damn its bearer -- unless that bearer can divert it with a better victim. And Daniel has just met the most evil man in the west.

There is a whole lot of awesome in this small package: explosions, fights, friendships (including a character who seems a dead ringer for Short Round of Indiana Jones fame) and repentance -- and just a little terror. I felt a little misled by the title, though, spending most of this short reading experience wondering if someone else had the Mark, too.

The story ends with the possibility of a sequel and I'm eager to read it, though I sincerely hope that Mierau lets a good and anal-retentive grammar nazi have a go-over before he publishes it. Homonyms are his bane, to sometimes unintentionally comic effect. But it's a good story!

Available in all formats from Smashwords or click on the pretty Amazon link above to get it for Kindle.

Ever wanted to know what it would have been like if Philip K. Dick had tried his hand at writing a western? Sadly, no such thing has surfaced as yet, but be consoled, for Wade Aaron Inganamort has stepped forward to make your wish come true. With time travel to boot. But be not mistaken: this is not Back to the Future II and III in short story form. Clever as those films were, they were nowhere near as odd and edgy as Darrity.

Half of the action takes place in the present day, in which a man, Rob is trying every means at his disposal to discover what happened to his sister and her car; both disappeared from a parking garage five years before we join his story. Meanwhile, the reader already knows where both ended up, or rather when, but how, how is the mystery as the action switches back and forth between the present day and the Old West, where Sam has witnessed the manifestation of something weird and tragic while exploring with his cousin Zandi.

But that makes it sound far too simple. Rob's computer is receiving packets from the future. And suddenly, Sam's cousin Zandi doesn't exist because she died fifteen years ago.

The story ends on a cliffhanger, perhaps too much of one as not very much gets resolved, but I'm still intrigued. I hope Inganamort has more for us soon!

I'm not too familiar with selkies, having spent my mythomaniacal youth focusing on Greek/Roman and then Norse/Germanic mythology and never getting around to the Celtic, so I came to this short with few preconceptions (aside from a great respect for the author, whose Goblin Market is one of my favorite dark fantasy novels ever).

As I've gathered over time and from this story, a selkie is a sort of were-seal, human on land, seal in the ocean. Stories about them are usually romantic tragedies, and this contemporary take, set in Pennsylvania, is no exception.

Call of the Selkie is a stormy and emotional tale, mysterious and full of longing for the sea from the very first paragraph. Hudock's greatest inspirations come from fairy tales, and she infuses her writing with equal parts wide-eyed wonder and mournfulness. Our narrator, Rhiannon, never knew her father except through the paintings that father left behind, enchanting seascapes that seem to contain urgent hidden meanings, communicated even after they are locked away by a jealous mother who fears the narrator will "follow and forget her" just like Rhiannon's father did. Once Rhiannon, now adult, steals them back, her already brittle relationship with her mother is all but shattered until finally, the family secrets are revealed.

Lovely, hopeful, sad, dramatic, this one is a story I'll remember for a while.

James Melzer is a messed-up dude, as anyone who's listened to his podcast novels already knows. Hull's Landing is some creepy, distressing stuff, and whenever Permuted Press/Pocket Books gets around to finally letting the world see his Zombie Chronicles in print, well, I just hope that his singular take on those monsters remains intact.

Melzer and wife Jennifer Hudock were releasing short fiction for the Kindle before it was cool, long before "Kindle Singles" were a thing. His shorts are all part of a grouping he refers to as "Deviant Dollar" but don't need to be read in any particular order. I chose this one because it was hot out, and because I like the idea of a menacing, scary snowman.* Just look at that cover!

Snowmen concerns Edgar, who lives by himself in rural Pennsylvania but who has lots of company in the wintertime, when people come from all over the place to see his display of, yes, snowmen, all of them works of art. Every year a different theme, every year an elaborate scene, sculpted in snow, kept pristine by a weekly wee-hours glaze of water from the hose to freeze and protect. All perfectly innocent, right?

Well, sort of. I mean, Melzer is a horror writer... Heh heh heh.


Snowmen is also available over at Smashwords.

*Heck, I like the idea of any snowman. Wyoming gets plenty of snow, but its water content is so low that it doesn't pack well enough to make more than a small, powdery snowball.

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