SUNDAY SHORTS: Seanan McGuire Destroys Air Travel

The “Sunday Shorts” feature is dedicated to reviewing short stories and novellas, two forms I absolutely love.

My full-time job requires me to travel fairly frequently (anywhere from one to three weeks, depending on the month) and much of that travel is by air across the continental United States. I’m pretty comfortable with the process at this point (airport security and airplane seating being what they are), although I find that I’m likely to get motion sick if I try to read or watch anything during takeoff, landing or even slight turbulence. I’ve been in one (admittedly minor) emergency landing and experienced plenty of rough air and less-than-pleasant customer service on the ground. But I’m not afraid of any aspect of flying.

Even so, two recent short stories by Seanan McGuire, both posted on her Patreon, made me squirm uncomfortably. “Carry On” was first published last year (and is reprinted in this month’s Nightmare magazine) while “Emergency Landing” is this month’s Patreon story. Each turns a different aspect of air travel in an opportunity for emotional/psychological horror.

In our present day, airlines are charging more and more for “incidentals” (in-flight snacks and entertainment, extra leg-room, checked and carry-on luggage). “Carry On” is a brutal look at a possible future where the price of fuel justifies airlines charging passengers not just for the combined weight of their carry-on luggage, but also for the weight of the passenger and their clothing. Step on a scale with your bags, and be judged before entering security. Mary, the focal-point character, has saved for ages to be able to fly cross-country to see her sister and meet her new niece; but getting past the weigh-in without having to pay, in money and embarrassment, is not easy. McGuire really captures the indignities heaped, even now, upon travelers who are overweight. The tension of the wait, the bad weigh-in, the events that follow, the recognizable emotions Mary feels at the end, are all so real. Mary feels isolated even in a large terminal with hundreds of other people experience the same trauma she is. This is the second time I’ve read the story, and it once again made me cry for the main character.

“Emergency Landing” takes place almost entirely on a plane already in the air. The narrator describes her dash to make her connecting flight out of Atlanta, her initial impressions of her seat-mates, and then the plane takes off – just before the narrator sees missiles streak towards the airport they’ve just departed. The rest of the story is a tense game of “how much do we tell the passengers about what’s happening on the ground” and “what do we do about landing since our fuel can’t last forever.” The emotional stakes are just as high as in “Carry On,” but from a different direction. While Mary feels invisible among her fellow travelers, Caitlin feels too seen because of what they think she knows. The story moves fast as Caitlin’s fellow passengers move from anguish to fear to false bravado and Caitlin must decide whether sharing her knowledge will make things better or worse. It’s not often I describe stories or books as leaving me breathless, but this one did.  I also think that had this appeared in an anthology (it would have been perfect for Stephen King and Bev Vincent’s recent Flight or Fright), it would appear under Seanan’s Mira Grant name, given that the main character is an epidemiologist.

READING ROUND-UP: MAY 2018

Being the fourth of my monthly reading summaries for 2018. Here’s what I read in May:

BOOKS

To keep my numbers consistent with what I have listed on Goodreads, I count completed magazine issues and stand-alone short stories in ebook format as “books.” I read or listened to 15 books in May: 9 in print, 2 in audio, and 4 in ebook format. They were:

1.       Lightspeed Magazine #96 (May, 2018) edited by John Joseph Adams. The usual great assortment of science fiction and fantasy short stories and non-fiction. Favorites this issue were Martin Cahill’s “Godmeat,”, Kodiak Julian’s “Our Side of the Door”, Xia Jia’s “Night Journey of the Dragon Horse,” and Tobias Buckell’s “Sunset.”

2.        E is for Evil edited by Rhonda Parrish. The latest in Poise and Pen Publishing’s “Alphabet anthologies” is another fun collection of stories of varying lengths built around the title theme, in this case “evil” in all its forms. The fun of this series is not knowing the story title (“A is for [fill in the blank]”) until after the story concludes. Some entries are easy to guess, some are nice surprises that make you look at the story differently after the fact. Two of my favorites in this volume were by Beth Cato and Jeanne Kramer-Smyth.

3.       Scourged (Iron Druid Chronicles #9) by Kevin Hearne. The concluding volume, at least for now, in Hearne’s Iron Druid Chronicles is, without spoilers, a very satisfactory finish: every major plot and pretty much every sub-plot introduced in the previous 8 novels and various novellas and short stories is wrapped up without sacrificing story flow, action, or urgency. It literally has all been leading to this. If I have any complaint, it’s that Owen’s subplot feels a bit too disconnected from the rest of the book.

4.       Perennial: a garden romance by Mary Anne Mohanraj. A beautiful little romantic novella featuring a cancer patient, a flower-shop owner, and poetry the author wrote during her own cancer struggle. I re-read it several times, and posted a longer review a few weeks ago.

5.       Iceman Vol 2: Absolute Zero by Sina Grace and Robert Gill. I enjoyed the second volume of Grace’s run as writer on Iceman’s solo series almost as much as I enjoyed the first volume. Grace continues to show the coming out process for the occasional mess it can be – I can’t pick out just one or two moments out of the many that felt so real. As a fan of relatively-obscure super-teams, I loved the way Grace scripted, and Robert Gill illustrated, the reunion of Marvel’s 1970’s Champions team in the first half of the book.

6.       Strange Weather by Joe Hill. This collection of four novellas felt sort of hit-or-miss to me. “Snapshot” (narrated on the audiobook by Wil Wheaton) and “Rain” (narrated by Kate Mulgrew) were my favorites: tightly-told stories in first person POV with high stakes that were believable despite the supernatural aspects. “Aloft” (narrated by Dennis Boutsikaris) felt about a third too long for the story Hill was trying to tell. “Loaded” (narrated by Stephen Lang) is a topical and politically charged story that feels like it should be an “all-star cast” ensemble movie.

7.       The Golem of Deneb Seven and Other Stories by Alex Shvartsman. A really wonderful collection of science fiction and fantasy stories, many of them humorous. Favorites included the title story and “The Race for Arcadia.” Posted a review earlier this week.

8.       The Wicked and the Divine Vol 2: The Faust Act by Keiron Gillen, Jamie McElvie, Matt Wilson. The first volume of a graphic novel series that’s been around a while but which I’m just getting around to reading. The premise (every 90 years or so, a small handful of gods are incarnated into human form to influence world culture) feels simple enough, but within the first 25 pages the story starts to take interesting turns. And of course the volume ends with a hook (but not a cliffhanger) to get you to keep reading. McElvie’s art is expressive and dynamic.

9.       Captain Marvel, Vol 1: Higher, Faster, Stronger, by Kelly Sue DeConnick and David Lopez. There’s a lot of DC and Marvel stuff I’ve been meaning to read, including DeConnick’s run as writer on Captain Marvel. I suspect I started with the wrong “volume 1,” as back-of-book ads and story subplots indicate there’s an earlier DeConnick run I probably should have read first. Nonetheless I found the story accessible for someone who hasn’t picked monthly comics up in years. The story builds and has legitimately interesting twists (rather than twists present for shock’s sake alone). Lopez’s art is clean and stream-lined.

10.   Red Sonja / Claw the Unconquered: The Devil’s Hand by John Layman, Andy Smith. I loved both of these characters back in the day. I only liked this story. It was decent, but I didn’t feel drawn in to either the story or captivated by the art.

11.   Hercules: Still Going Strong by Dan Abnett and Luke Ross. I remember ads for Marvel’s “all-new, all-different Hercules” run, but didn’t realize it was short enough to fit into one graphic novel and basically incomplete. I like what Abnett attempted to do, turning what we know about Marvel’s Hercules upside down, and was intrigued by the new gods / old gods threat (shades of Neil Gaiman’s “American Gods”). I would have liked to have seen where he would have gone with the story given more than six monthly issues. And I really liked how detailed and realistic Luke Ross’s art was.

12.   You Will Meet A Stranger Far From Home: Wonder Stories by Alex Jeffers. A really solid collection of fantasy (or fantasy-tinged) stories featuring a cast of gay, mostly Arabic characters and hinging heavily on Middle Eastern legends and mythology. One or two of the stories have fantasy aspects that are barely even noticeable, and several of the stories are clearly inter-connected. Favorites included "Tattooed Love Boys," "Jannicke's Cat," "Farouz and His Brother" / "Haida and His Dog," and "Wheat, Barley, Lettuce, Fennel, Salt for Sorrow, Blood for Joy."

13.   Solacers: An Iranian Oliver Twist Story by Arion Golmakani. One of my “To Be Read” 2018 challenge titles, a more detailed review will be forthcoming on the blog. Short version is that I found this an intriguing look at Iranian culture before the Shah fell couched in a very personal, and often very painful, life story.

14.   Madman Walking (Janet Moodie #2) by L.F. Robertson I found the second entry in the Janet Moodie legal thriller series easily accessible even not having read the first entry. As I was sent an ARC of this to review, there will be a more detailed review coming up next week on the blog.

15.   The Witch Boy by Molly Knox Ostertag. A really wonderful middle-grade graphic novel about a magical family in which the boys are shapeshifters and the girls witches, and in which very strong gender roles are enforced, resulting in a dark family secret that title character Aster must deal with. The art is expressive without being over-detailed, never quite jumping into cartoony. A world I hope the author will continue to revisit.

That’s 15 books in February, to a Year-To-Date total of 68, which Goodreads says me puts me 26 books ahead of schedule for my 100 Books Challenge.  Solacers was this month’s read for the 2018 To Be Read Challenge. I read 6 graphic novels for the “one graphic novel per week” reading challenge (I’m at 23 graphic novels for the year, and as the last full week of May was week #21 of 2018 I’m now a little ahead for the year-to-date). Solacers also counted towards the Bustle Challenge. I didn’t read anything towards any of my “Complete the Series” challenges in May. All but the To Be Read Challenge were described HERE.

 

STORIES

I have a goal of reading 365 short stories (1 per day, essentially, although it doesn’t always work out that way) each year. Here’s what I did read and where you can find them if you’re interested in reading them too (with some short notes for stories that really stood out to me). If no source is noted, the story is from the same magazine or book as the story(ies) that precede(s) it:

1.       “Sunset” by Tobias Buckell, from Lightspeed #96, May 2018, edited by John Joseph Adams

2.       “We Will Be All Right” by Carolyn Ives Gilman

3.       “The Crystal Spheres” by David Brin

4.       “A Green Moon Problem” by Jane Lindskold

5.       “Godmeat” By Martin Cahill

6.       “Night Journey of the Dragon Horse” by Xia Jia (translated from Chinese by Ken Liu)

7.       “Our Side of the Door” by Kodiak Julian

8.        “His Artist Wifee” by John Grant

9.       “Great Work of Time” by John Crowley

10.    “Goodnight, Sleep Tight” by Seanan McGuire, from the author’s Patreon page

11.   “Snapshot” by Joe Hill, from the author’s collection Strange Weather

12.   “Loaded” by Joe Hill

13.   “Aloft” by Joe Hill

14.   “Rain” by Joe Hill

15.   “We Go Together” by Eric McMillan, from One Story #239 (March 15, 2018)

16.   “Mt. Adams at Mar Vista” by Gwen E. Kirby, from One Story #240 (April 19, 2018)

17.   “Sanguinary Scar” by E. Catherine Tobler, from Black Static #62 (March/April, 2018)

18.   “The Golem of Deneb Seven” by Alex Shvartsman, from the author’s collection The Golem of Deneb Seven and Other Stories

19.   “A Perfect Medium for Unrequited Love” by Alex Shvartsman

20.   “Burying Treasure” by Alex Shvartsman

21.   “Noun of Nouns: A Mini-Epic” by Alex Shvartsman

22.   “Whom He May Devour” by Alex Shvartsman

23.   “Letting Go” by Alex Shvartsman

24.   “The Fiddle Game” by Alex Shvartsman

25.   “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Monsters” by Alex Shvartsman

26.   “Islands in the Sargasso” by Alex Shvartsman

27.   “Catalogue of Items in the Chess Exhibit at the Humanities Museum, Pre-Enlightenment Era” by Alex Shvartsman

28.   “Fifteen Minutes” by Alex Shvartsman

29.   “Masquerade Night” by Alex Shvartsman

30.   “The Poet Kings and the Word Plague” by Alex Shvartsman

31.   “Golf to the Death” by Alex Shvartsman

32.   “Staff Meeting, As Seen By the Spam Filter” by Alex Shvartsman

33.   “Invasive Species” by Alex Shvartsman

34.   “One in a Million” by Alex Shvartsman

35.   “Grains of Wheat” by Alex Shvartsman

36.   “The Ganthu Eggs” by Alex Shvartsman

37.   “The Practical Guide to Punching Nazis” by Alex Shvartsman

38.   “Dante’s Unfinished Business” by Alex Shvartsman

39.   “Forty-Seven Dictums of Warfare” by Alex Shvartsman

40.   “How Gaia and Guardian Saved the World” by Alex Shvartsman

41.   “He Who Watches” by Alex Shvartsman

42.   “Recall Notice” by Alex Shvartsman

43.   “Dreidel of Dread: The Very Cthulhu Chanukah” by Alex Shvartsman

44.   “Die, Miles Cornbloom” by Alex Shvartsman

45.   “A Man in an Angel Costume” by Alex Shvartsman

46.   “Future Fragments, Six Seconds Long” by Alex Shvartsman

47.   “Parametrization of Complex Weather Patterns for Two Variables” by Alex Shvartsman

48.   “The Race for Arcadia” by Alex Shvartsman

49.   “Departures” by Sara Batkie, from One Story #241 (May 17, 2018)

50.   “Wheat, Barley, Lettuce, Fennel, Salt for Sorrow, Blood for Joy” by Alex Jeffers, from the author’s collection You Will Meet A Stranger Far From Home

51.   “The Arab’s Prayer” by Alex Jeffers

52.   “Then We Went There” by Alex Jeffers

53.   “Farouz and His Brother” by Alex Jeffers

54.   “Turning” by Alex Jeffers

55.   “Haida and His Dog” by Alex Jeffers

56.   “Jannicke’s Cat” by Alex Jeffers

57.   “Liam and the Wild Fairy” by Alex Jeffers

58.   “Bann’s Dream of the Sea” by Alex Jeffers

59.   “Tattooed Love Boys” by Alex Jeffers

 

So that’s 59 short stories in May, way more than one per day, bringing me Year-To-Date to 177 stories. As May 30th was the 151th day of the year, this puts me 26 stories ahead of schedule for the year so far.

2017 Reading By The Numbers

In which I analyze exactly what I read, in what formats and genres and such-like. (I like my personal counts to match my Goodreads page, so I count fully-read magazine issues and individually-published short stories and novellas as “books.”)

 

BOOKS

I exceeded my Goodreads initial goal of 100 books, and my updated Goodreads goal of 125. I did not attempt “To Be Read” Challenge this year.

TOTAL READ: 139

FICTION: 131

·         Anthologies: 8

o   Horror: 1

o   Christmas: 1

o   Weird West: 1

o   Transgender Spec Fic: 1

o   Pulp Adventure: 1

o   Science Fiction 2

o   Crime: 1

·         Chapbooks: 2 (both pulp adventure)

·         Single-Author Story Collections: 10

o   Horror: 1

o   Christmas: 1

o   Crime: 1

o   Mystery: 5

o   Science Fiction: 1

o   Mythology: 1

·         Graphic Novels: 37

o   Super-Heroes: 17

o   Horror: 8

o   Crime: 2

o   Comedy: 1

o   Fantasy: 2

o   Urban Fantasy: 2

o   YA Urban Fantasy: 3

o   YA Comedy: 1

o   Pulp Adventure: 1

·         Magazines: 12 (all Lightspeed)

·         Novels: 38

o   Alt-History Fantasy: 2

o   Christmas: 2

o   Fantasy: 8

o   YA Fantasy: 2

o   Urban Fantasy: 4

o   Historical Fantasy: 1

o   Steampunk: 2

o   Science Fiction: 5

o   YA Science Fiction: 1

o   Crime/Mystery: 5

o   Super-Heroes: 1

o   Horror: 3

o   Adventure: 1

o   YA Literary: 1

·         Novellas: 19

o   Christmas: 2

o   Alt-History Fantasy/Romance: 1

o   Science Fiction 5

o   Fantasy: 3

o   Mystery: 2

o   Horror: 2

o   Urban Fantasy: 3

o   Historical Fantasy: 1

·         Short Stories: 5

o   Romance: 1

o   Pulp Adventure: 1

o   Urban Fantasy: 2

o   Alt-History Fantasy/Romance: 1

 

 

NON-FICTION: 8

·         Memoirs: 7

o   Alison Arngrim

o   Carrie Fisher (x2)

o   Debbie Reynolds

o   Joel Grey

o   William Daniels

o   Dick Van Dyke

·         Book of Essays: 1 (Neil Gaiman)

 

 

OTHER DATA:

# OF AUTHORS/EDITORS/ARTISTS: roughly 107

SHORTEST READS: 20 pages (A Very Merry Blue Christmas; Caesar’s Children; In Sea-Salt Tears)

LONGEST READ: 459 (Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard: The Hammer of Thor)

FIRST BOOK READ IN 2017: Locke & Key Vol 1: Welcome to Lovecraft, by Joe Hill, Gabriel Rodriguez & others

FINAL BOOK READ IN 2017: The Bazaar of Bad Dreams by Stephen King

 

TOTAL # OF PAGES READ: 26, 987

AVERAGE # OF PAGES PER BOOK: 197

 

FORMAT SUMMARY:

·         Audio:27

·         Ebook: 26

·         Hardcover: 21

·         Softcover: 65

 

 

 

STORIES

I exceeded my goal of 365 short stories. I did not really track how many in each genre this year.

TOTAL READ: 380

# OF AUTHORS: 212

 

SOURCES:

·         Anthologies: 14

·         Single Author Collections: 9

·         Magazines: 10

·         Author Websites/Patreon/Self-Pubbed: 17

 

First Story Read in 2017: “Rate of Change” by James S.E. Corey, in Lightspeed #79

Final Story Read in 2017: “Pups” by Kate Folk, in One Story #235

"CHASING SATELLITES" IN AUDIO - Short Stories

I hope everyone is well and enjoying the December holidays as they roll across our calendar. Hard to believe 2015 is almost over. Hannukah has passed; Christmas and Solstice are almost here, and then it’s New Years. Kinda crazy.

I’ve had lots of work stuff going on, and have also been doing much writing and quite a bit of reading. I’m intending to do some year-end wrap-up posts here as a way of relaunching the site. I’ve been intending all year to revise the look of the site and start posting content again, but real life has been getting in the way.

This past Weds, one of my previously-published short stories, “Chasing Satellites” (from Bryan Thomas Schmidt’s Beyond The Sun anthology), was released in audio form on the StarShipSofa podcast. Narrator Rikki LaCoste did a fantastic job with the character voices, pacing and tension of the story; the producers did a fantastic job adding sound effects to enhance the story. I really love what they did, and I’m submitting another “reprint” to them soon. Check it out, on their website (direct link to the page for my story above) or find them on iTunes. Either way, it’s free. (Note: my story starts at about the 20 minute mark of the podcast. It’s preceded by a fascinating interview with Zoltan Istvan, and followed by a neat discussion of historical precedents for the Jedi Order.)