2016 Stories 96 - 104

Still trying to catch up. This entry is the fiction contents of the May 2016 issue of Lightspeed Magazine (#72), edited by John Joseph Adams:

96. THREE POINTS MASCULINE by An Owomoyela.  The setting is a brutal near-future civil warzone. The narrator is a City Guard soldier with a secret, one of two guards in charge of a Womens Volunteer Nursing Squad. The squad includes a trans* guy named John, with whom our narrator has some personality conflicts. Running triage in an evac area, the squad encounters revolutionaries, and things get both bloody and tense. The story is fast-paced and as I said brutal, but what raises the story up to "amazing" for me is the narrator's voice: the speech cadences, the idioms, the way the author addresses lost memory/time and the blur of combat and concussion.

97. TETHERED by Haris A. Durrani.  Charlie and Kalimi are junkship operators in high Earth orbit. Their latest commission seems secretive to Charlie and he turns out to be right: the zombie satellite they've been sent to decommission is actually still active. Complications abound. Durrani mixes in asides that range from actual historical (and for the reader, recent) events through a well-thought-out near future history of Earth's satellite debris field.

98. DEATHLIGHT by Mari Ness.  Els and Dun are a couple on their last deep space run, and they've encountered problems that will likely result in their deaths. They're drifting almost powerless across a nebula (which provides the "deathlight" of the title) when they encounter an object that looks man-made, in a place where nothing man-made should exist. Will it result in a chance for them to love? Ness really caputres the cold, the claustrophobia, the way circumstances can turn love to hate. Her descriptions of the confusion and vertigo the characters feel are terrific.

99. THE PHILOSOPHER'S STONE by Tora Greve.  A bit of "hidden history", applying SFnal concepts to real interactions between Dr. Isaac Barrow, Isaac Newton, Sir Robert Boyle, Robert Hooke, Captain Edmund Halley, FW Leibniz, John Locke and Christian Huygens, and involving Newton's theories, secret alien races and the Philosopher's Stone. A very dialogue- and idea-heavy story that reminded me of the great Philip Jose Farmer, (especially his novel The Other Log of Phileas Fogg).

100. NORTH OVER EMPTY SPACE by Tim Pratt.  Sigmund and Carlsbad work for The Table, an organization that hires out powered people for various covert jobs. On some downtime in North Carolina, Sigmund's power to  look into the past revealrs a woman with no past further than 3 months back. A really  neatly-told bit of urban fantasy with a fast-moving plot and no unnecessary digressions. Also interesting ruminations on the power of creation and the idea that power corrupts.

101. THE JAWS THAT BITE, THE CLAWS THAT CATCH by Seanan McGuire.  A girl from the Tulgey Wood travels to the City of Hearts to rescue her kidnapped younger sister. McGuire digs into a possible aftermath of the Alice in Wonderland story and gives us an interesting twist on not just one of Carroll's more famous creations but also on the structure of Wonderland as a whole. Highly recommended.

102. HUNGERFORD BRIDGE by Elizabeth Hand.  Fantastic world-building and characterization in such a short space. Hand gives us an encounter between our narrator and an old college friend that leds to the passing on of a secret. What that secret might be is teased througout the story. There's not a wasted word in the story and the narrator's voice is very engaging.

103. WEDNESDAY'S STORY by Wole Talabi.  Wednesday (the personification of the day of the week, not the child of Addams Family fame) narrates the true story behind the nursery rhyme / legend of "Solomon Grundy," including her involvement in it. A really cool, thoughtful take on the nature of stories, storytellers, authors, audiences and how stories, or the details of stories, migrate as the tales are passed down / handed on.

104. THE PLAGIARIST by Hugh Howey.  Adam Griffey mines computer-simulated worlds for works of fiction he can sell in the real world. This is a common practice in the time-frame of the story, but during his visits to these fake worlds Adam has fallen in love with a bookseller named Bellatrix. She doesn't know her world isn't real; Adam plods through his own existence wishing he could spend all of his time with her. The story gives the reader lots to think about regarding the nature of reality and our potential for developing virtual reality and realistic computer simulated worlds, and also touches on how far we can take the definition of "plagiarism."

2016 Stories 82 - 95

Still attempting to catch up, here are briefer-than-usual thoughts on the contents of the anthology Dark and Dangerous Things III, edited by M.A. Chiappetta, Donna A. Leahey and Margaret Perdue:

82. THE MOST VULNERABLE MOMENT by Donna A. Leahey.  The set-up is familiar: a man and a woman flirting in a dark bar. Considering the anthology theme, you know one of them is up to no good. I liked Leahey's development of atmosphere and tension through the dialogue.

83. BREADCRUMBS by Adrean Messmer.  Another familiar set-up: a man wishes his wife and kids a safe start to their vacation and then goes to work. The question is, where will the story go: is it a technology-gone-bad story? A "one spouse is hiding something" story? Or an "outside forces wreak havok" story?  Messmer kept me wondering until the final twist.

84. THE ELITE by Margaret Perdue.  Ah, teenage boys. They will get up to shenanigans to prove how brave they are, and their gang pecking order will always create complications. While the characters themselves never really rose above the roles they play, Perdue's descriptive abilities had me right there in the woods with the boys as they find, and make plans involving, a witch's grave.

85. THE ADVERSARY by Robert Soul.  We all know the tale of The Devil and Daniel Webster. Soul gives an interesting twist to the theme, tying it into the curse supposedly placed on General (later President) Harrison by Tenskwatawa. The story has both a gothic and surreal feel to it.

86. AT THE INTERSECTION OF BLAKE AND IRVING by Jack Burgos.  Deals with crossroads devils never go to plan, right? Burgos' protagonist is a trans* woman who wants magic to complete the transition -- but at what cost? Strong characterization and a nice twist or two.

87. THE BLACKEST CAT by M.A. Chiappetta.  One of my favorite stories in the anthology. A "secret society coming of age ritual" story featuring a strong female protagonist and a very persuasive black cat. The main character's past and present interweave, and the decision she must make is not an easy one, weighing personal responsibility against family expectation. Chiappetta had me wrapped up in the tension from Matalan's first step on the path through to the final sentence.

88. MELT WITH YOU by Adrean Messmer.  Two words: killer snow.  That's about all I can say. I love it when an author can take something commonplace and make it sinister.

89. THE CLIMB by Donna A. Leahey. Another "coming of age ritual" story featuring a strong female protagonist, and my second favorite story in the anthology. The residents of this village climb the nearby mountain in order to bond with an animal; men bond with high-end predators, women with industrious prey animals. The society is ranked according to bond-mate. Our narrator doesn't fit in with her father's people, but must undergo the ritual anyway. Really wonderful world-building and characterization. I can't help but wonder if there isn't a whole novel to be set here.

90. TILLY BY THE SEA by Margaret Perdue.  A nice piece of flash fiction, told in first person, that feels very ethereal.

91. XINSHENG by Jack Burgos. Another favorite of the book. Captain Alyssa Arreguin is in a bad spot: when it came her time to wake up and take her turn piloting the colony ship she is on (which the colonists and the rest of the crew are in cryogenic sleep for the long journey), she discovers her predecessor has left things a bit of a mess. Actually, more than a bit. How far will she go to protect her charges and deliver them safely, and how will she deal with the aftermath of her decisions?  Burgos does a wonderful job of putting us in Alyssa's head, and the other two characters are equally well drawn given their situation.

92. PICTURES OF YOU by Adrean Messmer. A piece of flash fiction that turns dark very stealthily.

93. FADED MAGIC by M.A. Chiappetta. Children know magic is everywhere; adults doubt magic even exists. Chiappetta's second story in the anthology shows us one girl's journey from belief to doubt and beyond.

94. THE BERENSTEIN EFFECT by Donna A. Leahey.  A really interesting exploration of the nature of the multiverse, centered on a man whose world falls apart. Reminded me of one of my favorite Astro City stories by Kurt Busiek and Brent Anderson.

95. #283: A PARANORMAL TALE by Robert Soul. A story of demonic possession that has one of the most spot-on, and terrifying, descriptions of sleep paralysis that I have ever read.

2016 Stories 73 - 81

This next catch-up post is for the stories appearing in the April 2016 issue of Lightspeed Magazine, #71, edited by John Joseph Adams:

73. CAUSE FOR A HAUNTING by Patricia Strand.   Kate and Shawn have bought a house with a haunted history. Is it really haunted by the couple who built it, or not? Some nice twists keep the story interesting. The focus on Kate, on her obsession with the ghost story and her apparent disinterest in being a mother, really propels the story but also makes it feel insular, almost claustrophobic.

74. ORIGIN STORY by Carrie Vaughn.  Mary lives in Commerce City, known for superheroes and super-villains. She’s making a deposit at the bank when a villain attacks, and recognizes in the body language a man from her past. From that start, the story could go in any number of directions; Vaughn teases them all out and slowly discards the options, through revealing snippets of the characters’ pasts, until the conclusion reached is the inevitable one. This made me move her novel set in this city to a higher position on the “to be read” piles.

75. COLLATERAL by Peter Watts.  Nandita Becker is a cyborg soldier caught in a bad situation: she’s killed civilians thanks to what appears to be a malfunction of her bioware. But a reporter, Amal , suspects more is at work. This is a really great study of a character with PTSD caused by an event she barely remembers taking part in, and how she finds the truth while navigating the minefield of memory, trauma, public opinion and government handlers. I realized where the story was going only moments before it went there, and it devastated me. (A second reading showed that the hints and nudges for the reader were well-placed and almost inconspicuous, but still present.)

76. THE BIRTH WILL TAKE PLACE ON A MUTUALLY ACCEPTABLE RESEARCH VESSEL by Michael Bailey.  I have a notoriously hard time with second person (“addressing the reader as ‘you’”) narration, but I’m getting better about it. In this story, “you” are the Earth woman about to give birth to the first Human-Tharkan (and thus the first human-alien) hybrid child. Bailey’s focus is on the feeling of helplessness, of being a pawn in political deal-making, of the difficulty of not knowing what form your child is going to be born in. But he also deals with the recognition of love and mutual attempts to cross the communications barrier between two similar but disparate races. The emotions throughout ring very true.

77. DRAGON BRIDES by Nghi Vo.  The unnamed narrator of Vo’s story survived being kidnapped by a dragon as a young girl and then being married to the man who rescued her. But what happens after “happily ever after”? Late in life she returns to the cave she’d been a prisoner in, to try to understand the dragon and his obsession with cold. I think Vo’s point is that we never get over transformative events (like kidnapping, violence, loss of identity) and may spend the rest of our lives trying to understand why that thing happened to us. (Should note: there is no evidence in the story that the main character was mistreated either by the dragon nor by the man who rescued and married her.)

78. LILY WITH CLOUDS by Theodora Goss.  Eleanor’s sister returns to town after being married to an artist in a bigger city. She is widowed and in end-stages of cancer, brings along a nurse whose romantic history is intertwined with hers. This is a portrait of two sisters who share almost nothing in common. Disdain is evident all over Eleanor, acceptance all over Lily.  Some really beautiful imagery softens the edges of the less-savory aspects of Eleanor’s character.

79. THE KNOBBY GIRAFFE by Rudy Rucker. Full opening admission: the science of the story lost me. But I related to the main character’s wish to discover some secret underpinning of the universe to correct the loss of her lover which she feels responsible for.

80. OF METAL MEN, SCARLET THREAD AND DANCING WITH THE SUNRISE by Ken Scholes.  After a call for help brings General Rudolpho to the destroyed city of Windimir, he discovers a metal man he names Isaak, who holds secrets of the destruction. Scholes crafts a tight tale of secret knowledge, the temptations of power, seduction, and choosing the right thing over the expedient thing. I was quickly and completely engrossed by the characters and setting. This is the second story in this issue that made me move a book (in this case a whole series) higher up the “to be read” piles.

81. INCIDENT ON A SMALL COLONY by Kristine Smith.  I have not read any of Smith’s Jani Kilian novels, so I can safely say one does not need to have read them to thoroughly enjoy this novella, which takes place a decade or more before the first novel. The story finds Jani living on the run under an assumed identity. I really feel like Smith nailed the PTSD elements for both Jani and another character. The action never slows – even the one or two intentionally “quiet” moments are tense and ready to explode. At novella length, there’s plenty of time for Smith to develop Jani’s character and the rest of the cast and lay out a few different red herrings for the reader before the highly satisfactory conclusion.


2016 Stories 64 - 72

This next batch of catch-up entries comes from the March, 2016 issue of Lightspeed magazine, #70, edited by John Joseph Adams:

64. RED KING by Craig Delancy.  Unnamed narrator who goes by the handle “CodeMonkey” is brought in on a police raid to arrest a known hacker named Legion, as the first step in tracking down a murder-causing bit of brain-hacking software called Red King. CodeMonkey experiments with the software to further the investigation. The story is taut, tense, and at points surreal. The author captures the sense of drug-induced paranoia and ego very well.

65. SPARKS FLY by Rich Larson.  Arthur is a “spark head,” a person whose body chemistry distorts and destroys electrical systems.  Spark Heads are subject to a lot of social stigma. Arthur is very interested in a woman named Christina, but heightened emotions cause his normally good control to falter. The story is both poignant and funny and of course also relatable – because so many of us have been in that position of trying to figure out when to tell the person we have feelings for about some secret shame we carry.

66. WELCOME TO THE MEDICAL CLINIC AT THE INTERPLANETARY RELAY STATION / HOURS SINCE LAST PATIENT DEATH: 0  by Caroline M. Yoachim.   Despite the dire title, this is an absolutely hysterical “Choose Your Own Adventure” style story. I giggled my way all the way through it. I don’t want to say much more because part of the humor is in the twists. You really have to experience this story.

67. THE MARS CONVENTION by Timons Esaias.  Bureaucrat Gesta attends a conference of Humanophiles on Mars, the closest planet to the now-molten legendary homeworld of humans: Earth. Representatives from nine races gather to debate the historical accuracies and fallacies of the only record Humanity left behind: the printed word, mostly in the form of science fiction novels. This is a great piece of satire aimed at academia and at politicians, a rumination on how historians work, and on the usefulness of scholarly discourse as relates to the sacredness of texts.

68. THE WAITING STARS by Alliete de Bodard.  The story of Lan Nhen’s attempt to rescue her great-aunt, the mindship The Turtle’s Citadel, from an Outsider isolation junkyard coincides with the story of Catherine, an Dien Viet girl “rescued” and raised by the Outsiders with no memory of her past. The two plots overlap in multiple ways and of course eventually come together. Both feature strong female characters who expertly counterpoint each other, allowing the story to comment on birth, motherhood, abandonment of the elderly, cultural norms, acceptance of differences, and assimiliation. It’s a lot to pack into one story, and de Bodard is really on her game.

69. THE PREMATURE BURIALS by Andy Duncan.  Matthew Preble is obsessed with coffins from the age of eight. As an adult, he marries Charity Gorce. Charity places one condition on their marriage agreement: that when she dies, her husband will be buried next to her. Complications ensue in this expert Gothic-Comedy mash-up. It’s a bit of Poe mingled with a bit of Monty Python without ever veering into broad slapstick.

70. RAT-CATCHER by Seanan McGuire.  London, 1666. This is the “secret origin” of Tybalt, King of the Cait Sidhe, from McGuire’s October Daye urban fantasy series. As with so much of McGuire’s series, this story trades heavily on Shakespearean imagery and themes. We see Rand, Prince of Cats, struggle with his role in his father’s court, with his sisters, and with a  prophecy that London is about to burn. Rand/Tybalt reminded me very much of Prince Hal/Henry V from Shakespeare’s works. The story has wonderful pacing and drama, strong characterization and character arcs, and sharp dialogue. I’m only two books into the October Daye novels, so I think I can safely say you can read this story without getting hit with any major series spoilers (partly because it’s a prequel, I’m sure).

71. MICHAEL DOESN’T HATE HIS MOTHER by Marie Vibbert.   Michael and Julie’s mother is a malfunctioning machine that randomly destroys possessions and tries to trap the children within their home. Michael often escapes to play with friends, but he’s afraid that mother’s violence must eventually come to light. A devastating, pointed tale of child neglect and abuse told in SF terms.

72. MILLER’S WIFE by Mark W. Tiedemann.  Egan Ginter’s attempt to get away from a failed relationship lands him at a friend’s cabin in the remote valley town of Saltecroix. His first interactions with the locals are not exactly smooth as he becomes embroiled in the town drama revolving around Brice Miller and his wife Esther. The novella length allows Tiedemann to tease out the mystery and add some ancillary plots and character development to give the reader a sense that the valley is home to a number of interesting people.

2016 Stories 62-63

Still playing catch-up to what I've read. These two stories are from the anthology Robbed of Sleep, Volume 4 (in which, full disclosure, my short story "Yeti" appears). I haven't read the whole book yet.

62. BUBBLEGUM by Troy Blackford.  Blackford, who also edited the book, here spins a delightfully bizarro story of expanding, almost living bubblegum used as a way to trap victims for a mentally disturbed young man who is himself a prisoner. The story starts with a disturbing scene on a woman's front porch and just gets weirder, and more violent, as it goes along. Definitely one of those stories that makes you say "WTF" and "What is he going to do next?" in alternating breaths.

63. AUTOMATIC WRITING by Justin Bloch.  Bloch gives us one of the longer tales in the book, narrated in the first person by a well-known writer now potentially living through his own ghost story. Or maybe not -- I like the way Bloch really leaves most of the story open to interpretation as to whether the writer, who has suffered a tragic loss, is being haunted or not. It's a wistful story, full of love and regret and hope and our human penchant for looking for signs all around us.

2016 Stories 59 - 61

Way, way, way, way, way behind on posting story reviews here. Here's a slight attempt to start catching up.

Today's entry is three interconnected stories by seanan_mcguire that are a part of her InCryptid universe. They take place in the year gap (character time) between when Verity Price and Dominic deLuca leave NYC at the end of Midnight Blue-Light Special (book two in the series) and when they arrive in Oregon prior to the start of Chaos Choreography (book 5). There's no need for me to spoil what prompted this cross-country year-long trek; if you haven't done so, go read the novels -- or, if you don't mind mild spoilers, use these stories as your introduction to the world.

Story 59: The Ghosts of Bourbon Street

This is the first of three novellas that fill in the year-long gap between McGuire’s InCryptid novels Midnight Blue Light Special and Chaos Choreography. Falling on the short end of novella-dom, it’s a tightly-written, quckly-paced tale that trades on character more than action. As the start of a trilogy of linked tales, it sets stages (Verity and Dominic are road-tripping across the country, stopping wherever Verity’s whim or a Cryptid-in-need takes them) that will pay off both in the trilogy-of-shorts and eventually in the InCryptid novels. But it also stands very well on its own, with a solid beginning, middle and end. (Having read McGuire’s linked short stories of Verity’s great-grandparents Fran and John, I expected no less.) Drinks with Aunt Rose (the main character from McGuire’s novel Sparrow Hill Road) leads to a mystery that needs to be solved. We get to explore a bit of the ghostly side of this universe that we don’t really see in the novels, we get a better sense of Rose’s connection to the family, and we get some character development for Verity and Dominic.

We also get a little bit of a fight scene, because what would a Price family story bet without at least one punch being thrown? But unlike the novels, this story’s fight doesn’t lead to some massive game-change for Verity’s world. Although, one never knows what McGuire has planned further down the road.

Story 60: Snake in the Glass

This is the second of three novellas that fill in the year-long gap between McGuire’s InCryptid novels Midnight Blue Light Special and Chaos Choreography. This time, Verity is introducing Dominic to extended family. There’s a lot of character building for Dominic in particular. In fact, in its own quiet way, this is the story that convinced me Dominic is sincere about leaving the Covenant behind and joining the Price family. The story has a slower pace than the stories that precede and follow it, giving the reader as much a respite from the usually-hectic pace of the InCryptid world as Verity herself gets. Readers familiar with the Carmichael from its appearance in some of the Fran-and-John InCryptid stories will enjoy catching up with the gorgon family that runs the establishment; even more so I enjoyed another look into the gorgon community (and mentally couldn’t help contrasting this long-established urban settlement with the more rural settlement McGuire shows us in Half-Off Ragnarok). McGuire, as always, packs these 40 pages with a ton of world-building, character development and interpersonal development, but it never feels overwhelming.

Story 61: Swamp Bromeliad

This is the third of three novellas that fill in the year-long gap between McGuire’s InCryptid novels Midnight Blue-Light Special and Chaos Choreography.  These novellas are more than just an attempt by the author to fill in some of the “missing time” for Verity and Dominic while Verity’s brother Alex takes over the lead in the InCryptid novels. They’re linked not just by chronology but by theme. There’s a sense, reading them back to back, of both “the journey is the destination” and “the past is present.” Verity has been trying to soften Dominic’s first meeting with her parents and younger sister by introducing him to blood and extended family; he started this sequence meeting one ghost-aunt and ends it visiting with another. Mary Dunlavy has always watched out for the children of the Price family, and this visit is no different. One of the subtler tissues connecting all three novellas is that Verity’s aunts and uncle don’t do much more than observe: they’re watching to see how Dominic fits in, but I think almost as important they’re watching to see how Verity supports Dominic’s immersion into this world (of which he’s always been aware but has also always been an outsider to). This connectivity of family watching out for us, and judging, and hopefully finding worthy, the people we fall in love with, is something I didn’t consciously notice the first time I read each of these. 

It’s also always a delight when McGuire focuses on a previously unknown, or at least un-detailed, cryptid – this time it’s the killer plant “swamp bromeliad.”  And that’s another thing that ties these stories together: Dominic’s exposure to different types of cryptids in each story (ghosts in the first; gorgon society in the second; predatory plants in this one).  He’s likely familiar with the types thanks to his Covenant training, but we get to see him have some first hand experience – which involves making mistakes. That humanizes him even more.
  • talekyn

2016 Story 58

Today's story is a stand-alone novella published in ebook form by the author:

58. RESUME SPEED by Lawrence Block.  There are many facets of fiction-writing that Lawrence Block is an acknowledged master of, in either short story or novel form or both. One of those is the "slow boil," especially in his shorter fiction. I realize that sounds like a contradiction in terms: how can a short piece have slower builds than a novel? The thing with a novel is, the slow build of tension is a necessity. The author has to set several plots to heating, and has to fill several hundred pages before any of them can come to a full boil. In novellas and short stories, that type of gradual increase in tension is much harder to pull off, and Block usually manages it well. So it's no surprise he does that here. In a scant 50 or so pages (Amazon says 60, but that includes cover and end matter), he introduces us to Bill Thompson, a wandering man. Bill is a nice guy, a hard worker, a charmer. But he's on the run from something. Block lets us go for almost half the story before we even start to get hints as to what that might be ... and it's not frustrating at all. We're so engrossed in  how Bill is settling into this small Montana town that he picked simply because he saw a "help wanted" sign in a restaurant window as his bus glided through town, that we're not really paying attention to the small clues the author is dropping that something's not quite right.

This novella is also a quiet story. No gunfights, no graphic sex (the main character does have sex, but Block modestly glosses over it), no thefts, not even a bar-fight. And that makes the slow boil even more effective. Because of how intimate and quiet and nice most of the story is, because of how "in Bill's head" we get, the ending hits even harder. I saw what was coming, hoped to hell I was wrong, and walked away feelling it was both inexorable and inevitable.
  • talekyn

2016 Story 57

Today's story comes from the anthology UNBOUND: Tales By Masters of Fantasy, edited by Shawn Speakman.

57. JURY DUTY by Jim Butcher.  Harry Dresden (wizard of the White Court and bearer of the mantle of the Winter Knight), recently returned to life in Chicago (after events of the past few novels, the pertinent points of which are quickly summarized), gets stuck on the jury for a murder trial: an ex-con is accused of killing a prominent businessman, but something about the story of course doesn't add up. It wouldn't be a Dresden story if there wasn't more than initially meets the eye going on.

I feel like it's been a while since we've had a genuinely goofy, funny Dresden short story. Even the three story "Working For Bigfoot" sequence felt a bit darker than the earliest Dresden shorts (although not as dark as the more recent shorts/novellas narrated by John Marcone, Molly Carpenter and others). This is not to say the story doesn't have any stakes -- a young girl's life and a man's future hang in the balance of Harry deciphering what's really going on -- but there's more of Harry's trademark snark and confidence in evidence, and that's always a good thing. The twists of the plot are neither predictable nor shocking; they're just right for a story of this length starring this character. The story itself does not hinge on the events of the novels, and the few continuity mentions there are are aimed solely at putting the story in chronological context.

Oh, and extra kudos to Butcher for including Will Borden, one of my favorite Dresden supporting characters.
  • talekyn

2016 Story 56

The final story from Clockwork Phoenix 5, edited by Mike Allen:

56. THE SOULS OF HORSES by Beth Cato.  Man, what a fantastic way to conclude this anthology. Cato's story takes place in an alternate history where magic exists. The full extent of the magic isn't quite addressed in the story, but the reader does know that there are those with the ability to move the souls of dying horses into wooden homes -- carousel horses and statues and the like -- if the horse so wishes. But of course, in times of war all inventions are co-opted to the war effort. So Ilsa finds herself conscripted by the Confederate Army to transfer the souls of horses dying from battle wounds into new homes. But not the stationary homes she's always been able to carve for them. The story takes a dark look at how even art is subverted to the war effort but is still full of hope. I fell in love with the characters of Ilsa and Culver, and was curious at the relationship between slave Culver and his master Lieutenant Dennis, and was not happy at the methods Captain Mayfair uses to press Ilsa into service (nothing sexual, mind you. Just underhanded.)  I'd love to see more stories with these characters and in this world.
  • talekyn

2016 Story 55

Second-to-last story in Clockwork Phoenix 5, edited by Mike Allen:

55. INNUMBERABLE GLIMMERING LIGHTS by Rich Larson.  Four Warm Currents is a scientist who believes the ice that covers his watery world can be broken through, that there is another world to explore on the other side. The powers-that-be in his world fund his research, but the closer he comes to success with his Drill, the more the fear and concern of the general populace threatens to destroy the project. Larson's story has a lot to say about how we approach exploration and research, and how easy it is for fear and rumor to way-lay world-changing work. Even with that big picture, the story is still about one person's attempts to reach his life goal, and how his determination affects his family (in this case, two spouses and a soon-to-be-born pod of children).  I loved the story not just for the characters but also for the wonderful non-human world-building Larson did, making not just the physicality of the characters and the history of their society threads in the story fabric, but also crafting a method of communication that is so different from the senses we use to consciously communicate.