Tag Archives: free online

The Knowers by Helen Phillips

I finished our most recent read aloud, and this year have decided to intersperse short stories between the novels (instead of poetry). The trick is deciding on a decent story to read. I found this one on a list Oprah made.

Published: 2013 at Electric Lit (free to read at that link if you’d like)

Genre: scifi short story

Setting: some time in the near future up to April 17, 2043

Summary: The narrator finds out she will die on April 17, 2043 and it colors the rest of her life Continue reading

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The Great Silence by Ted Chiang

This is the last story I have to read from Ted Chiang’s collection, Exhalation: Stories. It’s not the last story in the collection, but the last two were nominated for Hugos this year so I already read them.

Published: 2016 at Electric Lit (where you can read it online for free)

Genre: science fiction short story

Length: 6 pages

Setting: Earth, present day

Summary: A parrot discusses humanity’s search for extraterrestrial intelligence and blindness to intelligence in other earthly species Continue reading

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Canst Thou Draw Out the Leviathan by Christopher Caldwell

This is the next Ignyte Award short story nominee for 2020.

Published: 2019 in Uncanny Magazine

Genre: historical fantasy

Setting: early 1800s whaling ship out of Nantucket

Short summary: John, the Black carpenter, and his lover are the only survivors from a whaling ship accident when the whales rise up against the whalers Continue reading

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What’s Expected of Us by Ted Chiang

This is the third story in Ted Chiang’s collection, Exhalation: Stories.

Published: originally in July, 2005 in Nature (where you can read it free online)

Genre: science fiction short story

Length: 4 pages

Setting: some time in the future

Short summary: People discover there’s no such thing as free will when scientists invent a negative time delay circuit Continue reading

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After the Siege by Cory Doctorow

This was the first Doctorow book I read. I had heard interesting things about Doctorow and picked up a free audiobook to check him out. Doctorow has made the novella available as part of the free audiobook Overclocked. He was the reason I list the publication date instead of the copyright date. Doctorow doesn’t copyright his books. Instead, he publishes them under a creative commons license.

Published: 2007

Genre: speculative fiction novella

Length: 66 pages

Setting: vaguely modeled after the Siege of Leningrad, near future

Summary: Short version: War comes to the city Continue reading

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Hugo Awards Best Novelette Nominees

I’m slowly working my way through the Hugo Awards packet. Next up are the novelettes, which the Hugos define as anything that has between 7,500 and 17,500 words. Again, I’ll link to any of the stories that can be read online. If they’re not available free online, I’ll link to their publication on Amazon. If you follow that link and buy the book or story, you’ll be supporting my blog – thanks.

“The Archronology of Love” by Caroline M. Yoachim

Published: April, 2019 in Lightspeed Magazine

Genre: science fiction novelette

Setting: far future colony of New Mars

Summary: A team of archeologists who travel back in time arrive at the colony of New Mars to research why the colony has been wiped out. They discover the alien artifacts found on the planet used nanites to assimilate all organic matter in the colony.

Final thoughts: An interesting story that worked on multiple levels. You definitely had to think about what was going on in order to understand the story. First of all, there are interspersed elements of the story in italics that I slowly realized was the aliens talking, and not the narrator. Second, there’s the intriguing elements of archronology – the archeological study of time instead of space. Then, there’s the story of grief as our narrator is heading to the colony where her husband was supposed to meet her, but everyone is dead. Yoachim achieved a nice balance of emotion balanced with the science. A good start to the selections.

Title comes from: The narrator was an archronologist (an archeologist who traveled back in time to study a location) whose lifelove died on the colony she was studying

“Away With the Wolves” by Sarah Gailey

Published: September/October, 2019 issue of Uncanny Magazine

Genre: fantasy novelette

Setting: a medieval technology village

Summary: Suss feels guilty that she usually chooses to live as a wolf instead of as a human with chronic pain. Her best friend helps her come up with a better solution to that dilemma, which involves making a wolf friend.

Final thoughts: Gailey did a great job setting up the moral dilemma of this story. Should Suss stay human, as her mom wanted her to do, and live with chronic pain and exhaustion all the time? Or should Suss stay wolf, where she doesn’t hurt anymore, but she does destroy parts of the village at times? Suss thinks it’s an either or question. She’s been using her wolf form as a haven, but it’s starting to cause problems in the village. She’s ready to give it up and stay a human (and in pain) forever. Luckily, she’s got a good friend that can see there is another solution. She flips the situation around and has Suss integrate herself into village life as a wolf, who occasionally becomes human when it’s important enough. Probably my second favorite of the bunch.

“The Blur in the Corner of Your Eye” by Sarah Pinsker

Published: July/August 2019 issue of Uncanny Magazine

Genre: horror novelette

Setting: a backwoods cabin in West Virginia, present day

Summary: A writer heads to a cabin in the mountains to focus on writing her next novel. She finds a dead body and discovers she harbors a creature inside herself that comes out to lay its eggs whenever she’s out in the woods writing. Good thing she has a great assistant who knows what’s going on and covers everything up.

Final thoughts: This story surprised me on a regular basis. Reading a story nominated for the Hugos means I’m always on the lookout for the fantastical elements of the story. This one took a while to get to the fantastical part, but that made the emotional payout when the creature crawls out of the writer’s mouth so much stronger. It also made me reinterpret everything I had read so far in a new light. Little things, like how the assistant smelled like cumin or why she was afraid of the crawlspace, now made sense. It all fit together beautifully, and made me love the assistant and what she does for her friend even more. High quality story – I think this was my favorite.

Title comes from: It’s a description of how you see the creature

“For He Can Creep” by Siobhan Carroll

Published: July, 2019 at Tor.com

Genre: fantasy novelette

Setting: a lunatic asylum, it felt like the late 1800s

Summary: Jeoffry, the cat, is tempted by the devil to allow Satan to talk to his his master, a poet confined to an insane asylum. Jeoffry has to ask his cat friends for help in defeating Satan once he realizes the devil tricked him.

Final thoughts: This story is made more interesting because it’s told from the point of view of a cat. I was never quite sure if the demons the cat saw were demons or just big mice. It did make several scenes more amusing, like when Satan gives the standard “all this can be yours if you bow down and worship me” and the cat’s response is, “You should be worshiping me.” Or when the cat has to ask for, God forbid, help. Also, my favorite character was the cute little kitten named The Nighthunter Moppet, who would alternate between adorably distracted kitten to fearsome hunter. The cats realize they can’t kill Satan, but they can save the poet. Very fun story.

Title comes from: In order to beat Satan at his own game, Jeoffry had to creep by him and ignore the giant cat fight going on

“Omphalos” by Ted Chiang

Published: 2019 in Exhalation: Stories, a short story collection by Ted Chiang

Genre: historical science fiction

Setting: mid-1800s United States

Summary: Our narrator is a female scientist who lives in a world where all science affirms the Christian God and the Biblical creation story. When an astronomer discovers a star and the galaxy rotating around another planet, everyone has to rethink their conception of being created by God to be the center of the Universe.

Final thoughts: I found this to be a fascinating story, probably because at heart I am a scientist. It’s such an interesting thought experiment – what would the world be like if all of science affirmed the creation story presented in Genesis? How would that change a scientist’s approach to science? What would the science look like? And then, to have your belief of the world being created by God for something special upended by the discovery that the Universe rotates around a different planet. Such implications! How do you go on with your life? I appreciated Chiang’s analysis of our narrator’s inner drive. She’s not going to stop doing science because the external motivation has changed. She still enjoys the science. Now, it’s a free choice instead of something driven by God.

Title comes from: An omphalos is a central point around which everything else revolves. An astronomer in this world realizes that Earth is not the omphalos of their universe, which changes everything.

“Emergency Skin” by N. K. Jemisin – This won the 2020 Hugo award for Best Novelette

Published: 2019 as part of the Forward Collection of Amazon Original Stories

Genre: science fiction novelette

Setting: A future Raleigh, North Carolina

Summary: An explorer is sent back to Tellus to collect critical samples for the survival of the colony. Tellus/Earth was abandoned by the colony when the Founders determined there was no chance to survive on the ecologically ravaged Earth. Once the explorer reaches Earth, they realize the story the Founders have been telling doesn’t match the reality on Earth.

Final thoughts: I feel like this is a great example of an unreliable narrator. We never actually hear from the explorer, just from the AI explaining things inside their head and from people on Earth. It’s soon obvious that the situation on Earth is not what has been described. It seems that a bunch of greedy white supremacists left Earth because they thought it was doomed, and suddenly humanity was able to get it’s act together and work together to fix the global problems. Coincidence? I think not. Gradually the explorer realizes their life would be so much better if they stay on Earth, with all of it’s messy humanity, then go back to the rigidly controlled colony.

Title comes from: The explorer lived inside an environmental suit that controlled all of their needs. One of those needs was the ability to put a skin on the enclosed body in case of emergency.


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Hugo Nominated Short Stories

ConNew Zealand has become a virtual con. That means I can actually participate. Since I am an active member, I get to vote on the Hugo Awards this year. Members also get a packet full of all the nominees. I’m going to try to review all the different categories, starting with the short stories. I probably won’t be able to review all the nominees in each category at once after today, but I’ve at least I’ve got a chance with the short stories. While these stories were included in the Hugo Award packet, I’ve linked to their original locations so anyone can read them (or often listen to them) online for free.

“Do Not Look Back, My Lion” by Alix E. Harrow

Published: Beneath Ceaseless Skies, January 2019

Genre: fantasy short story

Setting: a medieval-technology world

Short summary: The Emperor finally break The Lion of Vox when she claims her daughter for the war

Final thoughts: A fine enough story. I found the relationships tricky to keep track of. Husband and wife referred to role, not gender. So, between the non-gendered names and the non-gendered roles, it was a bit tricky to keep track of the characters. The story was about broken promises and endless war and who is the strong one in a relationship.

Title comes from: It’s what the Lion’s husband says to her as she goes to assassinate the Emperor

“A Catalog of Storms” by Fran Wilde

Published: Uncanny Magazine, January/February 2019

Genre: fantasy short story

Setting: a medieval-technology world

Short summary: Some people in the village turn into weatherman who name the storms that are coming to protect the village

Final thoughts: Another fine enough story. The idea of some people sacrificing themselves to save the others is pretty standard. The storms attacking the village weren’t typhoons and hurricanes. They were fantastical storms, with names like a Vivid, Searcloud, or Ashpale, and equally fantastical effects. I found the end a bit anticlimactic.

“Ten Excerpts from an Annotated Bibliography on the Cannibal Women of Ratnabar Island” by Nibedita Sen

Published: Nightmare, May 2019

Genre: horror short story

Setting: a paper for a college class

Short summary: A research paper presenting different accounts of a cannibal tribe of women

Final thoughts: An interesting format, since it takes the shape of a research paper with excerpts and citations and everything. The story itself was odd and disjointed. Sen did provide ten different viewpoints on the native population, everything from eyewitness accounts of the first contact to social commentary about stories of cannibalism. I found the story to be more of a social commentary on women, with a thread of cannibalism. The cannibalism might have been important for procreation (there were comments on a mostly female line and another thread about how a pregnancy occurred after an episode of cannibalism at a British boarding school). Not really my cup of tea.

“Blood is Another Word for Hunger” by Rivers Solomon

Published: Tor, July 2019

Genre: historical fantasy short story

Setting: it felt to me like America, at the start of the Civil War

Short summary: A rebellious slave births ghosts whenever she kills someone

Final thoughts: This was another dark story. Sully has finally had enough of being a slave and kills her owners. That action connects her to the etherworld and allows her to give life to dead people there. This creates a family around her. Sully keeps herself apart, though. She has spent so long suppressing her emotions that it takes a long time before she allows herself to feel anything for those people around her. Sully wants to make a safe space for her new family, but soon realizes it won’t be safe until the whole world is safe.

“As the Last I May Know” by S. L. Huang

Published: Tor, October 2019

Genre: science fiction short story

Setting: it felt like a near-future Japan

Short summary: In order to get the codes to the ultimate weapon, a president must murder a child

Final thoughts: I love this story. It is so powerful. How to do you make sure the president has exhausted all other avenues before using the weapon that can destroy whole cities at a time? Insert the codes to activate that weapon into a child who lives with you during your presidency. If you want the codes, you have to kill the child yourself. If you can’t yourself to kill one person, why should you be able to kill a whole city full of people, even if they are technically enemies. Huang shows the relationship develop between the president and the carrier. That makes it even harder to kill the child. And the carrier believes in what she’s asked to do. She’s given an out, and provides the perfect retort, “‘It’s not about right and wrong…. It’s about making it hard.” I think it should be hard to kill a whole city of people. It’s my favorite story of the group.

“And Now His Lordship Is Laughing” by Shiv Ramdas

Published: Strange Horizons, September 2019

Genre: historical fantasy short story

Setting: India during WWI

Short summary: Apa gets her revenge against the British by making a laughing doll

Final thoughts: Also a good story, although I think Huang’s is slightly better. This story focuses on terrible the British were to the native populations of their colonies. They were thrilled with the starvation and death occurring with their Denial of Rice Policy. The native populations are of no consequence and should be happy to just survive. And how dare anyone say no to the British Government. Well, Apa doesn’t decide to say yes to the Governor’s “request” for a just doll for his wife because she is frightened or wants to live. She says yes because she’s figured out how to get her revenge. And of course, no one suspects the little old lady can put enough magic into a doll to kill everyone in a room. I can’t imagine how horrible it would be to die of laughter.

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Frankenstein by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley

I wanted to read the kids a bit of classic literature before the end of the year. I was trying to decide between this and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. This book was longer, but I decided I wanted something written by a woman. Both books are available from The Gutenberg Project.

Published: 1818

Genre: classic science fiction literature

Setting: 19th century Europe

Length: 280 pages

Summary: Short version: Dr. Frankenstein discovers creation of life is more fraught than expected Continue reading


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Otto of the Silver Hand by Howard Pyle

This was a recommended read aloud from The Read-Aloud Handbook. (The link goes to an audio version of the story) I was looking for a change in genre from Ship Breaker and figured you couldn’t get much different than 19th century historical fiction.

Published: 1888 (definitely old enough to find on Project Gutenberg for free)

Genre: middle grade historical fiction

Length: 192 pages

Setting: 13th century Germany

Summary: Short version: A robber baron’s life has negative consequences for his family Continue reading

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On a Sunbeam by Tillie Walden

I saw this graphic novel on the library shelves. I thought it looked interesting and brought it home for the family to read.

Published: 2018 and as a webcomic

Genre: science fiction graphic novel

Length: 533 pages

Setting: out in space sometime in the future

Summary: Short version: Mia joins a restoration crew and searches for her old girlfriend Continue reading

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