Tag Archives: Up and Coming

Let’s Read! Up and Coming: Part 2

Another day, another ten authors who are totally new to me. I’m a little exhausted with all the reading—I don’t think I’ve crammed like this since high school, but I am loving this project so far. I haven’t discovered this many new writers in years, in spite of making an effort to try new things. I’m actually pretty sure that this collection is all new-to-me writers up until S.L. Huang, who I’ll get to in part four or five, I believe. Today’s reading was a great mix of sci-fi and fantasy, with no horror, which is nice, and it also had the collection’s first funny story. There are still a couple of tear-jerkers in this group, but not nearly so many as yesterday’s selections, which was a nice change.

D.K. Cassidy

I know I said that there were fewer sad stories today, but the first one I read this morning almost killed me. “Room 42” looks at what might happen if everyone just stopped aging and dying and giving birth. What I love about this story is that D.K. Cassidy keeps it relatively small and personal, exploring the issues presented by immortality by examining the lives of Vivian, Vivian’s daughter Jenna, and Vivian’s mother Janice. All three women are trapped in different stages of life, facing different challenges, and they represent a kind of microcosm (albeit an imperfect one) of what the world is going through. “Room 42” explores multiple themes that are common to this subgenre of speculative fiction—suicide, euthanasia, loss of hope and purpose, the ennui that accompanies eternity—and though Cassidy is hardly breaking new ground here, it’s a nicely written story that handles these ideas with intelligence and sensitivity and without becoming too maudlin.

Zach Chapman

“Between Screens” isn’t the worst story I’ve read in this collection so far, but it’s certainly not for me. It’s about a 14-year-old boy who moves with his mother from Earth to what I gather is a series of connected space stations after the death of his father makes it so they can’t afford to live on the planet any longer. He struggles to fit in at first, but he soon makes a friend and meets a manic pixie dream girl (ugh) and before he knows it, he’s fully assimilated into the bleak, vaguely cyberpunk teen culture of the stations. This could have been worse, but I’m a little too much of an adult woman to be anything but bored by the adventures of miscreant teenagers.

Curtis C. Chen

Although space chess is never a terribly original idea for a story, I rather liked Curtis C. Chen’s “Zugwang.” While he definitely dwells a little too much on his heroine’s insecurities about her body, and things are tied up a little too neatly at the end of the tale, it was solid enough to get me to read his other two stories.

“Making Waves” is a Lovecraft-influenced piece that has a lot of potential, but never quite manages to capture the tone of creeping horror that characterizes the best Lovecraftian tales. Its best ideas are actually its characters—Hatcher in particular has a very compelling story—and its WWII naval setting. There’s enough story seeds here to carry a novel, and I think the characters could definitely benefit from more room to grow.

I kind of hate the very boring and undescriptive title of “Laddie Come Home,” but the actual story is the best of Chen’s three in this collection. The thing that I think holds it back from greatness, though, is its almost naively optimistic view of a frankly terrifying picture of a possible future where corporations have access to some pretty frightening technology. I just can’t help but find the limited AI, Laddie’s, manipulation of a child to be kind of sinister, but that doesn’t seem to be Chen’s intention and the story ends on a hopeful note. I also found the messaging—a little Asian girl’s oppressive, patriarchal family won’t let her learn about computers, so she needs to be rescued by a Western corporation so she can be a programmer for them—to be very strange.

Z.Z. Claybourne

“Agents of Change” is about time traveling agents working for an intentionally sinister-seeming machine AI, who sends them back in time to protect Harriet Tubman and change history. I feel as if this story is meant to have some big ideas, but I can’t for the life of me figure out what they are or why I as a reader am supposed to care about them. It’s a story where very little actually happens, and none of it seems to mean anything.

Liz Colter

The three selections by Liz Colter are all amazing world building exercises that make her hands down my favorite author out of today’s ten. “The Ties That Bind, the Chains That Break” tells the story of Jerusha, a bi-gender messenger in a fantasy world on the cusp of a revolution. It’s another story that almost begs to be given a novel-length treatment. “Echoes” is a near-perfectly written story about a man with a fascinating and unique magic that lets him syphon the echoes of other people’s feelings and distill them into potions. “The Clouds in Her Eyes” is my least favorite of Colter’s group of stories, but mostly just because I would have liked just a little more background so that the conclusion of the story could occur more organically instead of feeling as if it’s just a chunk of exposition that summarizes a much longer story than what appears here.

Nik Constantine

“Last Transaction” is a very clever story about identity theft, told as a series of interactions with a computer. I found it riveting and a very fast read, though a little light on real substance. It was definitely a neat sort of “what if” story, but it didn’t have much to say for itself.

Daniel J. Davis

In “The God Whisperer,” we learn that a tiny war god makes a terrible pet. I laughed out loud more than once.

S.B. Divya

“Strange Attractors,” “The Egg,” and “Ships in the Night” all explore, in different ways, romantic relationships, from a centuries-long love between two people whose desires aren’t always in sync to a young couple dealing with the challenges of cancer to the aborted affair between an immortal and a woman who can see the future. These are very short stories that deal with big ideas about time and change and the resilience of love in compelling fashions. “The Egg” is somewhat forgettable, but “Strange Attractors” and “Ships in the Night” are standout pieces.

Margaret Dunlap

“Jane” and “Broken Glass” are both stories that turn out to not be what they seem at first, and with mixed success. I loved the twist in “Jane,” which is a pretty delightful little zombie story of sorts, but “Broken Glass” left me a little cold with its somewhat cloying and ultimately unsatisfying conclusion. I tried to read Dunlap’s “Bookburners” story as well, but found it hard to get into, though it’s interesting enough that I may seek out the rest of the series and come back to it later. I’m not hugely into urban fantasy of any kind, but “Bookburners” reminds me a little bit (in tone, anyway) of Matt Wallace’s Sin du Jour series, which I love, so it could be a fun thing to check out at a later date. No hurry though, to be honest.

S.K. Dunstall

Without knowing anything at all about S.K. Dunstall or her (their, I suppose) novel, Linesman, I found this excerpt to be moderately interesting, although I have no idea what the “lines” are supposed to be. They seem like space magic, which I usually hate unless it’s really well-conceived. Sadly, after reading the book’s description and glancing through some reviews of it on Goodreads and Amazon, I can’t say I am impressed or excited by it.

Final Verdict:

The only authors in this group whose work I’m truly likely to seek out more of are D.K. Cassidy and Liz Colter. The rest range from “mildly interesting but ultimately forgettable” to “probably actually bad.”

Let’s Read! Up and Coming: Part 1

Let’s get this party started, right at the beginning of the alphabet. I thought about trying to read these in a more random order or about starting with the authors I already know and like, but the more I considered my options, the more I realized that the easiest and fairest way to approach this project was just to start at the beginning and read it through in the order the stories are arranged in the book. If nothing else, this will keep me from accidentally missing someone.

All of today’s authors are ones whose work I’ve never read before, which has been interesting. They run the gamut from hard sci-fi to sword and sorcery, which made this first day of reading a pretty wild ride.

Charlotte Ashley

When I first read “La Héron” last night, I liked but didn’t love it, but I think it’s a story that grows on you. The more I’ve thought about it all day, the more I think I love Charlotte Ashley’s tale of an illicit duelist, her unconventional second, and a series of three duels with fantastically escalating stakes. It’s intelligent, well-structured, and entertaining, and I could read whole books about La Héron and her brawling nun companion.

Ashley’s second story, “Sigrid Under the Mountain,” isn’t as good, unfortunately. It’s not bad, either, but it does seem somewhat underbaked. I love the idea of this story, but the execution here is weak and the story has an almost flippant tone towards its subject matter that seems intended to be humorous but that I found unpleasant to read. All of the characters in “Sigrid” are supposed to be Scandinavian, but the dialogue feels very anachronistically English, and the ending is abrupt and lacks any real emotional impact.

John Ayliff

John Ayliff’s offering is an excerpt from his 2015 debut novel, Belt Three. It seems fine, but overall pedestrian. Without knowing anything at all about the novel, I found it difficult to understand at first what was even going on, and when I did start to get it I found it dull.

Lucas Bale

Lucas Bale’s 2015 novelette, “To Sing of Chaos and Eternal Night,” is about as interesting as that pretentious title and its opening quote from Paradise Lost would suggest. Which is to say, not at all. There is a sort of Shyamalan-level twist that is moderately surprising, but it wasn’t compelling enough to make me care that much about the story.

Nicolette Barischoff

“Pirate Songs” almost lost me at space pirates, which are terribly overdone, but I’m glad I stuck it out. While there were some very uncomfortable to read parts early on, with a bunch of gross men sexually harassing a disabled girl, Margo turns out to be a very clever protagonist once the story shifts to her point of view and “Pirate Songs” ends up being a solid bit of space opera. I didn’t love it, but it was good enough to keep me from skipping Barischoff’s second and third stories, which would have been a huge mistake.

“Follow Me Down” starts with a monstrous birth and then picks up seven years later with the story of the child that was just born. Kora is a cambion—the child of an incubus and a human woman—and this is the story of an abandoned child trying to understand where she came from and who she is. “In the Woods Behind My House” is about a boy who has a griffin living practically in his back yard, and it’s another story about a child figuring out how to belong. I don’t want to spoil these stories here by saying too much about them, but I will say this: They’re both wonderful, and together they make Nicolette Barischoff the first new-to-me author in this collection whose work I unequivocally love.

Sofie Bird

“A is for Alacrity, Astronauts, and Grief” is a gorgeous tale about, well, grief, but also family and fresh starts and healing from abuse. When Becca’s sister, Julie, is left in a persistent coma after a car crash, Becca goes back to her abusive mother’s home in order to be able to take care of her nephew, Sam. Becca and Sam work together to decipher the strange messages that appear from an old typewriter that used to belong to Becca’s father, and Becca finds the strength to make some significant decisions for herself and Sam. I definitely cried while reading this, I loved it so much.

Derrick Boden

“Clay Soldiers” is a clever mindfuck of a story, and “The Last Mardi Gras” is exactly what it says it is. Both are beautifully written (though I preferred the second story) and very short—which it turns out is exactly the right length. Some of my favorite short stories are ones that communicate a single idea or concept very succinctly, and Boden shows an aptitude for just that. He’s definitely an author I will be watching for in the future.

Stefan Bolz

“The Traveler” is a somewhat meta story about a girl who works through grief over her father’s death by building a sort of H.G. Wells style time machine. It’s so lovely and so sad and so uplifting, and is my favorite story of the collection so far.

David Bruns

David Bruns’s first offering is “The Water Finder’s Shadow”—about a man struggling to figure out how to survive without his dog in a post-apocalyptic, drought-stricken America. This story is more of an exercise in world-building than anything else, but it stands alone well enough and left me hungry for more stories in this setting if Bruns ever writes any.

“I, Caroline” is a story with a somewhat obvious tell in its title about what it’s about, but it’s much better than the title might indicate. Caroline’s story is nothing terribly unexpected, but it’s solidly good and managed to make me more than a little teary by the end.

Martin Cahill

“It was Never the Fire” is the first story I’ve read today that I really just hated. There’s never a situation where I like reading about terrible things happening to girls. “Vanilla” was short, so I read it even though I didn’t like Martin Cahill’s first story. I don’t exactly wish I hadn’t, but this story about eating ice cream at the end of the world didn’t really connect with me either, possibly because I disliked the previous story so much. I’m not sure if changing the reading order would have changed my opinions on this pair, but it surely couldn’t have hurt.

Aaron Canton

In “Dining Out,” a corrupt food critic runs afoul of an obscure Irish goddess. On the one hand, I always enjoy learning new pieces of old mythology. On the other hand, if I have to google a major story element in order to make sense of it, that’s a problem. Once I learned who Fuamnach was, I got it, but I would have liked it better if I could have understood more about her from context in the story.

“A Most Unusual Patriot” is the first story of Up and Coming that falls properly into the realm of fantasy adventure or sword and sorcery, which is my first genre love. Unfortunately, there’s not a great deal of substance here. Jadie is fine, in a very sort of cookie-cutter quirky fantasy thief sort of way, albeit a bit Pollyannaish. There’s also an awful lot of telling-not-showing going on in this story, with long stretches dedicated to just explaining everything instead of having actual events happening. The worst thing about this one, though, is how misleading its title is. In a world where the thieves’ guild is basically owned by the ruler of the land, it means literally nothing to call a thief an “unusual patriot.” It’s explained, at length, that protecting the realm and upholding the current government is part of Jadie’s job as a member of the thieves’ guild.

Final Verdict

Nicolette Barischoff, Sofie Bird and Stefan Bolz are definitely my favorites of this first group of authors, but David Bruns and Charlotte Ashley also stand out.

I’ll be back tomorrow with a look at the next ten authors.

Let’s Read! Up and Coming: Stories by the 2016 Campbell-Eligible Authors

This year, Bad Menagerie is offering a pretty unprecedented resource for those of us who are nominating for and voting on the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer that will be presented at Worldcon along with the Hugos. Up and Coming is packed with 230 works by 120 Campbell-eligible authors—over a million words of fiction, that I will be working my way through, ten authors at a time, over the next couple of weeks.

I plan to finish by March 30, as nominations for the Campbell and Hugo Awards are due on the 31st, and ten authors every day or so is a pretty blazing pace, so my plan is to read at least one story by each author. If their first story doesn’t grab me, I’ll be moving along to the next author in order to better manage my time and enable me to actually make it through this enormous body of work. I’ll let you know which authors I skipped and why, though I expect to spend much more time extolling the virtues of my favorites than criticizing what I don’t like. That said, if I skip over your favorites, be sure to let me know in the comments what a jerk I am and all about what I’m missing out on.

Look for my first big post to appear tomorrow (hopefully) or Wednesday. This should be an almost every day thing between now and the end of the month.

If you want to read along, you can download the collection at Bad Menagerie any time before March 31, 2016.