Top Ten Short Stories 2008

31 12 2008

OK, this is the last list for a while. Probably.

As was the case last year I read a ton of really good short stories mainly, it has to be noted, in magazines rather than anthologies. This is a reversal of the previous year where I was pretty much blown away by Joe Hill’s Twentieth Century Ghosts – a book I still consider to be one of the best anthologies of a single author. The other difference is that most of this year’s list comes from stories actually published this year, this is not intentional, merely a reflection of what chimed with me. This list is ranked by preference (10 being the bottom of the scale, 1 being my favourite of the year). Here goes:

10. Little Gods by Tim Pratt (Strange Horizons 4/2/02) – OK, so this isn’t from this year but there we go. This beautiful bittersweet tale packs a hard emotional punch as it explores human reactions to grief all wrapped up in a well thought out piece of fantasy. Pratt’s prose is tight, well imagined and perceptive. A master class in how to write intelligent fantasy that has at the reader whilst entertaining at the same time. Hopefully I’ll learn the lesson in 2009.

9. When Thorns are the Tips of Trees by Jason Sanford (Interzone 219) – Don’t let the title put you off. Truthfully, it was Vincent Chong’s artwork that caught my eye on this one but once caught the story really appealed to me. It’s a strange story – halfway between science fiction and fantasy without openly emulating the sci-fantasy works that seem to be growing in popularity. The central protagonist is well drawn creating a realistic account from a teenager’s perspective; there’s a nice blend of action, story and underlying theme without verging into triteness. Smart, deeply imagined and well told it stood out from a strong issue that also included a strong piece from Aliette de Bodard.

8. The Disappearance of James H___ by Hal Duncan (Strange Horizons 13/6/05) – I may have mentioned this tale before. Not written this year but another one that blew me away. A masterful riff on a number of other works that led me to a sharp intake of breath and the realisation that fiction works best when the author pretty much opens up a vein into the story. Hal does it here.

7. The Reason for the Season by Bruce Holland Rogers (Black Static 7) – To be honest, I think the quality of Black Static has been variable since its launch, possibly more to do with the quality of horror writing in general at the moment and if you pay attention you can find the good stuff. There were a couple of pieces I considered for this years list but this was the one I liked most, largely for its inherent oddness underpinned by a narrative that hangs like a dark cloud throughout, warning that it’ll all end in tears. That this piece is almost (if not actually) flash also had a bearing.

6. Dry Frugal with Death Rays by Alex Wilson (Futurismic 1/8/08) – Futurismic returned to publishing fiction this year (hurrah!). Editors Paul Raven & Christopher East’s focus has been on quality and as such they’ve sunk advertising revenues into paying authors a rate that has attracted a consistently high calibre of work. This is the first but not the last appearance by a Futurismic writer on this list. Wilson’s deliciously dark treatment of the office environment has a masterful blend of black humour, science fiction and twisting commentary on the grind of 9-5. The sheer grim reality of office life is an over used theme in short stories and the fact Wilson makes it work is a testament to his skill.

5. Remorse ® by Adam Roberts (disLocations, Newcon Press) – Featuring the likes of Hal Duncan, Pat Cadigan, Andrew Hook, Ken Macleod and Chaz Benchley I picked up disLocations quite by accident, Ian having cornered me before I got to the bar at the launch for The Last Reef 🙂. I wasn’t disappointed but for me it was Robert’s tale of a drug called Remorse that stood out. It’s a dark, visceral story told in the first person and, depending on how you read it, a picture of the failure of drugs to treat a sociopath or drugs creating a sociopath. Not for the faint hearted but worth the effort.

4. Arches by Gareth L Powell (The Last Reef and Other Stories, Elastic Press) – Having followed GLP’s work for a little while (and knowing him via Friday Flash) I’d read many of the stories in this collection before. Arches was a new story, written I think for the collection, and is a strange tale of brothers that appealed to me for a number of reasons. Focussing on two brothers, Arches is a story about the tangled nature of relationships and sibling guilt that is told in GLP’s trademark tight lyrical prose and really shows off his development as a writer.

3. The Woman who Loved Pigs by Stephen Donaldson (Reave the Just and other Tales, HarperCollins) – An older story. This tale appealed to me largely because it’s weird, dark and makes its point without compromise. Sure it has problems but I don’t know many writers who do grim fantasy in quite as entertaining a way as Donaldson. Worth a look.

2. The Radio Magician by James Van Pelt (Realms of Fantasy) – A late entry! I read this – quite by chance – a few days ago and technically it’s from the first issue of 2009 but it’s clearly December for a few more hours and so I think it qualifies. This story tells the tale of Charlie, an American polio victim, at the start of the Second World War and his love of a radio show charting the skills of the magician Professor Gilded. Beautifully crafted prose, subtle story telling and a brilliant thematic delivery that frankly delighted me on first reading. Bravo.

1. Willpower by Jason Stoddard (Futurismic 1/12/08) – I promised you more from Futurismic and here it is, at number one no less. Jason Stoddard walks the walk with his offering to the world of positive SF with Willpower. Set in a future where technology has created an underclass of people made redundant by technological advances, in a conceit frighteningly close to reality in the UK Stoddard has this underclass earning credits from the Willfare system by doing odd jobs for those lucky enough to still be working. Willpower is essentially a story of the man sticking it to the system but that doesn’t seem to do it justice. Stoddard’s tale is a masterful riff on existing SF tropes, distilled down to a well thought out world and blended into something rather special. Brilliant.

A pinch of Alan

31 12 2008

As 2008 slides into the past and we say hello to 2009 I’m going to travel back to London in a couple of hours. Once I’m back I will be posting my best of 2008 for short stories but in the interim here’s a wonderful piece of 1980’s television featuring Alan Moore. Enjoy!

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

Forever Update

30 12 2008

So yesterday I got done on Chapter 9.

I’ve bid farewell to eighteenth century Boston, I’ve blown up parts of London and the body count is already impressively high. I’ve made changes to the structure of the story, I’m adding in stronger transitions between chapters and attempting to polish up some of the themes. I’ve also injected more diversity into the characters – I’m making the changes I wanted to. I should be happy with the progress I’ve made but for some reason I’m not.

It could be that I’m merely experiencing mid-project blues. They are the point in the middle where it feels like you’ve been working on the thing for…well forever and the end seems an eternity away. Normally when I hit this point I’ll go and write some flash or a short story, just to feel like I’ve finished something, anything. But I’m not sure that’s it.

My pervading worry is that I’m finding the second draft of Forever much harder than the redrafting process on The Scarred God and I’m concerned there’s not enough meat to the story in its current form. Still, when I read through what I’d done to date a few weeks ago I was reasonably pleased. Doubts are part of the course. Until I have the second draft done (the point where I start to let a couple of people read it) I won’t really know.

The other part of it is that I’ve got my next two novel length projects firmly in mind and I’m keen to be getting on with them. They’re more ambitious than either The Scarred God or Forever but having proven I can last the distance on these longer projects I’m no keen to stretch my wings and I think they’re really cool. I’d like to get them out of my head so others can enjoy them.

I guess the real problem is that I’ve not got a steady rythmn going on Forever as I did on The Scarred God and that’s creating a perception of delay that probably isn’t there. Redrafts on both of The Scarred God and Forever have taken longer than I would have wanted because of the mistakes I made on the early drafts mean I’m shifting between editing and writing additional material. On The Scarred God I managed to carve out a regular timeslot to work on the manuscript but with Forever for one reason or another I’ve not managed to do this. And so I’m going to try to reintroduce my early morning starts.

Yeah, the middle of a novel length project is a hard place to be.

Top Ten Books 2008

29 12 2008

This is the time of year where I go a bit list crazy. This time up it’s the return of the infamous Books What I Read in…, last year we stopped at five but this year I’ve done ten as my reading levels have been a little higher and I just couldn’t cut the list down. Interesting to note I upped my SF and fantasy reading, going to need to balance that out a bit more next year.

Anyway, here goes:

10. From Hell by Alan Moore & Eddie Campbell – There is a problem with influential writers. Often, if you come to them sometime after they’ve made their initial impact, you find a weird sense of deja vu permeating your reading of their work. You know you haven’t read the work before but their impact on other writers and indeed other media has become so widespread that you feel as if you have. I’m too young to have caught Watchmen when it was originally released and, although I enjoyed it, that feeling kept bugging me throughout. Not so From Hell, beautifully written and drawn, deliciously dark and meticulously researched – it was an absolute delight to read. Moore at his story-telling best. Skip the film. No really: skip the film.

9. Spin By Robert Charles Wilson – I raved about this book at the time I read it. The review predates and can be found here. Wilson’s a talented SF writer that manages to successfully blend huge SF ideas with good characterisation and Spin is a damned fine example. A good introduction to SF in my opinion.

8. Signals to Noise By Neil Gaiman & Dave McKean – OK, by now you’ve figured out that the deal here is these are the best books I read in 2008 rather than those released in 2008. Neil gets two entries by virtue of my only reading Signals to Noise for the first time this year and him releasing a damned fine book (more on that later) but in point of fact it’s Dave McKean that pushed this into my list for 2008. Gaiman’s prose is typically very good but McKean’s art is…something else…it’s just a beautiful book and I often take it down off the shelf just to flick through the art. If you’re wondering what the fuss is about when it comes to Gaiman & McKean: a) where have you been and b) read this book.

7. The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman – Reviewed on, you can read this here. My opinion on this one hasn’t changed, I wish it had been written when I was a child and I can’t wait for my niece to be old enough for me to read it to her, complete with voices.

6. My life as a Fake by Peter Carey – Actually a fairly recent entry that I haven’t had time to review yet, although I will. I am fond of Peter Carey’s work and will periodically dust off my copy of The True History of The Ned Kelly Gang just for the joy of how it’s put together. My Life as a Fake is a typically well-constructed novel full of rich layers and skillful prose that I read on one sickly Sunday, binging on Carey’s riff on Frankenstein.

5. Farenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury – OK, I admit it: I hadn’t read this. There I said it. If you’re a hardcore SF fan then you’ll have read this and you won’t need me to tell you it rocks. Better than 1984 for the simple reason that it has somehow managed not to age as much as Orwell’s classic. Bradbury’s prose is typically liquid and his characters beautifully crafted. If you’re a fan of literature (let alone SF) you need to read this.

4. After Dark by Haruki Murakami – I’ve been meaning to check out Murakami for ages, this year I finally did. After Dark is a stunning tale told over a single night and focusing, at its core, on two sisters and their shifting relationship. Dark and evocative, this novel will leave you feeling like you’ve been up all night drinking too much coffee and you just hallucinated the story, in a good way. Read it. Read it now.

3. Living Next Door to the God of Love by Justina Robson – Review on, you can read it here. This book has hard SF, myth, pop culture, character driven story and some damned fine writing all wrapped up in one package. I loved it and have resorted to pushing it at anyone I think will read it.

2. The Scar by China Mieville – I read a ton of China’s stuff this year and if this list went to thirteen then all of his stuff I’ve read to date would be on it. Sadly, thirteen is unlucky. The Scar is my favourite China novel because I think, out of the stuff I’ve read, it’s his most well-rounded work. I love King Rat but it does have a few bumps that, to paraphrase a friend, mark it as a first novel and you can tell China seems to be feeling his way through the story, searching for his style. Perdito Street Station is great and wonderful but it does bloat in places. In contrast The Scar is tight, confident and told in the kind of beautiful prose style that only China can deliver. I want to read it again just writing this.

1. The Amazing Adventures of Kavelier & Klay by Michael Chabon – Chabon was claimed by the literary set by virtue of publishing mainstream first but I think most genre fans have spotted that is heart really belongs to us. I can’t say enough good things about this novel: the characters enthrall, the blending of history and fiction masterly don, that lyrical prose style, the dash of myth…I’m basically gushing. The guy has a pulitzer; he doesn’t need some tired taff to know he’s good. Still my favourite accidental spot, even if he did look terrified at being recognised.

Bendy Time

28 12 2008

Time is not linear, it’s a bendy, twisty, scraggly ball of string type thingy or so Whovians will expound at length given half a chance. However, I am convinced there is some truth in this. How else to explain the loss of three days as if by magic?

Christmas Day was a rather enjoyable mashup of family, food, tv and drink, all sprinkled with a light dusting of reading. Before long Boxing Day swung by and somehow I managed to shoehorn in some flash fiction before going to the football with my brother and dad – it was very cold in the Liberty stadium but good to spend time with them. From there a mad dash back to my parents house for the traditional boxing day party with our wider family. A few people couldn’t make it due to illness but my sister, E, still managed to put in an experience via satellite linkup skype much to my six month old niece’s amusement. And of course there was another infamous turn by my mum and aunts.

Of this I will NOT speak. Save to direct your attention to last year’s description and to point out there were silver shoulder pads this year. Rumour has it there is video evidence but I fear my life were it to make it’s way onto here. You do not mess with the power of the three. Not ever.

Today I made the somewhat foolish decisiont to go to Cardiff  and spend some of my Christmas money. There is a nasty lie being spread around that this was in fact due to my splitting my jeans but you shouldn’t believe everything your told, I went hunting books, I just happened to pass Debenhams on the way. Anyway, I added to the collection of books I was kindly given for Christmas (Swiftly [Roberts], Interworld [Gaiman/Reaves], High cost of Living [Gaiman], Saturn’s Children [Stross]) by purchasing both volumes of The Book of All Hours [Duncan] and Natural History [Robson]. I dragged my youngest sister along with me and G joined us later for a Neverwhere (TV Series) binge and now there’s only twelve minutes of Saturday left.

The biggest shock was realising that somehow I’d managed to bend the memory of seeing Neverwhere for the first time back to either ’94 or ’91 when in fact it was 1996. It took me most of the evening trying to unpick how and why I’d managed to do this but I managed it in the end. But still…memory’s a funny thing. Even thought the series is let down by the video format it was shot on I still enjoyed it. Tomorrow we’re off to see friends but I’m hoping to squeeze in some work on Forever before we go.

Time flies when you’re having fun, it also bends, tangles and bleeds into memories.

Friday Flash Fiction: Beats

26 12 2008

This post has moved. Read the full story here:

A bit rushed today. I hope you’re all having a good Boxing Day. Here’s this week’s flash:

By Neil Beynon

It was just before dawn when he woke.

The horizon was turning the colour of hot coals as he cast his gaze out of the window at the world beyond. He’d seen sunrises before but this was different somehow, the colours were so bright against the darkness they burned his eyes. Then he remembered. Careful as to not wake the creature still sleeping in the room, its lithe body swaying gently from the ceiling, Frank gathered his few belongings and made his way down the stairs and out of the house.

The town was quiet as Frank made his way down the street to the old stone bridge. He paused, wondering if the water would try to stop him and then chastised himself for listening to old wives’ tales. He was below the view of the horizon now and everything was in shadow. If he looked up he would have seen the tops of the buildings cast in a tawny glow but he did not look up.

This post has moved. Read the full story here:

Merry Christmas 2008

25 12 2008

Just a quick not to wish you all a Merry Christmas or religious or non-religious celebration of your choosing.

I was going to a longer post but I’m a bit wiped out. Suffice to say it’s been a good day with my family and I was given many books I desired. Presently I am flumping on the sofa with G and her mum, reading one of the afore mentioned books. Or I was until I started doing this.

Have a good one all and I hope you’re having as nice a day as me.