Monday, 30 January 2017

Favourite short stories read in 2017

I've chosen to list below the short stories that I most enjoyed in 2017.

1. Bread and Bombs by Mary Rickert
At the end of 2016 I had just started to discover Mary Rickert's writing, and read this story online rather than in the Wastelands anthology.

Rickert paints a picture of a war-torn future in which nothing can be trusted, not even snow or offered candy, and where the children of one particular town decide to take matters into their own hands.  Rickert cleverly plays with the readers expectations throughout the story.  I did not see the end coming and found it to be genuinely stunning.

This story can be read online here.

2. Three Miles Up by Elizabeth Jane Howard
An extraordinary story with just the right amount of weirdness and ambiguity to leave the reader haunted and having to come up with their own conclusions.

Three Miles Up concerns two friends, John and Clifford, as they embark on a barging holiday.  Following a furious row they pick up a mysterious but friendly young woman called Sharon.  After they encounter a turning on the canal not shown on their map, which Sharon gently encourages them to take, they soon come to discover that they've made a terrible mistake.

3. Stranger by Peter Rock
I have the writer M.R. Cosby to thank for introducing me to this author - (his blog Stranger Designs is always worth keeping an eye on for book recommendations).

From the short story collection The Unsettling, Stranger tells of a couple holidaying in a remote cottage who come under threat from two people who seem to have murder on their mind, but whose true intentions are never made clear.  Part of the reason this story worked so well for me was that some of what happens is never fully explained and the reader is left to make up their own mind about what was taking place.  Hmmm...I sense there is a theme emerging here.

4. We Can Walk It Off In The Morning by Malcolm Devlin
One of the stand-outs for me from Shadows and Tall Trees Volume 7, this is a story of two people waking off their hangovers on a New Year's Day morning. I enjoyed the way Delvin introduced a number of possibly explanations for what was occurring without giving precedence to any one of them and leaving the ending ambiguous.

5. A Mean Utility by Craig Davidson
From the short story collection Rust and Bone, on which the film of the same name was based, this is a horrifying (in the truest sense of the word) tale of illegal dog-fighting and pending fatherhood.  All told in Davidson's sparkling prose.  I was spoilt for choice picking a favourite from this collection as it contains many excellent stories.  I probably would've plumped for the title story over this had I not read it before in the excellent anthology The New Black edited by Richard Thomas.

6. Where's the Harm? by Rebecca Lloyd
The final story, and for me the standout in Rebecca Lloyd's second collection for Tartarus Press.  Where's the Harm? tells of two brothers preparing their family home for sale after the death of their parents.  One day the brothers encounter some mysterious women in a nearby wood - the charms of whom one brother is unable to resist.  This story builds slowly to a chilling finale.

7. The Consort by Julia Elliott
Elliott tells the tale of  Carlo, a young  Italian man plucked from obscurity to impregnate a pop star: 'the most googled woman on Earth'.  Using florid language to brilliantly eviscerate celebrity culture (Madonna and Beyonce seem to be in the firing line here),  Elliott still manages to wring pathos from the tale, particularly (for me at least) when Carlo sees his grandmother's eyes in the daughter he is not allowed to see without a heavy security presence and who has become little more than a commodity. Published in The Georgia Review, Summer 2017.

8. The Bridge by Malcolm Devlin
I enjoyed Malcolm Devin's collection so much that I could have picked any number of stories from it for this list, but I felt that this - one of the shorter tales in the book - really stood out.  It tells of a couple who have bought their first home and find a more or less accurate model of their new town in the attic.  Built by the previous owner, the model lacks a few key buildings. Delvin cleverly allows just enough information to slip through for the reader to give an insight not only into the life of the young couple and what might become of them, but also the tragedy that befell the house's previous owner.

9. Das Stiengeschopf by G.V. Anderson
Published on Strange Horizons and nominated for a World Fantasy Award, G.V. Anderton's exceptional tale of a young German man's first assignment fixing a living statue is well worth taking the time to read (or listen to on the podcast, as I did, which makes it hard for me to describe it now). It can be found here.

10. The Summerhouse by Mike O'Driscoll
A middle-aged man visits a summerhouse where he spent many days during his youth with a girlfriend, only to find he hasn't escaped the crime he committed there long ago and for which he must now pay.

Anything Undertow Books publish is always an interesting proposition and this book confirms that they are still leading the charge in the weird fiction market.

11. To Us May Grace Be Given by L.S. Johnson
This tightly written novelette from L.S. Johnson concerns a mother and daughter who capture a vampire-like 'devil' to help them fight off a man who intends to steal their land.  Beautifully written and gripping throughout.  Published online on Gianotosaurus, this can be read here.

12. The Rediscovery of Death by Mike O'Driscol
Another gem from The Dream Operator.  The editor of a small publisher is approached is approached by a man who claims to have an anthologies worth of unpublished stories by some of the greatest writers of horror fiction, all of whom happen to be deceased.  A clever story that rewards multiple readings.

13. Slimikins by Charles Wilkinson

Monday, 16 January 2017

Five of my favourite short stories read in 2016

In lieu of some kind of year end list (and coming a bit late anyway) I thought I'd just list here five great speculative short stories that I read last year.

1. For Two Songs by Rebecca Lloyd
The final story in Rebecca Lloyd's 'Ragman and other Family Curses' from Egaeus Press, this is a creepy and original story revolving around sibling rivalry and the Victorian practice of taking portraits of the dead.  One of the best subtle creepy shorts I've read for awhile.

2. Vacui Magia by L.S. Johnson
A poignant tale of yearning and loss, beautifully told by L.S. Johnson in the style of an instruction manual, here a witch endeavours to give her fading mother the grandchild she always wished for by some rather unconventional means.

This haunting tale is also the title story from Johnson's excellent debut collection of stories.

3. Honey Moon by D.P.Watt
From the collection 'Almost Insentient, Almost Divine' from Undertow Books, and for me the standout and the most conventional story in the book. This is the tale of a young couple honeymooning in a borrowed cottage where their initial reticence towards each other is eventually overtaken by pagan forces. I have to be honest and say that I found this book a bit of a trial, perhaps because Watt's tales are better read and mulled over one at a time rather than as a collection, but this story certainly leaps off the page.

4. Roadkill by Robert Shearman
After a disastrous attempt at conducting an affair, a woman on the way home with her lover runs over a kind of bat-rabbit thing which may or may not represent love.  A story everyone can relate to (?).

5. Magritte's Secret Agent by Tanith Lee
A peculiar slant on the mermaid tale by the late, great Tanith Lee.  This takes it's inspiration from Magritte's painting of a stranded merman with the head of a fish and legs of a man (rather than the other way around).  The story tells of a shop worker who becomes enamoured of a beautiful but unresponsive young man in a wheelchair, and the efforts she eventually makes to set him free.