Category Archives: Saturday Shorts
This week’s online short fiction is a wonderful take on the old “hitchhiking ghost” urban legend by Seanan MacGuire. Rose Marshall died in 1945, and she’s walked the ghostroads ever since, those paths that lead you just between the worlds of the living and the dead. Sometimes she helps people over; sometimes she shoves them back on their side. It’s a way to get by.
I love the narration of these stories, it’s pure noir, you can just picture the gritty old black-and-white footage that these ought to be filmed in. And I love ghost stories, too — ghosts are my favorite paranormal element, much more than zombies or vampires, because they’re so versatile and yet so instantly understandable. (Rose reminds me a little of the ghosts in Cherie Priest’s Eden Moore series, although Rose is a little more “there.”)
The first story in the Sparrow Hill Road collection is “Good Girls Go To Heaven.” It’s a wonderful, creepy noir urban legend – and it’s the first of twelve! Enjoy.
In honor of the review of The Tempering of Men that I’m hoping to post this evening, this week’s short story is by one of that novel’s co-authors, although it has nothing else in common with it at all.
“White Charles” is one of the Kyle Murchison Booth stories, which Monette has described as kind of based on the Lovecraft/Blackwood tradition of horror only with actual people in them. Booth is an archivist at the Parrington Museum, and he’s a little bit empathic and knows a little bit about ghosts and magic – and he has just enough of a sense of responsibility that when horrible things start to happen, he’s the one who has to take care of them. He’s a fragile, nervous little thing, with a core of solid steel. I love him.
In “White Charles,” the Parrington takes delivery of the remains of an old wizard’s library…and the thing that lives in it. Monette does an excellent job of capturing that creepy something-horrible-is-watching-me vibe of the best of classic horror, but she pays attention to the things they never did: people like the museum’s black caretaker, and the desires of the Thing in question. As a horror story, it’s not only properly scary, but a bit of a revelation.
There is a collection of Booth stories, The Bone Key, which which is in its second edition, but you’ll find “White Charles” at Clarkesworld Magazine online. I recommend their audio version as well, it’s spectacular.
The Prince and the Sea is a delightful (and, be warned, very dark) little illustrated poem about a prince and his mermaid love by Emily Carroll that I discovered last week while browsing the web. It’s so small that to say much more about it would spoil it, so take a few minutes to enjoy.
If you have a Decemberists album to put on in the background while you read, “The Mariner’s Revenge Song” or “Shanty for The Arethusa” would be perfect accompaniments.
In addition to loving books – and you know I do – I also love me a good short story. Short stories, especially in science fiction and fantasy, seem to be where some of the most innovative, interesting stuff comes from. They’re also a great way to find out about new and upcoming authors, or to try out an author you’re not familiar with to see if you want to invest your time in their novels. Lucky for me, and for you, there are huge numbers of really excellent short stories being published for free online, and I’ve decided to run a weekly feature, Saturday Shorts, highlighting some of the short fiction I’ve found.
For my first Saturday Short, I’ll be highlighting Lois McMaster Bujold’s “The Mountains of Mourning,” available from the Baen Free Library. I had a sudden desire to read some Miles last week, and since I had too many other books going to start a reread of the whole series, I turned to this novella.
If you’re not familiar with Bujold’s Vorkosigan Saga, and would like to see what all the fuss is about (books in the series have won four Hugo awards), “The Mountains of Mourning” is a great place to start. Although the content of the plot is not very much like the rest of the series, in many ways this story represents the emotional core of the books.
Ensign Miles Vorkosigan has just graduated – improbably – from the Imperial Military Academy. Born with severe physical deformities in a world so scarred by nuclear attack that physical perfection is idolized and “mutie” is the worst insult that can be thrown at someone, young Miles was nonetheless determined to carry on his family’s tradition of military service to the empire, and prove to his judgmental (and deceased) grandfather that he could take his place as one of the Vor military caste. (Not to mention he has to stand up somehow to his father, Count Aral Vorkosigan, one of the most powerful and respected men on the planet.)
Miles is taking his home leave with his parents at their country estate before heading back to the city for his first assignment when a woman comes down from the impoverished hill country, demanding her legal right to present her case before the Count. Her husband has murdered her baby girl, she says, because the baby was a mutie. No one in her village will listen to her, but she has a right to take her grievance before her Count. She wants justice for little Raina. Count Vorkosigan agrees – and he sends Miles to be his representative, to determine what happened to baby Raina, and to mete out justice as necessary.
This is a story about justice and family, about tradition and modernity, about truth and perception. Mostly, it’s a story about responsibility, bearing it and choosing it and refusing to ignore it. Miles is a wonderful character, and more than that, a wonderful person, and this is a great way to get to know him.