Category: Short Stories

“Rogues” by Various Authors Review

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Rogues

Authors: George R.R. Martin, Gardner R. Dozois, Joe Abercrombie, Gillian Flynn, Matthew Hughes, Joe R. Lansdale, Michael Swanwick, David Ball, Neil Gaiman, Patrick Rothfuss, Connie Willis, Scott Lynch

Release Date: June 2014

This massive 800+ page collection of short stories kept me entertained throughout, mostly due to the quality of the writers (plenty of award winners across multiple genres) and a broad enough premise that allowed for variety from story to story. Here’s how I’d rank the stories overall:

“A Better Way to Die – This story about different versions of ourselves coming through rifts in an alternate timeline was probably too ambitious for an unrelated short story collection. Aside from an exciting card game, I had trouble getting through this. 3.5/10”

“Provenance” – The story of a lost painting’s history passing from owner to owner particularly during the holocaust. This story felt the least fitting the book’s theme with mainly what I’d consider bad guys not rogues. 3.5/10″

“A Cargo of Ivories” – A young knight and his sorcerer/wooden dummy try to destroy some ivory pieces that have the power of the gods inside them. This story was basically one long action scene, and as a result I didn’t really care about the characters or get as invested as some of the other stories. 4/10″

“Tough Times All Over – Richard Linklater’s “Slacker” but set in medieval fantasy setting. As with that film I enjoyed the eclectic characters at the beginning but found it more tedious when the switching perspectives continued. I’d read a whole story about Friendly though. 4 out of 10″

“The Inn of Seven Blessings” – In this story a thief comes across a puzzle box and gets linked to a God of chance and set on a mission. Some of the ideas were fun but the execution required more exposition than I prefer in a short story. 5/10″”

“Roaring Twenties” – A speakeasy bar filled with gangsters and a touch of magic is the setting for this story. The plot seemed pretty inconsequential (even for a short story) with two ladies doing recon and having a discussion. 5.5/10″

“The Rogue Prince, or, A King’s Brother” – The final story in the collection was about Prince Daemon Targaryen but read more like a pretty good Wikipedia entry about the family. One criticism of the books is the sprawling history overshadows the characters and that felt true here. 5.5/10″

“The Meaning of Love” – The story of one man’s quest to help free a woman for the friend he loves. I was halfway through the story before the main character’s sex was identified, which is frustrating if you are trying to picture the story, and **spoiler** the final meaning of love being described as ‘love is like a pigeon shitting over a crowd; where it lands hasn’t got much to do with who deserves it’ was great. 6/10″

“The Curious case of the Dead Wives” – A Sherlock and Watson style story where the search for a missing girl leads to hypnosis and spiritualism. Fairly run of the mill stuff. 6/10″

“Tawny Petticoats” – A quirky story set in Scott with pirates and zombies (more like chemically altered indentured servants) where two con-men (or anthropomorphic dog) recruit an attractive lady (or grifter) to pull a heist on three local kingpins. The solution for the zombies seemed awfully simple and the twist at the end was foreshadowed right at the beginning, but it was still a fun enough read. 6.5/10″

“How The Marquis Got His Coat Back” – An interesting cast of characters stood out in this simple story of a guy trying to get a coat with a lot of pockets back. 7/10″

“Heavy Metal” – A huge man named Kilgore goes to a small mining town to deal with a creature that’s dragged two people underwater. I was totally on board for about 80% of this story but the religious and family stuff didn’t really work at the end. 7.5/10″

“Bent Twig” – A Hap and Leonard mystery set in present day Texas where the two heroes try to rescue a druggie daughter of one of their girlfriends. Nothing Earth shattering in terms of surprises, but I liked the way it was written as sort of Elmore Leonard meets ghetto noir. 7.5/10″

“Now Showing” – A near future exists where movie theaters have 100 screens and are filled with stores, events and security, but are they hiding something? I enjoyed all the references in this one but it seemed pretty far fetched and probably won’t age well. 7.5/10″

“Diamonds From Tequila” – An actor gets caught up in murder where the motive is a technology that would but all drug dealers (criminal and legitimate) out of business. The bad guys were too much of pushovers but I dug the Brett Easton Ellis vibe. 7.5/10″

“A Year and a Day in Old Theradane” – this fantasy story was about a group of five thieves recruited to steal an entire road from a city as part of a wizard war. The method they used was the first one that came to mind when I read it, so it was a tad predictable, but the heist meets fantasy was fun in the same way Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn books are. 8/10″

“Ill Seen in Type” – An historical fantasy where a teacher and a student purchase what may or may not be magic books and invisibility potion. This one ended up being a lot of fun and featured some surprise Fritz Lieberman characters.8.5/10″

“Bad Brass” – A very fun story about a theft from a Texas High School band program. I enjoyed the main characters roguish qualities and thought the writing style was as enjoyable as anything else in the book so far. The mastermind Marisa was a bit far fetched which took away from my enjoyment a bit at the end. 9/10″

“What Do You Do?” – Awesome and fun story of a sex worker turned fake psychic and the possible haunted house she gets involved with fixing. The ending was very “Gone Girl” with plenty of too smart for its own good twists, but the lead up was a blast. 9/10.”

“The Lighting Tree” – I got this book just to read this Patrick Rothfuss story and I was not disappointed. It was a fun story starring Bast as he trades information for favors and secrets. I would have preferred a short novel about all this as a few plots felt rushed. 9.5/10″

“The Caravan to Nowhere ” – The story of a teleporting minstrel named Alaric on a journey through the desert. I actually loved this story and will check out more by the author starring this character. 10/10

5-star

“Tales of the Slayer: Vol. 4” by Various Authors Review

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Tales of the Slayer: Vol. 4

Author: Michael Reaves, Scott Allie, Robert Joseph Levy, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, Greg Cox, Kara Dalkey, Jane Espenson, Nancy Holder

Release Date:November 2004

The last collection of short stories was surprisingly the best overall by quite a bit. Although all of the stories shared a similar event (the Cruciamentum, the test a slayer takes at 18 when they are lacking their tricked by their watcher and lacking all powers), the more common thread was stronger characterization and more interesting plots. Here’s how I’d rank them from worst to best.

Sideshow Slayer – A fun story set in a traveling carnival where demons and the supernatural fit in. A few shockingly violent moments also made it memorable.

Alone – This 1800’s story about a slayer returning home took a shocking turn into an abusive parent story that I did not see coming.

Two teenage girls at the mall – A somewhat predictable twist where the story is written from the vampire’s perspective; the conversation between the two parties at the end reinforces why Jane Espensen is the best writer I’ve seen in these books so far.

Undeadsville – I always wondered why they didn’t do a storyline on the tv show about a slayer that was turned into a vampire. This story gets extra points for that reason, and also some nice use of multiple viewpoints.

It’s All about The Mission – one of the more straightforward stories in the set, this one is great for fans of the show by capitalizing on the Principal Wood storyline from the last seasons.

Back to the Garden – A great story set in the 1960’s about a pacifist slayer and the commune as a sanctuary for the supernatural.

Survivors – The watcher in this story (as a traumatized WW1 survivor) and his slayer (as a girl covering the duties of both people) were two of the most compelling characters in any short story so far.

The rule of silence – My favorite non-Buffy story so far, taking place in the Spanish Inquisition a young Jewish girl has to overcome not only the religious zealots of the day but also a Cruciamentum that puts all the others in this book to shame.

5-star

“Tales of the Slayer, Vol. 3” by Various Authors Review

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Tales of the Slayer, Vol. 3

Authors: Christopher Golden, Nancy Holder. Mel Odom, Yvonne Navarro

Release Date: November 2003

Three volumes into this series and some trends are appearing. First, I think some of the authors are basing their stories more off the movie than the show (dreams and birthmarks playing big parts in the film but hardly at all on the show). Whereas the first book dealt a bit with slayers last missions, most of these stories deal with inexperienced slayers. The biggest difference with this collection is fewer but longer stories (4 stories at 220 pages instead of 10 stories at 250 pages in volume 2). Here’s how I’d rank them from worst to best:

Dark of the Moon – A very average story about a Native American slayer’s first mission; this one was a slog until the end when some family drama entered the story.

The Code of the Samurai – A story about an American slayer during the 1990’s fighting the 47 Ronan from Japanese myth. This one felt like the author enjoyed “Shogun” a bit too much but I liked the flash back story about Asano’s seppuku.

Voodoo Lounge – This story about early Hollywood and a popular demon bar felt the most like the tv show I loved. The female watcher (a potential slayer who never got the job) was my favorite watcher from any short story so far.

Ch’ing Shih – The longest story yet, this felt like it could have easily been stretched into its own book. Instead, the story took several turns I didn’t see coming, and both the watcher and slayer ended up being characters I was invested in. The overly happy ending keeps it from matching the best stories from volume 2 though.

4-star

“Tales of the Slayer, Vol. 1” by Various Authors Review

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Tales of the Slayer, Vol. 1

Authors: Doranna Durgin, Christie Golden, Yvonne Navarro, Nancy Holder, Greg Rucka, Mel Odom

Release Date: October 2001

A nice selection of short stories about slayers from different eras. My favorite stories were:

The White Doe by Christie Holden – Tons of references to early colonial America events and people; the Native American element felt similar to the type of fantasy you’d find in a Conan story.

Unholy Madness by Nancy Holder – This one took awhile for me to warm up to, but the overlapping elements with the French Revolution were great at the end.

Silent Screams by Mel Odom – This was the best written story, a fun take about silent movie vampires in Germany. I wish the ending wasn’t as open ended though.

None of the stories were terrible; Greg Rucka’s marathon story in Ancient Greece and Doranna Durgin’s 1880’s Kentucky story were more generic than the rest.

4-star

“Goodbye Columbus and Five Short Stories” by Philip Roth Review

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Goodbye Columbus and Five Short Stories

Author: Philip Roth

Release Date: 1960

Philip Roth is often listed as one of the greatest American Authors. The only story I’d read by him previously was “The Humbling,” which was a melodramatic mess I didn’t care for. His first novella, “Goodbye, Columbus” was thankfully much better. It’s a simple story of a summer romance but it’s written in a very engaging style with two complex main characters. A drawn out wedding scene went on a bit for my taste, knocking a star off my final score.

4-star