Side Jobs reminded me why I don't usually do anthologies. Short stories generally aren't my preferred format, but also because I don't often find theSide Jobs reminded me why I don't usually do anthologies. Short stories generally aren't my preferred format, but also because I don't often find the stories coming across naturally. Many of the ones in this book were written to form around a theme, not to really further the characters or the overall story.
The exception of course is "Aftermath", which alone made reading this worth it. Take note that you should only read this story after Changes, since it takes place immediately after the book's events, and gives major spoilers.
Not only does "Aftermath" provide a little closure to the end of Changes, it still manages to push the story forward but at the same time also gives the reader insight into one of the more beloved characters of the Dresden Files universe. I didn't start off liking Karrin Murphy, but over the series she has become Harry's best friend and one of my favorite characters.
In a way, I felt "Aftermath" was a culmination of all that the books have established and built up of Harry and Murphy's complicated relationship. One of the best things about the story was being able to see Murphy put to use all that she had learned during her years of working with him.
I realize I am quickly becoming too focused only on one story in this review, but the truth is, most of the other stories were pretty bland and it was "Aftermath" that really stood out. It made me realize how much I enjoyed Murphy's "voice", and I was surprised how well Jim Butcher wrote the character from her point of view.
This is totally making me want a Murphy spinoff. How cool would it be if she took up one of the swords now during her suspension from the police force, fighting supernatural baddies in Chicago as an avenging angel-type heroine with her sidekick Sanya and her on-again-off-again love interest Kincaid? This story just writes itself!...more
Worried about spoilers, I didn't start this anthology until I was finished with the game. In the end, I don't think it really mattered. The stories inWorried about spoilers, I didn't start this anthology until I was finished with the game. In the end, I don't think it really mattered. The stories in this collection takes place in the world of L.A. Noire, but none of them were really directly related, though I liked how couple stories provided a little background information into some of the cases.
I liked most of the stories, some more than others. Nevertheless, my guess is that fans of the noir genre probably won't think much of this book, but those familiar with the game might find it enjoyable, or at the very least a fun enough read. Still, not bad for a freebie....more
I admit, if this hadn't been a book club read, I probably wouldn't have picked it up on my own, and the reasons are threefold. First, even though I'veI admit, if this hadn't been a book club read, I probably wouldn't have picked it up on my own, and the reasons are threefold. First, even though I've been known to enjoy stories involving re-imagined fairy tales, it's not my preferred subject. Second, I'm not normally drawn to children's or middle grade books. And third, I'm generally not a big fan of anthologies or short story collections. One of the greatest joys of reading is being able to connect with the characters, and personally I find short stories are often too brief or are over too quickly for me to do that.
Still, another great joy of reading is being able to try new things, and I was glad for the chance to read something different for a change. This was a nice change of pace and a good opportunity to discover some new authors and their takes on the fairy tale subject.
I have to say, my feelings are mixed. There were stories I loved, and stories I did not like at all. Among my favorites were The Months of Manhattan (which I thought was the perfect story to open with) and The Twelve Dancing Princesses (likewise, the perfect closing story). As for the rest of the stories in between, there are a few that stand out, but I mostly found many of them to be mediocre.
The stories I tended to enjoy more were the fairy tale retellings that were more faithful to the classics, like Mrs. Big: Jack and the Beanstalk or Ali Baba and the Forty Aliens or Hansel's Eyes. These included elements from the original fairy tales that were immediately recognizable and gave me a frame of reference to which I could anchor myself while I read. Then there were those stories that were just downright "anything-goes" and made me wonder if the author even had an idea or simply slapped together a bunch of random fairy tale elements in an attempt to make their story sound as crazy as possible.
Granted, my feelings may have been influenced by my personal preferences that I mentioned at the beginning of this review, but I tried my best to form objective opinions. Overall, save for a few gems, the stories weren't too memorable, but the creativity and sheer range of styles in this book were impressive. Adults can certainly appreciate this, but I can see kids enjoying themselves a lot more with the stories in this collection, even (or perhaps especially) the ridiculous and nonsensical ones....more
25 Perfect Days is a collection of twenty-five short stories all linked together inSee the full review at The BiblioSanctum (co-reviewed with Wendyb!)
25 Perfect Days is a collection of twenty-five short stories all linked together in some way, each written from a different character's point of view. The book spans decades and generations, showing the decline of society into a totalitarian state where the government and a radical religion are one and the same, and overpopulation is leading to massive food shortages, congested cities and pollution. It's a scary look at how extreme measures to counter these problems can cost the people their personal freedoms.
As dystopian novels go, I thought Mark Tullius did a great job creating his disturbing vision of what could happen if a government is given too much power over its people. And usually when I read these kinds of books, the dystopia is already in place, as in whatever took place to bring the society to this state has already happened and is in the past. In 25 Perfect Days, however, we get to see an interpretation of the actual process, the slippery slope which leads to the downfall of a society. Like the book's blurb says, something like this simply doesn’t just happen overnight. It happens by degrees, and I thought the author's way of presenting the novel was a brilliant idea and also quite realistic.
Another aspect I liked about the book was its creative format, letting the story unfold over a series of short stories that each have their own focus, but are also interlinked through either events or the relationships between characters. It wasn't obvious at first, but after the first few stories, I think a bulb suddenly flashed on in my head and I understood. After that, trying to figure out the connections between the stories became an enjoyable part of the reading experience itself.
Of all the characters in the book, I think I liked Maria Salazar and her family the best. She was one of the more memorable characters, and since one of the major themes in this book is about the love and sacrifice needed to survive and overcome the tyranny, I thought the Salazars' stories were all perfect examples. One of the earlier chapters about Maria's fight to come up with the money to keep her newborn daughter was heartbreaking to read, especially for a mother. And then of course there was the story about Enrique and how he risked everything in order to procure food for his family, not to mention Vanessa Salazar, just an infant at the beginning of this book, who grows up to be a major part of the resistance along with her own child. Their family just seems to be quite central to the book.
While I liked the format with all the linked stories and the twenty-five perspectives, this also made it very hard to connect to any one character. For me, that's the most important thing to me as a reader. Like I said, there were some central characters or families that play a larger role or are more central to the overall story, but that left the more minor characters in the background. It was hard to keep track of the relationships, especially when it was a struggle to remember certain people. If it weren't for the list of characters and their connections at the end of the book, I wouldn't have been able to remember most of them on my own. I just think that in a book like this, where almost everyone and their stories are linked in some way or another, not being able to recall the details for some of them or why they're important diminishes the full effect somewhat.
Overall, 25 Perfect Days was a good read that kept me turning the pages and wondering how much worse this dystopian society could get. Though, I do think the writing could use a bit more tightening up, especially when it comes to the action scenes. Some of them were quite difficult to follow, especially when it comes to who does what and who speaks certain dialogue. Just some more description and detail into the setting and action would help me play the scenes out in my head and see them a lot clearer. Other than that, I really enjoyed this. It's nice to read a dystopian novel with elements in it that are more reminiscent of the classics....more
4.5 stars. Back when I first started getting into reading more sci-fi, John Scalzi's Old Man's War series was a great starting point. The books had ju4.5 stars. Back when I first started getting into reading more sci-fi, John Scalzi's Old Man's War series was a great starting point. The books had just the right mix of space travel, aliens and futuristic technology, but were still light enough not to intimidate a relative newcomer to the genre. Now they still rank among some of my favorite books of all time.
So when I found out about Scalzi's new serialized novel based on the Old Man's War universe, I became all excited and got set to pick up the new episodes every week from January to April 2013. Unfortunately, I discovered that I am very impatient when it comes to having to wait to find out what happens next, and I'm as bad with books as I am with TV shows when it comes to keeping up with weekly installments. For the latter, I'd much rather buy the complete DVD/Blu-ray box set with all the extras at the end of the season and do a marathon all at once, so I essentially decided to do the literary equivalent with The Human Division.
It will help to have read the previous books in the series, especially The Last Colony, since what happens in The Human Division is the direct result of the drastic events that occur the end of that novel. As such, this review may contain minor spoilers for the books that came before.
For a couple hundred years, the Colonial Union has happily taken advantage of Earth, keeping the planet's population in the dark while farming it aggressively for colonists and soldiers in the name of human expansion across a hostile universe. Last we saw, John Perry has basically blown the cover off that whole operation. Thanks to him, the people of Earth now know the truth.
Angry and betrayed, Earth considers an invitation from a political alliance made up of 400 alien races -- also known as the Conclave, bitter rivals of the Colonial Union. The CU, currently aware of their precarious position, begins to play things more carefully, making every possible effort in politics and diplomacy. An unknown entity, however, may be sabotaging all their efforts.
Being a serialized novel, this was a great mix of thirteen narratives which all come together to tell an overarching story. Some served to push the plot forward while focusing on the main characters, while others acted more as filler but were still invaluable in providing the necessary background information required to follow the story. Like any anthology-type book, there were some episodes I liked more than others, but on the whole they were all very entertaining and enjoyable.
Some highlights for me include Episode 1: The B-Team, the story which serves as an introduction to our main characters, Ambassador Abumwe, Captain Coloma, Hart Schmidt, and Harry Wilson. Wilson, of course, I was glad to see because he's someone we first met in Old Man's War, one of John Perry's friends in the group they'd dubbed the "Old Farts", so it was nice to be able to catch up with him. This story was also one hell of a start.
Also Episode 2: Walk the Plank, which a one-off short told in transcript form and was a punch in the gut. This just goes to show while John Scalzi's a funny guy and a delight to read, his stuff's not all fun and games; he's also very capable of writing poignant scenes that can fill you with dread. Walk The Plank also reaffirmed my decision to read this novel only after it was complete, as it was a drastic shift from the first episode and I would have been left very confused that week.
Then there were the episodes like #7, The Dog King which were lighter, more humorous and closer to what I expect when I think of Scalzi's works. There were also pleasant surprises like Episode 10: This Must be the Place which I found heartwarming and quite meaningful. And of course, the final episode Earth Below, Sky Above which was all action all craziness, and had me on the edge of my seat. John Scalzi gets to flex all his writing talents with this diverse collection of stories.
Basically, if you've followed the Old Man's War series up to this point, you really can't afford to miss this. It continues the story, but the serialization format also made this an incredible experience. Admittedly, I had initial doubts about it, fearing that the novel being presented as individual episodes would make it feel too disjointed, but that was not the case at all. In fact, I actually really liked it. Either I'm just not as bad as I thought at handling serial novels, or John Scalzi is simply really good at pulling this off. It's probably both.
Like I said, you can get the full-length novel now which includes all the episodes as well as a couple extras, and personally, I so much prefer reading it this way. It appears Scalzi's been signed on for a second season too, so I'm ecstatic that the adventures in the universe of Old Man's War will continue.
I'm not generally in the habit of reading short story collections, though it wouldn't be accurate to say I'm not a fan of them either. It's just that given a choice between an anthology or a full-length novel, I would most likely end up picking the latter because they tend to better satisfy my appetite for more in-depth character development and world-building. Not that I don't think a short story is incapable of achieving this at all, but it does take a talented author to make me connect to their characters and world the same way in so few pages. After reading The God Tattoo though, I'm happy to report that Tom Lloyd is one of them.
Of course, this collection of "untold tales from the Twilight Reign" also has the added benefit of taking place in a fantasy universe already established in a series of five books. According to the introduction, reading the main Twilight Reign series is not a prerequisite before tackling The God Tattoo, which is good because I'm a newcomer to this world myself. I have to say not being familiar with any of the locations or characters (apparently, not many of the major ones appear here anyway) did not hinder my enjoyment one bit; if anything I'm even more impressed with the sheer scope and epic quality of the world of Twilight Reign.
As the author himself has written, his series was never intended to be about one person or even a group of people; the history and population of an entire land are affected by the events, and the eleven stories presented here give a pretty good idea of what that means. There's a nice variety, from tales of mystery like A Beast in Velvet and The Marshall's Reflection, to some that are disturbingly magical, carrying a hint of that dark fairy tale flavor (examples like The God Tattoo, A Man Collecting Spirits, and Afraid of the Dark come immediately to mind).
This collection does a good job of fleshing out the world, showing how the people are an inextricable part of its history. The way some of these stories are connected merely serves to emphasize this point, featuring characters that shape events outside their own story and vice versa. As such, this anthology seems to flow better than most. Seen in context together, all eleven tales paint a very intriguing picture of Twilight Reign, with what I felt was a strong touch of horror to give the series that haunted, shadowy feel. It definitely sets the kind of tone I like to look for in my dark and epic fantasy.
Bottom line, I think this would be a great choice for avid readers of short stories and anthologies. That doesn't describe me at all, but even so, I found myself enjoying this book a lot. Though Tom Lloyd did say that this collection is not required reading for fans of the Twilight Reign novels, I can't think of any reason why any fan wouldn't want to pick this one up as well; if you're familiar with the world already, the stories here will probably resonate more. And if you're a new reader of his work, The God Tattoo might be inspiration to add The Stormcaller to your reading list. I personally added it because I got a taste of the series and Tom Lloyd's writing from these short stories, found that I liked what I saw, and now I'm interested in the full-length novels....more
I want to start by saying I’m not a big reader of short fiction, and on the whole I tend not to bother with any novellas, short stories or anthologies that are companion to an existing series. Part of this is due to my preference for full-length novels, but I’ve also not had the best experiences when it comes to the short format. Characters are world building are important for me, and with only a few exceptions, most short stories don’t go as in-depth into these aspects as I would like. Also, I always end up forming attachments to only a small handful of characters whenever I read a series, and I don’t often find myself as interested in companion novellas/shorts that feature the perspectives of other minor characters and people in a series’ “universe”.
That said, I had a really good time with Shifting Shadows. I’ve really fallen in love with the Mercy Thompson series in the last couple of years, which sparked my interest in this book despite it being an anthology. Aside from four new additions, most of the stories in here have previously been published, though I never felt the need to read them due to the reasons stated above, so I am reading everything with fresh eyes. Sure, as with any short story collection there are ups and downs, but overall I was very impressed with this book, and it probably ranks as up there as one of the best urban fantasy anthologies I’ve ever read.
Here’s a more detailed look at the contents:
According to the description, this is one of the new stories, written as an “origin” tale of sorts for the werewolves of Mercy Thompson’s world. We’ve always been told Bran and Samuel are old, but now we realize just how old. We’re talking possibly around the time Christianity first came to Wales. This story also has a bit of romance and sadness, detailing how Samuel and his beloved Ariana first met, but to me its true importance in the fact that it fills in a lot of history to help readers better understand the werewolf mythos as well as Bran and Samuel’s familial ties. A great starter to this anthology, and highly apt.
Unfortunately, after this comes a few stories that I just wasn’t as fond of. Thomas Hao was a vampire character I barely remember from his appearance in Frost Burned, though he may have been in any of Patricia Briggs’ other books/spin-off series, but since I haven’t read anything other than Mercy Thompson I really wouldn’t know. I like the “western” feel of this story, but other than that I have to say it was pretty forgettable. I was scarcely able to follow along with the story with its confusing back-and-forth time jumps, and I felt like I was dumped into the middle of a situation without knowing what was going on or who everyone was and why they mattered. Going back to my opening paragraph, this story is a pretty good example of my issues with series companion short stories.
The stories in here are arranged in chronological order based on the timeline of the Mercy Thompson series, and at this point we’re still in pre-Moon Called territory. Which is probably why I still found myself asking “Who are you and why do you matter again?” I feel a little guilty that I don’t remember who Elyna is, or even if I have encountered her before in any of the Mercy books. This is another one about vampires, but it’s also a ghost story at its heart. The story itself isn’t half bad, but again I would rather be reading about characters I’m more familiar with. This is definitely not one of my favorites either.
This story features Tom and Moira, two characters from Hunting Ground, book two of Briggs’ other series Alpha & Omega – which I have not read. But despite not being familiar with these characters, the author did a good job of really fleshing them out and I actually found myself curious to find out more about them beyond the events of this story. We have a perspective character here who is a witch, which was a treat. The plot also had a clear beginning and end, with the build-up and climax and everything good in between, so I didn’t feel lost at all. I loved how this story had a bit of mystery and sleuthing by the characters, and a sweet romance that ends up blossoming between them.
ALPHA AND OMEGA
I’ve always wanted to check out Alpha & Omega, though to be honest, I don’t know if I feel more or less enthusiastic about picking it up now, after reading this story. I was happy to meet up with Charles (yay, finally a character I recognize again) but I don’t know if I like the way he was portrayed here, or how Anna was portrayed either. Which is a bit ironic, I know, given how this technically gave rise to the series of the same name. It’s always grated on me a little, how the werewolf characters in the world of Mercy Thompson frequently let their wolf side take over all common sense and turn the human into chauvinistic testosterone-fueled meatheads. In this story, we are repeatedly told that Anna still has fire in her, despite being beaten and broken by her abusive pack, but it feels like whatever strength in her that’s fighting to get out is constantly being smothered by Charles’ overbearing need to own her and protect her. I realize this all fits in the context of Briggs’ “pack magic”, but it just always rankles whenever I see an over-possessive male and a helpless female that needs him to do the rescuing.
THE STAR OF DAVID
Hooray, we’re finally into Moon Called-territory and familiar ground for me. This is a great story about Adam’s fellow army ranger, David, whose tragic history illustrates the awful things that can happen when a werewolf isn’t in control of their wolf side. He reconnects with his estranged daughter in this heartwarming tale. My only problem with this story involves some of the implausible and unconvincing aspects of the situation, but given the limitations of the short story format, I didn’t let it bother me too much.
ROSES IN WINTER
This is one of the new stories, and it’s hands down my favorite out of this entire anthology. In my opinion, it’s worth picking up Shifting Shadows for this one alone. Again, I barely remember Kara since she was such a minor character (mentioned in Blood Bound, but never even appeared in any of the books) but I do recall Asil. Though I believe he’s a character in Alpha & Omega, he did make a very strong impression on me from his appearance in Frost Burned. But wow. I never imagined I would grow to love his character so much, and it was all thanks to this story. I had tears in my eyes at the end of this one, that’s how amazing it is.
IN RED, WITH PEARLS
This was a nice detective story, starring Warren. Someone sent a zombie to kill his boyfriend Kyle, and Warren’s not going to rest until he finds out who. Patricia Briggs did a fantastic job making him sound like the cowboy that he is, and I can tell she probably had a lot of fun writing this. We also get to see a few moments of tenderness between Warren and Kyle, but the best part of getting a story from Warren’s perspective is being able to experience his anxieties and doubts from inside his head. In the regular series, through Mercy’s eyes we see Warren as a happy-go-lucky, fiercely loyal friend. But as this story shows, there’s so much more to him beneath the surface.
Probably my second favorite story in the anthology, this one features Ben. It’s hard to get a bead on his character in the regular series. On the one hand, it’s been implied that Ben has a rather distasteful past, and his attitude towards women leaves a lot to be desired. On the other, Adam and Mercy seem to trust him implicitly, and Ben has gone out of his way for both of them on more than one occasion. This story gives the reader a better sense of who he is, and how he got this way. But it’s also downright hilarious. You gotta love Ben; he can be a real gentleman when he wants to be, and he takes crap from no one, not even when he’s not allowed to swear.
I was beginning to think we weren’t going to get a Mercy story at all, which despite some of the other great offerings in here, would have been disappointing. But fear not, this one’s all about Mercy, told from her point of view. And as Mercy stories go, I have to say it’s pretty standard – it reads like it could have been a story from one of the novels, but of course it’s much more condensed in this form. This meant I enjoyed it, but I admit, it does feel like Briggs crammed this one in just for the sake of having a story told in Mercy’s perspective. Just a little.
OUTTAKE FROM SILVER BORNE
Sorry to say, but…there’s probably a good reason why this was an outtake and never made it to the final book. Yeah, it gives a bit of closure to Samuel and Ariana’s story, but I wouldn’t say it’s needed in the least to enjoy the story of their relationship. I could take it or leave it. I think it was the right call to leave it out.
OUTTAKE FROM NIGHT BROKEN
On the other hand, I wish Briggs could have worked this one in somehow. I loved this scene from Adam’s point of view, at the end of Night Broken in the wake of all the craziness that happened. It endeared me to Adam, and my heart melts for his deep love for Mercy. It might just be me, but this scene would have also made the ending to that book a lot less confusing.
Concluding thoughts: there’s definitely a reason why this book is described as “Stories from the world of Mercy Thompson”, because as you can see, most of what you see in here isn’t about Mercy or even the people close to her. But with the exception of a couple of stories, that didn’t really put a damper on my experience reading Shifting Shadows. In fact, on the whole I think this book gave me a deeper understanding of the Mercy Thompson universe and made me appreciate it more. I’ve read similar anthologies and regretted it deeply afterwards, but this is not one of those cases. I highly recommended this for fans of the series, because if someone like me loved it, you probably will too...more
Stories of the Raksura is a delightful romp into Martha Wells’ world of the Raksura – even if you have not read the main series. I have been meaning to get to her Books of the Raksura for a long time now but still haven’t found the opportunity yet, so I was very happy to get my hands on this collection.
Of course, I had the usual concerns: How much do I need to know before jumping in? Am I going to be able to follow along with the short stories in here without getting lost? I shouldn’t have worried. As it turns out, this collection actually serves pretty well as an introduction to Wells’ wildly imaginative universe and the fantastical beings that live in it.
The Falling World
“The Falling World” is the first novella found in this anthology. For those like me who were unfamiliar with the race of fantasy creatures called the Raksura, you get a quick and intense crash course in this tale. Raksura are shapeshifters that look a bit to me like a form of bird-people, though their societies more closely resemble those of hive insects. A ruling queen is at the top, followed by lesser queens. Queens mate with fertile males called Consorts to produce royal clutches composed of Queens, Consorts and Warriors (infertile males and females that defend the colony). Together, these three types make up the Aeriat. They are winged and capable of flight.
Then there are the Arbora, who have no wings but are capable climbers. They are made up of Teachers that oversee the nurseries and train the young, Hunters who provide food for the colony, Soldiers who guard the colony, and Mentors who are seers with magical abilities enabling them to perform tasks such as foreseeing the future or healing the sick and wounded.
It can be a bit daunting at first, but all this information is adequately provided and easy to pick up as the story progresses. In “The Falling World”, a sister Queen called Jade travels with her entourage to another colony to negotiate trade, leaving her consort Moon behind at court. But then the diplomatic convoy fails to reach their destination, and an expedition is launched by Moon along with a party of warriors and hunters to try to discover what happened to them. However, what the rescuers find in the end might prove too dangerous and difficult for them to handle.
The story is simple and straightforward: one group sets out to find another. What amazed me though, was the amount of lore and world building Wells managed to inject into this novella. I was blown away by the information here about Raksuran culture, physiology, and social hierarchy. And the great thing is, none of it was really forced. I never once felt like I was taken aside and given and info dump; instead, all the information flowed naturally just from the normal course of storytelling. I’m sure as a new reader there’s lots I’m missing still, but the amount of knowledge I gleaned here of the Raksura and their world was just superb.
Perhaps it is also a good thing that the story itself is not overly complicated. On top of the information about Raksuran culture, there are a lot of characters to meet, many names to learn. The naming convention might take some getting used to, and you probably won’t remember who’s who all the time, but this particular story for me was mostly about getting to know this fantasy world and the Raksura, and I had a good time with it.
The Tale of Indigo and Cloud
“The Tale of Indigo and Cloud” is the second novella found in this collection. It is more of a historical narrative, exploring the legend behind the origins of Indigo Cloud court. A long time ago, a sister Queen called Indigo stole a consort named Cloud away from another Raksuran court, angering the hot-tempered queen who was Cloud’s mate, leading to a conflict that could mean all-out war between the two colonies.
This was an interesting story, which read a bit like a mythological scenario. That’s not too surprising, given its unique nature. It is a tale about the Indigo Cloud court’s queens of old, long before the key character Moon joined the colony’s ranks. It reveals more information about the way Raksuran society works, or rather how easily it could also fall apart. There’s a bit of politics and a bit of romance, the kind of perfect mix you’d want to find in an ancient legend.
There’s not much else I can think to say about this novella, but it’s probably my favorite of the two in this book. I really enjoyed the story and the lesson it imparted, as well as the overall vibe.
The Forest Boy
Next comes this short story, which tells of Moon as an injured fledgling taken in by a kind-hearted family in a nearby village, who are all unaware of his Raksuran background and shapeshifting abilities.
“The Forest Boy” is a nice bonus, giving the reader more insight into this central character.
The final short story tells of Chime, one of the warriors who accompanied Jade on her diplomatic mission back in the first novella in this collection, “The Falling World”. Chime’s situation is interesting in that he didn’t actually start off as a warrior. He was born a mentor, who then changed forms. That’s huge.
A switch from mentor to warrior, as you recall, also means a switch from Arbora to Aeriat. Wingless to winged. Fertile to infertile. Quite the life-changing event. “Adaptation” is exactly what it sounds like: Chime’s struggle to come to terms with this drastic transformation.
Despite being so short, this is probably my second favorite piece in this collection. It’s a powerful tale in its own right, not only because of the emotional and physical obstacles that Chime has to overcome, but also because of what his transformation might ultimately mean for the colony. It’s a great read, and in the end I am left to wonder what fate might hold in store for the entire Indigo Cloud court. It’s a bit ominous and unsettling.
The Raksura are one of the most original fantasy races I’ve ever encountered in fantasy fiction. I was genuinely compelled by everything about them. Despite them being so different biologically and culturally, the depth of their personalities and motivations make them feel very human. The novellas and short stories in this collection show that they have to deal with the same complex emotions we do, such as love, hate, guilt, etc. Their issues and conflicts like politics, gender and societal roles are also realistic and relatable.
All told, this is a great collection filled with all kinds of goodness like magic, rich worlds, and fascinating characters. I can’t believe how invested I am, as someone who hasn’t even read the Books of the Raksura main series. After reading this, I’m going to have to try hitting them sooner rather than later. Hopefully there will also be more of these short tales collected in future anthologies, because I would definitely be interested in reading them....more
The Gabble and Other Stories is a collection of short fiction set in the universe of the Polity series by Neal Asher. I’ve been curious about his books for a long time now, especially since his work has been described as being close to Splatterpunk, a sub-genre often characterized by its depiction of gory graphic violence, fast-paced action, and a tendency to push the boundaries especially in horror-themed sci-fi.
I was not disappointed! Indeed, The Gabble ended up being a lot of fun and I enjoyed a lot of the stories in here. Being an anthology, I also went with the assumption that this book would work well as a stand-alone read, and thus a good place to jump on board. I think for the most part my instinct was correct, though I do have more to add to this. I will go into the details below in my in-depth analysis of each story, but I did notice a couple trends in my overall experience:
1) My favorite stories tended to be shorter ones, while the longer novelettes are perhaps too steeped in the Polity lore for me to get into as easily.
2) If the main focus of a story is aliens or alien culture, there’s a good chance I loved it!
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Softly Spoke the Gabbleduck – 4 of 5 stars A pair of incestuous siblings hires a guide for a killer safari on the planet Myral in this adventure tale that ends in terror as a Gabbleduck appears through the mist and hunts them in return. Honestly, you couldn’t have found a better opener for this book of short stories. The Gabbleduck is of course the creature featured on the cover, a cool and scary looking thing with too many limbs and a duck-bill like mouth full of sharp teeth. Its comical appearance belies its deadly predatory tendencies, and should at once tell you the kind of weirdness you’re in for. Softly Spoke the Gabbleduck is a fantastic introduction to this anthology, to Neal Asher’s writing style, to his world of Polity, to the eponymous alien, and heck, just to everything! I wish more of the stories were like this one.
Putrefactors – 5 of 5 stars A bounty arrives on a planet to kill his target and instead uncovers a corrupt plot that spells dire consequences for the colonists there. By the time he realizes he himself is caught up in the conspiracy’s net, it is too late. Hands down, this was my favorite story in this collection. It was totally awesome, featuring concepts that will leave you feeling disgusted and truly horrified. Not to mention, I will never look at the phrase “a good friend” the same way again.
Garp and Geronamid – 3 of 5 stars Garp is a former policeman and a reification, a corpse kept alive through advanced tech because he simply could not stop doing his job even after his death. Geronamid is an AI, who in this particular story is implanted into a body of an allosaur. Yes, you read that right. An allosaur. Fascinating ideas in this very cool story, but the heavy involvement of things like politics and the underworld drug trade made this one harder for me to follow. It’s got some great twists and turns though, and a sensational finish.
The Sea of Death – 3 of 5 stars Two characters discuss the millions of frozen sarcophagi found below the surface of Orbus, each filled with the remains of aliens that bear some resemblance to humans. This is one of the shorter stories in this collection and can truly be read as a standalone, albeit it is not very exciting and ends quite abruptly. Not bad, but with such an interesting premise, I’d hoped for a bit more.
Alien Archaeology – 2.5 of 5 stars Another tale featuring the Gabbleduck, Alien Archaeology is a novella – and therefore the longest story in this collection – that greatly expands our understanding into the history of alien life on the many worlds of Polity. But what should have been an exciting plot and engaging experience instead left me feeling cold. I could barely keep myself focused while reading, and felt no connection to the characters. The title and some of the mildly cyberpunkish themes of the story intrigued me, as well as the idea that Gabbleducks are actually the “devolved” descendants of the Atheter race. But I just couldn’t get into it. I can definitely see someone who is more familiar with the Polity universe or Neal Asher’s work liking this one way more than I did, though.
Acephalous Dreams – 2.5 of 5 stars Another story featuring the A.I. Geronamid. After the discovery of a Csorian node, a death row prisoner is offered the chance to clear his sentence if he agrees to test drive the device. Having a bit of alien brain implanted in your head versus execution…should have been an easy choice, right? This is another story that should have been awesome, but again it didn’t quite grab me. I liked it, but with such an ambitious plot, I think this one would have worked better given more pages to develop. I might have enjoyed it even more if it had been a full-length novel.
Snow in the Desert – 4 of 5 stars Snow is an albino living in the desert…and everyone wants his balls. Literally! His unique DNA means that he has an exorbitant bounty placed on his testicles. While everyone is hunting him, Snow does what he can to survive the numerous attempts on his life as well as the dangerous conditions of his hot, arid planet. I really liked the crazy, over-the-top premise and nature of this offering. A fun and action-packed novelette.
Choudapt – 3.5 of 5 stars Perhaps a cautionary tale into the dangers of mixing alien DNA just to gain an edge. We venture a little into horror territory here. Truly terrifying. Truly enjoyable. Don’t want say anything more than that for fear of spoilers.
Adaptogenic – 3 of 5 stars It all began with an auction. Two relic hunters go searching for a missing piece of a puzzle, and their efforts land them on a strange planet at the worst time possible. An enjoyable yarn, but not the most memorable. I had to go back to the book to remind myself what happened because I hardly remembered the nitty-gritty details of it, especially since some of the better stories have already gone ahead and the bar to impress me now is set pretty high at this point. Not bad though, and I don’t remember disliking the story when I read it.
The Gabble – 4 of 5 stars We end the same way as we began – with a Gabbleduck! Researchers want to uncover the secrets behind these mysterious and frightful beings. Like Alien Archaeology, this story reveals a little more about the history and connections between different species, especially when it comes to Gabbleducks and Hooders. The Gabble is a great closer for this collection, wrapping things up with a solid tale that ties together threads introduced in some of the previous stories in this book. It’s not an overly powerful or profound offering, but it cuts deeply all the same, making it an apt conclusion.
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On the whole, this is a great collection. Like all anthologies, it has its ups and downs, i.e. some stories are better than others. I’m admittedly not a big reader of short fiction because I so often find stories to be too short (“I want more character development! More world building!”) or too long (“Wait, what’s going on? Am I supposed to understand this part? But I haven’t read the original series, there’s just too much I don’t know here!” etc., etc.) My experience with The Gabble was not so different, but I did enjoy myself more than I expected.
I think this is a decent place to start if you’re curious about Neal Asher’s work and want to give it a try, or if you want just a taste of what Polity has to offer before taking the full plunge. Being new to this universe, I have to say I was pretty impressed, and if you’re already familiar with Asher’s Polity series, you’ll probably enjoy it even more. My interest is certainly piqued; I might have to check out his other books now....more
Every fan of Peter V. Brett’s Demon Cycle series should check out this collection. I promise you won’t regret it! Not only does The Great Bazaar & Brayan’s Gold contain two excellent short stories, it also features fun little extras like “outtakes” from earlier versions of The Warded Man and a ward grimoire complete with illustrations of the wards themselves. While longtime readers of the series will likely be the ones to get the most out of this volume, I believe it can also serve as a great introduction and the perfect jumping-on point for newcomers to the Demon Cycle.
Not usually being one to pick up short stories outside of main novels, I was really surprised how much I enjoyed this book. It probably helped that both The Great Bazaar and Brayan’s Gold take place during my favorite period of Arlen Bales’ life; that is, back when he was still a humble messenger traveling the world and going on his adventures, and before he was corrupted by demon’s flesh (and Renna Tanner – hey, I’m only being honest here) to become the Warded Man and the Deliverer.
While this one certainly isn’t required reading, the story Brayan’s Gold alone probably makes this book worth picking up. Read on for a more in-depth analysis of this book’s contents.
Brayan’s Gold – 5 of 5 stars
Arlen Bales, now 17, is an apprentice Messenger preparing for his first big assignment. But instead of a simple overnight trip, he and his companion are tasked to carry a dangerous cargo of thundersticks to Count Brayan’s gold mine, situated high up in the frozen mountains. The journey through the ice and snow will be treacherous, not to mention the threat of bandits on the road. And if that wasn’t bad enough, the giant rock demon known as One Arm still stalks Arlen every night, hungry for its revenge.
What can I say, but this version of Arlen is the character I first fell in love with: inexperienced, but determined; idealistic, but full of spirit; brave, but just a little touch insane. Best of all, it is Arlen’s story all his own, and it is amazing how much substance Brett was able to pack here in about 70 pages. For a short story, the plot is surprisingly rich with plenty of action and suspense, drama of human relationships, and of course, a heart-stopping showdown with a never-before-seen type of demon.
Its short length notwithstanding, Brayan’s Gold has become one of my favorite pieces of Demon Cycle-related fiction to date, and I can’t believe it took me this long to check it out. Loved it.
The Great Bazaar – 3.5 stars
In the main series, Arlen finds the ruins of Anoch Sun, the ancient Krasian city in which he unearths the tomb of Kaji and retrieves the legendary warded spear. This great discovery, however, was actually preceded by a complex chain of events. The Great Bazaar tells how Arlen first managed to acquire the map to the ruins, a story that involves Abban, our favorite khaffit.
From the sound of things, Brett first wrote this story around 2009 or 2010, right around the time before The Desert Spear came out (and the story itself takes place somewhere between Chapters 16 and 17 in The Warded Man), so this was still relatively early in his writing career. It showed in the writing, which was laden in places with awkward exposition. This is also around the time when Arlen’s character started to become aggravating, when his obsession for wards began to take over his life, resulting in unnecessary risks.
The story was pretty decent though, with a very satisfying ending. It’s mostly filler, but I can’t deny that it was entertaining.
Deleted Scene: Arlen
Peter V. Brett made the right decision when he cut this following his editor’s advice. It would have felt out of place in the novel, though I appreciated Brett sharing the story about how his entire Demon Cycle series was born from the seed of this introductory scene. I can certainly understand the personal and emotional attachment to a piece like this, so even though it has no place in The Warded Man, it was still a fascinating little bonus.
Deleted Scene: Brianne Beaten
Brett explains that this was one of his favorite scenes, but since it added nothing to the narrative (it was supposed to show how badass Leesha had become, but it was already clear that Leesha was badass enough) he decided to cut it. It’s probably the right decision, though I wonder why he didn’t do the same for the latest installment of the series The Skull Throne, which I thought had its fair share of superfluous village scenes like this one too.
Brianne Beaten could have been a mini-story on its own, and it read like a classic deleted scene. A village woman who feels animosity towards Leesha finally swallows her pride and lets the young herb gatherer help her. Leesha ends up saving the day and shows just how hardcore she has become. Yeah, leaving this scene in probably would have been overkill. But again, this was a fascinating look behind-the-scenes at Brett’s writing process.
Krasian Dictionary and Ward Grimoire
The final sections of this book are mostly for reference. Readers already familiar with the series will know a lot of this information already, but the real treat are the illustrations of some the most common wards mentioned in the novels. The grimoire also kind of doubles up as a bestiary, useful if you need to brush up on your demons.
Final Thoughts: This edition of The Great Bazaar & Brayan’s Gold is a wonderful contribution to the world of the Demon Cycle, packed with bonus content-like material that enhanced my experience with the setting and characters. Filled with goodies for fans of the series and yet still accessible enough for new readers, this volume both thrilled and fascinated me. Highly recommended....more