My Top 10 (Actually 12) Favorite Short Stories of 2015

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2015 is almost up, and you know what that means…

That’s right — excessive weight gain around the holidays!

Also Top 10 Lists!!

Last year I loved making my Top 10 books of the year (which ended up being around 17 or something), but this year I’m going to break down my lists into smaller categories. One of those will be the Top 10 (Actually 12) Short Stories I read in 2015.

Obviously not comprehensive, and not all were written in the past year, but all made a big impression on me. I’m terrible at telling you exactly which was THE BEST, so I’m just going to give them to you in alphabetical order by the author’s last name. Fair warning — many of them are in the Future Chronicles anthologies since I’ve read each of them this year making them a significant reading source for me each time one was released.

A few caveats: A few stories may not have made the cut because I only took one per anthology, and I definitely left all of the parts of Hugh Howey’s Beacon 23 series off since they’ll make an appearance as a full novel on my best books of the year list.


Zero Hour by Eamon Ambrose

zeroRight off the bat, we get a revelation. Eamon has been well-known in the indie community for a few years as being a top reviewer and a big supporter of indie writers. That much talent wasn’t going to stay hidden behind his blog, though, and we were treated to the first of three (so far!), short stories by Eamon in August. The story could be written off, except that Eamon penned the story in the dreaded second-person perspective. You know — the same POV that you read all those Choose Your Own Adventure books in back in middle school. Eamon pulls it off with a flourish and is a fantastic new voice.

The Traveler by Stefan Bolz

tt chronI love how Stefan Bolz writes. Always interesting. Always compelling. Always positive. Even in The Traveler, which originally appeared in The Time Travel Chronicles, where bad things happen, there is an overall optimistic outlook. Bolz has the unique ability to take a dystopia and make it a place you want to be. In The Traveler, Bolz gives us a nuts and bolts (pun definitely intended) look at time travel as our protagonist builds a machine from scratch. The story is poignant and touching, and is one of a handful of phenomenal stories from that anthology.

Free Fall by Peter Cawdron

freefallPeter Cawdron is perhaps the best writer who you should be reading if you aren’t. He’s written stories about aliens, genetic engineering, time travel, and has most recently been focusing his time and talents on zombies and the monsters humanity creates. Free Fall is set in Cawdron’s zombie universe and is a fascinating take on the genre, putting an astronaut in space at the time of the z-pocalypse. What does he do? How does he react when a distress call comes to him from a little girl on earth? The tale is thrilling and captivating.

Tasty Dragon Meat by KJ Colt

dragonIn The Dragon Chronicles, one title took the title of the “Most Talked About,” and that was Tasty Dragon Meat. KJ Colt managed to tell a story that was funny, scary, and thrilling all at the same time. Who would imagine that ingesting dragon meat would do anything besides fill a starving man’s stomach? The idea that the addictive flesh of the dragon had hidden qualities was fun and inventive and earned Colt a spot on this list.

A Long Horizon by Harlow Fallon

11796327_10153423837640170_1900403244562143189_nThe Immortality Chronicles was the first Future Chronicles title to send proceeds to charity. One might think the stories would be subpar, but throughout it, the authors strove for excellence. Harlow Fallon’s A Long Horizon capped the collection with a bang. The story spans hundreds of years from a ship bound for the New World from Europe to a ship in deep space bound for unknown destinations. One thing is consistent – an alien who has formed a symbiotic (even parasitic) relationship with its host, a woman who was just on the cusp of adulthood on her voyage to America. It is touching, interesting, and visceral.

Piece of Cake by Patrice Fitzgerald

aiPatrice Fitzgerald takes artificial intelligence and adds something we all can relate to – cake. Originally published in The A.I. Chronicles, Fitzgerald’s story takes the cake (sorry!) as the story of A.I. run amok with political correctness. There are certainly shades and hints that allude to our society today and the steps we take to making everyone the “same” and ignoring unique body shapes. I applaud Patrice’s work on the story and how it rings true, but also how it hits the funny bone as well.

Writer’s Block by Hank Garner

writers blockEarlier when I mentioned Eamon Ambrose, I talked about how much of a boon to indie publishing he’d been. Hank Garner is quickly becoming a major voice for publishing with his Author Stories Podcast. Recording one a week, Hank is giving a voice (literally) to dozens of writers who deserve to be heard. Garner is a heck of a writer as well, publishing a number of works this year, including Writer’s Block, a story that most any writer can relate to. Of course, it isn’t as simple as just a case of writer’s block, as our protagonist Stu finds out and we get a magical story out of it.

Under the Grassy Knoll by Richard Gleaves

tinfoilDavid Gatewood is one of the best editors out there, and he took a chance this year by publishing Tales of Tinfoil, a short story anthology centered on conspiracy theories. The anthology is a bold choice and I think it pays off. Gleaves’ story leads the collection with a JFK rabbit-hole tale. Where Gleaves shines is the attention to detail and the plausibility. By the end, I was almost convinced that was the actual circumstances of the president’s assassination. Gleaves’ main work on his Sleepy Hollow series is lengthy (the three books total over a half-million words), but the short story here is a fine work, indeed.

Unconditional by Chris Pourteau

Unconditional_sml2Apparently this year Chris Pourteau just wanted to rip people’s hearts out. He originally published Unconditional on its own at the beginning of the year, and then folded it into an anthology entitled Tails of the Apocalypse featuring stories of animals in the end times. I’m sure with both appearances, readers left the story a few tears fewer. Basic premise: What about the family dog during a zombie apocalypse? Here’s the twist — the story is told from the POV of the dog who is loyal to the last. Well done, Mr. Pourteau, thanks for making me think of it all over again. I hate you.

Where Dragons Lie by Thomas Robins

41MGayjgjJLThis may be more of a novella, but I’m putting it here anyway. Right about the time The Dragon Chronicles was out and garnering five-star reviews, Thomas Robins released the first of two stories in a fantasy world inhabited by dragons and those afraid of them. The title dragon isn’t all he seems to be, however, and you’ll find yourself questioning a lot as you read through the story. Robins has since followed it up with a quasi-sequel and I hope he continues the story in 2016.

Concerns of the Second Sex by Pavarti Tyler

althistoryI don’t know if I can say it much better than what I said about this story when it was first released with the alt.history 101 title in July. So here we go: “Important? Yes. Important. Take Pavarti Tyler’s story for example. Entitled Concerns of the Second Sex, her tale looks at a world where the 19th Amendment never came to be. In fact, with the absence of the women’s vote, the world has reverted to a place barely recognizable. Well, recognizable if you’ve read Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, but that’s about it. Tyler pays homage to Atwood with this story and takes it a step further with the treatment of other races, including race mixing. If we never respected the rights of half of the species, why would the race movement of the 50’s and 60’s be successful, either? The story is tragic, yet Tyler does give it a hopeful note. I found it poignant and an important story to read and understand where we’ve come from and where we are going.”

Carindi by Jennifer Foehner Wells

darkAn emotional gut punch rounds out this list as Jennifer Wells gets all the feels as the heart of the Dark Beyond The Stars collection. The authors and curator didn’t try to focus on it, but each of the authors for the anthology is a woman, showing that science fiction isn’t just for men. One of my favorites was Carindi, set in the universe of Wells’ debut novel, Fluency. The story focuses on dependency, love, and sacrifice. When everything you have is in the hands of someone else, what is does love mean? In the end, our actions are the loudest words of all, as we find in this moving short story.


…and there we go. What a great list. By no means is this comprehensive. I read a lot this year, but my my own admission, my reading list was mostly limited to independent publishing, namely The Future Chronicles anthologies. I rated A LOT of stories as five stars this year, so this list could change a lot depending on my mood. There were certainly stories that were great, but I had to set the line somewhere. Don’t worry — still going to have a Best Books of the Year list coming up in the next couple weeks. Stay tuned for that.

But what do you think? Agree? Disagree? Let me know in the comments.

 

Book Review — Nomad

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Whew.

After reading Nick Cole’s The End Of The World As We Knew It and Matthew Mather’s Nomad within a day of each other, I was mentally exhausted. The two books wore me out. I described how Cole’s book was an exercise in retracing our steps in the aftermath of a zombie apocalypse yesterday, but Mather’s book was a visceral look at a very specific end of world event. Both had the hallmarks of apocalyptic fiction, but they were as different as can be when it comes to the action and plotting.

nomadIn Nomad, Matthew Mather tears things apart. Families, countries, economies, planets, galaxies…all get ripped apart between the covers of his latest novel. I read his earlier book from this year — Darknet — and found it frightening in a way that was almost difficult to describe. In Darknet, the threat is real, but invisible. In fact, the antagonist can strike and be gone again without you even knowing it, the only traces are digital breadcrumbs left in its wake.

In Nomad, Mather does it again, creating an invisible villain — the titular astronomical anomaly — but the effects this go-around are more immediate, more violent, more physical. Instead of bank accounts and identities being torn asunder, it is the literal earth that undergoes an upheaval in Nomad.

The story is fast-paced and energetic from the get-go, placing all of our characters in Rome. Some are there for pleasure, some for work, and others are trying to hide from the authorities. The latter is our young protagonist Jessica. We first meet her while she is on a tour of an Italian castle with her mother, but her story goes much deeper and gives her a rich and detailed backstory. In fact, as the story kept unfolding, we kept seeing new aspects of Jessica’s character that led to numerous “aha” moments. Mather wonderfully wove her story in the fabric of Nomad and gives us a great character we can live through in this book as well as others to come.

What was great about Mather’s previous books was the scientific reality he’d grounded things in from the technological terror of Darknet to the scenarios he plays out in CyberStorm. The same is true for Nomad, with actual astronomical possibilities. In fact, the very anomaly he showcases in the book popped up in the news as a discovery in just the last few months. The terror of space really isn’t what we can see — it is what we can’t see, and Mather proves it with this book.

Mather takes the reader on a wild ride, and all of it feels genuine and authentic. Our characters are real and we want them to be real and to make it in the face of overwhelming adversity. With all that can possibly go wrong, can humanity go on? What will an event like this bring out? The best, or the worst in us?

As for the next books in the planned trilogy, Mather certainly has a plan for the second book with the path for our characters, but planted enough seeds along the way to make sure the reader knows the path will be rocky and difficult. I massively enjoyed this book and am very much looking forward to Sanctuary

Book Review — The End Of The World As We Knew It

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With the long weekend and another day off yesterday, I was able to polish off some of that reading list that never seems to shrink. I posted my review of Hank Garner’s Seventh Son of a Seventh Son yesterday, but that was really the tip of the iceberg.

On Tuesday night, I finished Nick Cole’s latest book, The End Of The World As We Knew It (TEOTWAWKI). It was epic. It was grand. It was heartbreaking and yet hopeful. More on that in a bit.

In a Nick Cole hangover today, I finally got around to starting Matthew Mather’s Nomad. I kept hearing great things about it, but it just came out at a bad time to get to it immediately (same thing with Cole’s book). With a few hours riding in a car today, I figured it was as good as a time to start as any. I couldn’t stop. Any free moment I had, I was back at the Kindle, craving more of Mather’s version of the apocalypse. I LOVED it, but for different reasons than why I loved Cole’s novel. I’ll share my thoughts on Nomad later this week…first I want to get TEOTWAWKI off my chest.

teotwawkiFirst off…I hate Nick Cole. I hate that he can write like he can. I hate that he makes me care about his deeply flawed characters. I hate him so much I can’t help but love him just a bit.

I will admit when I first opened the book, I struggled with the first few pages. Found footage in book form. Ugh. It seemed like an unnecessary plot device, but after a few pages, it settles down. Yes, there is the aspect of these recordings and journals being found and pieced together, but the stories are quite broad and involved.  As a reader I found the two main stories quite distinct and after a while I forgot they were “found footage.”

In that case, it does draw comparisons to the modern-day standard in zombie fiction — World War Z. Max Brooks’ classic is well known for being a series of vignettes that are only tied together by the slimmest of threads (NOT the movie, which features Brad Pitt as a very capable thread). In this case, there is a sense of that as well, but instead of it showcasing the tales of survival (or death) at the hands (and teeth) of the zombies, Cole shows us the humanity left behind in its wake. He shows the emotions, the torment, the shame, the bitterness, the economics, the brutality, the…life that is left when the plague wipes out most of the nation. What he does better than Brooks from a narrative point of view is he uses the protagonists of Alex and Jasonn (mostly Jason) to find all of those aspects of humanity in the aftermath. Jason’s journey is one made by countless characters throughout literature, starting with Odysseus. He needs to find the love of his life, but with Alex he only has the vaguest idea of where to look. Along the way we see his faults, his fears, his failures on his trek from New York to Los Angeles.

There really is so much to take in along the way, Cole could have easily tripled the size of the book with the rich details he added with developed secondary characters. Shoot, Cole could write a whole other story with just the character of Chris, or The Lady, or…any number of them.

But we get Jason and Alex. Star-crossed lovers, separated by thousands of miles of land and millions of infected zombies between them. Who are they? What choices do they make? How does that affect everyone else? What does that do to their very souls?

I loved Nick Cole’s book. Described as “The Walking Dead” meets “The Notebook,” I can honestly say as someone who hasn’t watched either (I know, I know!) that this book delivers. If you like a healthy dose of philosophy and romance with your zombie literature, this book is for you. I really could go on and on about what I felt as I flipped each page of this book, but suffice it to say I felt all the things. I felt joy, sadness, anger, shame, courage, and fear. Cole places you at the center of the apocalypse and makes sure that you know that each character has their own apocalypse. Each person gets their own ending and even with similar circumstances, each ending is unique. Read this book. You won’t regret it.

Book Review Round-up!

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I like to include my Amazon reviews over here as well, and there are a few that I missed lately. I am so impressesd by so much that I see coming out of the indie publishing scene — so many great and new ideas and great voices to showcase their works. Without further ado, here are my reviews for Stefan Bolz’s Apocalypse Weird entry Genesis: The White Dragon, the latest short story from Carol Davis entitled Being of Value, and a great novel by Travis Mohrman, Humid.


aw-genesisStefan Bolz has a unique style to his writing that I have yet to see duplicated. Even as he destroys the world in his Apocalypse Weird story Genesis, there is a hope and an optimism that is still visible. But, while that hope is there, that sometimes makes the violence all the more brutal knowing the end may not be pretty for everyone.
In Genesis, we follow Kasey Byrne on the day she turns 18 years old. What should be one of the best and most joyous days of her life takes a dramatic turn in the opposite direction very quickly. She watches in horror as hundreds of dolphins turn up en masse to commit suicide on the beach, then is helpless as her mother commits suicide, and is stuck with an insane police officer who is about to murder her and her boyfriend in cold blood. And that’s just the first couple hours.
What’s great about Bolz is that he presents a Young Adult Apocalypse Weird tale. The immediacy of Kasey’s actions are all the more intense as we follow her life from the graduation party on the beach to the end when everything changes. The emotions and inner turmoil of teenagers is so much more intense, then say a 35-year-old man. We sense that not only is it the end of the world, but it’s also the end of everything Kasey knows. Everything is ripped from her as the forces of evil search for something only she would have.
I loved Bolz’s take on the apocalypse and if any is due a sequel, it’s this one. Bolz bold and memorable characters are prime for the next chapter in their lives and I know his fans will eat up the story Bolz has up his sleeve next.


being-of-value-smallIn Carol Davis‘ writing, the reader can almost always get a clear picture of the drama and action. She has a definite style that lends itself towards visualizing the story on the screen, whether as a movie or TV show. Her latest sci-fi short Being Of Value is right there as well, putting the reader in an unfamiliar environment, but making the story so palatable and palpable you can picture it immediately.
As is the case with so many great A.I. stories, the protagonist of BOV, Matthew, makes you question what it really means to be human. Is it just flesh and blood? Is it an organic mind, born from a lifetime of experiences? Or…is it something else? Is human even something to aspire to? The tale moves along at a good clip, but the questions of ethics, of right and wrong, of whether humanity is defined by our morals continue to haunt Matthew and the reader along the way.
Davis’ background of writing with the sci-fi TV screen in mind definitely plays a part in this story. There is a general positive futuristic vibe to it, almost a Star Trek related theme of sorts when we see Matthew host some foreign dignitaries in the Dome — a Holodeck of sorts in a contest between man and android. Although androids have advantages of a body and mind that never tires, the contest ends up more than he was counting on.
I enjoyed the story and could definitely see a continuing series with Matthew as he continues to discover who he is in relation to the human universe and what that means.


humidEver since I read Travis Mohrman’s book Singular Points, I’ve been excited to see what else he had up his sleeve. In many ways, Humid is a spiritual successor to SP as we see Mohrman’s signature style on full display with a flair intense sci-fi action.
What happens when all of a sudden, the weather patterns stop, the humidity gets cranked to levels off the scale, and water all over the earth no longer stays on the surface, retreating to the atmosphere? That’s what everyone wants to know, including our hero, Wendy, a meteorologist living in St. Louis. Wendy is tasked with being the lone researcher left at a weather station as the humidity continues to ramp up, destroying modern society in its wake.
I don’t want to spoil too much of the book, but Wendy encounters interesting characters along her journey to discover the truth of what is happening to the planet. Eventually that truth leads to a confrontation between her and the cause of the entire planetary disaster. I liked the characters, and was constantly looking for what Mohrman had up his sleeve next.

Book Review – Reversal

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Reversal_FT_FINALHow to describe Reversal?

Take a Clive Cussler sea thriller, add a Lee Child Reacher murder mystery, combine it with a creepy supernatural Dean Koontz story, shove in a little bit of Stephen King’s The Stand along with March of the Penguins, and you’ll be close. Jennifer Ellis has pulled off a remarkable book that keeps you guessing at every turn with a mixture of sci-fi, supernatural, and good ol’ fashioned thriller.

I first became familiar with Ellis when I read the time travel anthology Synchronic. Her story “The River” was a fascinating and out-of-the-box time travel tale. Lucky for us, Ellis took the same tack when it came to her first entry into the Apocalypse Weird universe. It would have been easy for her to destroy a major city like L.A. or New York, or even something more familiar to any reader, but instead she took on the North Pole.

No Santa Claus here, but instead we are talking about the magnetic north pole. Instead of zombies or autoimmune diseases, Ellis supplies her apocalypse with pole reversal, solar flares, super volcanoes and methane-venting craters. The death toll is probably lower than any of the other AW books (except for the penguins. RIP penguins…) but the carnage is implied as the reversal of the magnetic pole causes GPS systems to go haywire, and the environmental disasters involved could potentially devastate the entire planet for years to come.

Our hero is Sasha Wood, a researcher at the International Polar Research Station on Ellesmere Island. She’s there with a handful of other scientists, including the station caretaker Soren Anderson. The trouble starts on the second day of the story when everyone wakes up blind (a common event to each of the AW books). Ellis really paints the picture of the Blindness really well, amping up the tension in the first few chapters and never letting it slide.

And that was one of the things I liked best about Reversal. The book never gives you much rest. There are a few “down” times, but even in those moments, Ellis tosses in bits of important information that relate to the causes of the event, Soren’s complicated history, or more and more craziness that is bound to happen next.

All throughout the book, Sasha and Soren have to deal with problems unique to a polar expedition. Instead of taking a car on the highway, they must travel via snowmobiles. Instead of having dogs for pets, the dogs are important survival tools. The accuracy to real polar research is amazing and a nice touch.

I really can’t say enough about Reversal and I hope Ellis gets a chance to play around in her polar playground once again.

Book Review – Immunity

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ImmunityCoverWhat if those experiencing the end times in the Apocalypse Weird stories could look at why it was happening? What if they were able to take a look at it all from a purely scientific basis and figure out what exactly was going on, and better yet – where it all originated?

That’s what we get in the form of E.E. Giorgi’s Immunity. We’ve seen the world get torn apart in Nick Cole’s The Red King, but in Immunity, we really take a look at why.

The story is told from the perspective of two protagonists – Dave, a computer specialist, and Anu, a genetic researcher. Together at a lab in a remote part of New Mexico, they work to solve the so-called “zombie flu.”

Being one of the first books written by someone besides Nick Cole, we find a different pace and a different style, and that is certainly welcome (and with Reversal and The Serenity Strain, we get two more diverse voices contributing to this crazy universe as well). Giorgi brings her background as a scientist at Los Alamos National Laboratory into play with convincing results.

What I probably enjoyed the most was seeing this remote laboratory – supposedly far away from the reaches of the strange apocalyptic events around the rest of the world – getting “infected” during the Blindness that had its tentacles everywhere.

In the end, we find that the virus that is a threat to so many has its roots deep in Anu’s past, and she may hold the secret to unlocking the virus and its deadly effects.

I really enjoyed the book and look forward to seeing more out of Giorgi in the future. Well done!

Book Review – The Dark Knight

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Dark nightWith his hand solely responsible for two of the Apocalypse Weird novels thus far, and half of another, it’s safe to say Nick Cole is guiding the direction of the AW stories. With The Dark Knight, Cole ups the ante even farther, introducing new characters we can’t help but root for, and a startling aspect that no one saw coming.

Out of the six AW novels complete so far, Cole’s The Dark Knight (releasing Monday, Feb. 23) is the first sequel in the ranks. Because of that, there is little stage setting for the main group of characters we met the first time out. But, Cole gives us a new character – literally the title character of Cory, who goes as Batman (or The Dark Knight). I’ll come back to him in a moment. The sequel gives Cole a lot of freedom to push the boundaries of his existing characters (which he wasn’t afraid to do back in The Red King anyway) as well as smash the expectations of a sophomore effort.

Back in TRK, Cole gave us the shady figure of Holiday, along with the steady Frank, and the mysterious Ashley. By the end of the book, we find Holiday refusing to accept reality, diving back into his drunken ways, and almost killing his friends along the way. In his wanderings, he finds new survivors and brings them back (and they’ve got their own issues and mysteries as well), but Frank swears Holiday off. The two men who depended on each other and survived due to that trust are done. Frank will not give Holiday any measure of trust, no matter what Holiday does to try to become the hero the group deserves.

While that is playing out, we wander outside of Frank’s newly-built castle and meet Cory. Cory is special. Cole doesn’t ever say what it is that makes Cory special – Down’s Syndrome, Fragile X, or whatever – but it’s clear a person like Cory wouldn’t survive long in a post-apocalyptic world without help. So where has he been the past few weeks as zombies terrorized the city? That’s a twist I’m not going to share, but suffice it to say, I didn’t see it coming. It adds an entirely new dimension for the AW world to explore and I loved it.

Cory is searching for his father, a police officer, who inspired Cory to become Batman, costume and all. Whether searching for diabetic supplies for his neighbor at the nearby pharmacy, or trying to survive a world gone mad, Cory’s safety and security lies in his alter-ego.

I am Batman.

I am the Night.

Cory becomes the Night and survives the horrors of Apocalypse Weird, only to be discovered by Ashley, setting up some potentially exciting scenes in Cole’s third book, already named The Lost Castle.

There is a great story in this book, but at the same time, Cole is teasing us. He is setting the chess board. The titles aren’t coincidental – The Red KING, The Dark KNIGHT, The Lost CASTLE (otherwise known as a ROOK). Cole has a master plan up his sleeve and isn’t willing to tip his hand just yet. There are more moves to be made, some by him, perhaps some by other writers.  I can’t wait for the third book, and frankly every book to be put out under the AW banner in the future. The world is being destroyed and I’m having a great time in the process.