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

Standard

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.

 

Vote for Z Ball!

Standard

Oh boy.

Each week, my pal Preston Leigh (owner and operator of The Leighgendarium blog) features a short story as part of an ongoing series. This week, one of my stories is up for the weekly honors, but the competition is tougher than ever. I really feel like Z Ball (originally in The Z Chronicles) is one of my best tales, but I’ve got the likes of Hugh Howey’s Second Suicide (featured in The Alien Chronicles), Vincent Trigili’s The Storymaster (from The Dragon Chronicles), Ann Christy’s Unnatural (from Alt.History 101), and Susan Kaye Quinn’s Restore (from The A.I. Chronicles).

Whoa.

So…I’m not going to win. But, let’s give these master storytellers a run for their money.

Click on the graphic below to go to The Leighgendarium and vote for Z BALL:

zombie vote

(Oh, and while you’re there, hop in on the conversation about Michelle Browne’s story The Factory, this week’s story selection.)

One more thing…

LONG LIVE Z BALL.

Immortal Ponderings

Standard

Lately, I’ve been thinking about eternity. In a mostly scientific sense at least…well, science fiction sense I suppose. The search for immortality and the quest for eternal life has been at the forefront of human existence for millenia. We want to live longer…we want to push the boundaries of life and death…we want to be a part of the universe for just a moment longer…

11796327_10153423837640170_1900403244562143189_nIn the past few days, I’ve been able to read through the next Future Chronicles anthology, entitled The Immortality Chronicles. Samuel Peralta, the braintrust behind the FC series, has already laid the foundations with Robots, Telepathy, Aliens, A.I., Dragons, Zombies, and Alternate History. I have the privilege of having a story in Immortality and after finishing reading the entire collection, it’s safe to say we’ve done it again with a fantastic group of stories.

As I read through the various stories, I found a few different themes kept popping up. Life. Death. Agony of existence and purity of the grave.

Ultimately though, a few of the stories kept coming back in some small way to one thing. And that one thing kept running through my head long after I put my Kindle down.

Memories.

We all have them. Whether it was the thoughts from this morning when you ate pancakes for breakfast, or the memories of climbing the oak tree in your backyard as an eight-year-old, memories are a constant in our lives. Some are welcome: the rich memories that flood my mind whenever I smell a fresh donut…the times I spent reading books on my bed as a teenager, dying to spend a split second in the worlds I jointly created with the author…the small moments I’ve spent with my wife from our first time holding hands to now.

Some memories are seemingly random. For example, whenever I iron clothes, my mind backtracks to an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation. Its the one where Picard is basically a babysitter for some of the children on board the Enterprise when the power on the ship fails. He has to be their leader and their comfort, even singing with them in a powerless lift shaft. I have no idea why I think of that when I iron clothes, but that’s where my mind goes. Always. Every morning when I comb my hair, I think of a scene from the zombie movie Dawn of the Dead. The one from 2003 or 2004. I don’t even like the scene so much, but whenever I’m applying hair spray in the morning, my mind drifts back to that stupid movie. Memories are silly and capricious. At times they seem to control us more than we control them.

Some memories…maybe are more difficult: the pain and anguish we went through as we struggled to get our son home from Africa over the past few years…the torture of seeing siblings struggle with infertility and adoption setbacks of their own…rejections and losses throughout my life.

Ultimately though, a running theme that seemed to reverberate with me was memories. When a person ends up immortal (or close to it), we as the author tends to assume the human brain would run out of space to hold the memories. That there is a finite space for those and an infinite life is too much for that grey matter to hold on to. How do we solve that problem? Maybe the protagonist simply discards chosen memories here and there, perhaps the memory wipe is more…invasive. Perhaps the brain does its own purging and keeps the memories that it deems more important and relevant to life…

It’s really fascinating how the authors handle these situations. I don’t want to give anything away, but for some, the memory issue is a key factor in the plot of the story and yet in other stories, the memories are a side mention.

If I was facing eternal life, I would think that my memories would soon be my preferred currency. What is life if we cannot remember the times we surprised someone with a birthday party or a puppy, or even a nice pizza? What would be the purpose of elongated life if we couldn’t remember how we got there? If the lessons we learned in hundreds of years of life were suddenly stripped away and gone, I would mourn the loss of those memories. I’m not sure that eternal life is worth it if I can’t take a look back on where I came from along the way. It’s really hard to say what we would actually choose, however, when we’ve never had this option before.

There is so much more to The Immortality Chronicles from David Bruns’ courtroom drama, to Harlow Fallon’s deep space prison ship, and John Gregory Hancock’s cigar shop on an alien port. I loved reading all the stories and I think you will too. If you haven’t preordered The Immortality Chronicles yet, get on it. Just $2.99 during preorder and then it will go up to $5.99 after the launch, so you want to buy it now.

Book Review – Where Dragons Lie

Standard

41MGayjgjJLThomas Robins made his first foray into Fantasy with his story Where Dragons Lie and the effort totally works on many levels. The tale is a simple, yet complicated character piece, using a common aspect of Fantasy stories — dragons — to push the narrative, ultimately leading to a climactic showdown between the protagonist and the dragon he hunted for nearly the entire book.

Told from a first-person perspective, Robins nails the unfamiliar tone, showcasing his imagination in a new genre. The story description is very simple, but yet the execution leaves the reader impressed with the results. At the beginning of the tale (or is it tail?), our protagonist recalls a moment very early in his life when a dragon visited his small, lonely town. One man came and promised to defeat the dragon in exchange for the fairest girl in town. He comes back bearing the dragon’s horn, a sign of the victory.

As times goes by, that victor claims his spoils, but stays in the village, choosing to use and abuse his privileges of besting the dragon on that night so very long ago. His daughter becomes the new prize to be won — but only by someone brave enough to conquer a dragon of their own. That’s what sends our hero out on his quest — a desire to win her hand, and a journey to find and slay a dragon.

In the end, Robins delivers a fantastic story, with enough fantasy and intrigue to pull the reader along. I quite enjoyed the story and think Robins could do quite well writing in this genre again.

Note: Where Dragons Lie is up for Preorder on Kindle and when purchased will be downloaded on your device on Feb. 27. I was given the opportunity to read an Advanced Reader Copy.