Tag Archives: short story anthology

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Dog Days of Summer: Flash Fiction anthology edited by Barbara Venkataraman

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Earlier in the year – fortunately, well before I went down with Covid-19 – Barbara contacted me to ask if I would be interested in submitting a 100-word story to her summer-themed anthology. And I jumped at the chance – it sounded like such fun! I sketched out one story, intending it to be the first of three pieces of flash fiction, but in the first week of March I became ill.

BLURB: Dog Days of Summer Flash Fiction, what a blast! The challenge: capture a mood, a memory, or an experience, using exactly 100 words. Stories like Ice Cream Hero, Lemonade Stand, and The Prank take you back to your childhood, while others like Fever Pitch, The Panty Liner Incident, and Lemonade Stand evoke summer heat and the search for relief. Other stories like What’s the Buzz?, Lazy Lake, and Change of Season leave you with a smile. Enjoy stories by Goodreads authors: Jina Bazzar, James J. Cudney, IV, S.J. Higbee, Sandra J. Jackson, Loretta Marion, Didi Oviatt, Carmen Radtke, Amy Reade, Rosemary Reeve, Kelly Santana-Banks, L.A. Starks, and Barbara Venkataraman as well as authors Nico Morales, Kathleen Fowler Costa, Jeff Homberger, Geoffrey Marion, Jodi Markley, and Kaitlyn Sutey. This book transports you to that time of lethargy, thunderstorms, and mad dogs known as the dog days of summer–only our dogs are more fun.

MY TAKE: Luckily, when Barbara sent me a polite reminder that the due date was approaching, I was going through a good spell and able to get together my short about Castellan the Black, a rather grumpy dragon who features in Picky Eaters. And a few days later, the book was published. Now, obviously, this can’t be a review because I’m a contributor. It’s not good form – but the reason why I’ve featured this small book is because it’s such FUN. I was badly struggling when I first picked it up, as I was suffering ongoing symptoms from my Covid illness. But despite that, several of these made me laugh aloud. I’d started reading, intending to dip in and out of these little bite-sized pieces of fun and quirkiness. But as with many bite-sized morsels, I found it far too morish to stop until I reached the end – which came far too soon.

I haven’t yet had a chance to read Barbara’s longer fiction, but she’s clearly a talented editor with a clear vision of what she wants. For every one of these shorts delivers something enjoyable and different. The theme of summer runs throughout, and you won’t be surprised to learn that dogs also feature reasonably heavily – but I wasn’t expecting quite so much humour, and emotion. It takes real skill to achieve such a punch in a hundred words, and every single one of these tales delivers. I was charmed, as I moved onto the next one, impatient to see what was next. Inevitably, some stood out – I winced at ‘Ice Cream Demon’ by Kaitlyn Sutey, grinned at ‘Track and Field Practice’ by Kelly Santana-Banks, sighed in pleasure at the writing of ‘Summer Nights’ by Amy Reade, had a lump in my throat at ‘Eternal Summer’ by Jodi Markley – and burst out laughing at Barbara’s ‘What’s the Buzz?’. I could go on, because each of these gems offered a particular delight.

And the bonus? Dog Days of Summer is a real steal at less than a £1, as well as being available on Kindle Unlimited. If you are looking for a light, refreshing read that won’t break the bank, then this one comes very highly recommended. It certainly brightened up my day, when I was in a very dark place.
10/10

Review of Tales of Eve edited by Mhairi Simpson

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My friend Mhairi Simpson informs me that this small anthology was born during a late night session at the bar during a Con last year. It’s one of those cool ideas that once suggested, everyone wonders why they didn’t think of it. And it came to fruition because once everyone completely sobered up, it was still a cool idea – an anthology around the notion of women creating an ideal companion. Hence the title, Tales of Eve.

Weird Science, Stepford Wives, that episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer…  Genre fiction abounds with tales of men creating (or tales of eveattempting to create) the perfect woman.  Now it’s the woman’s turn. But being female, she’s flexible. She doesn’t just want to create the perfect man. She wants the perfect companion, be it man, beast or washing machine.

The other smart touch was to ensure there were a couple of big names in this anthology, along with those not so well-known and male contributors as well as women. In short, a genuine mix. But what was clearly necessary to get into this select anthology of ten stories, was that the writing had to be good, the concept sharply original and the story to bounce off the page. There isn’t a poor or indifferent story in here – and I’m picky about short fiction.

“Father’s Day” by Francesca Terminiello is one of the most memorable for me – mostly because the ending gave me goosebumps – in a creepy, oh nooo… way. She sets up the characters very effectively, so that I really cared about little Molly, which had to be the point to make that ending so disturbing. Very, very well done.

“The CompaniSIM, The Treasure, The Thief and Her Sister” by C.J. Paget takes the main theme in a completely different direction. I hated the protagonist and what she was doing – so the reveal at the ending gave me great satisfaction, as well as underlining there is nothing so visceral as real sibling hatred.

Juliet McKenna’s very first science fiction short story “Game, Set and Match?” is great fun. The pacing and tension were beautifully handled all the way through. But under the apparent humour lies a far sharper observation and this is one of the stories that has lodged in my head – because  men often do get far too caught up in the competitive business of playing a ‘friendly’ game…

Rob Haines managed to pull off a really nifty trick, to make me really care for an artificial intelligence in the story “In Memoriam”. And the one that I recall as the most disturbing is Ren Waroom’s “Unravel”. There is more than a metaphorical edge to this exploration of grief.  Suzanne McLeod’s “Mother Knows Best” mines the slightly fraught mother/daughter relationship with humorous and unexpected results.  While Adrian Tchaikovsky’s story “Fragile Creations” is another one with an unexpected twist…

But the thing is – they are all gems. Every. Single. One. A massive tribute to Mhairi as editor and kudos to Fox Spirit for publishing the anthology – we all know that short story collections don’t make anyone rich. If you enjoy writing and reading short fiction, then track down this collection – it is a masterclass in how to take an apparently simple concept and meld it into a number of original, beautifully crafted stories.
10/10

Review of Hardwired Humanity by Sarah Wagner

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If you enjoy well-written, thought-provoking science fiction short stories, then this anthology is required reading. Six stories are themed around the subject of artificially augmented humans – hence the title. And while there is plenty of adventure and excitement, Wagner isn’t afraid to reflect upon the darker consequences of ‘improving’ upon nature.

As Edward McKeown discusses in his Foreword, this subject continues to have increasing relevance as medical and technological hardwiredadvances challenge our ideas of what is acceptable. In citing the example of the para-Olympian disbarred from racing against able-bodied athletes on the grounds that his prosthetic legs gave him an unfair advantage, McKeown points out that our society should be considering these issues before we get ambushed by the actuality. Enter Sarah Wagner’s string of stories which do just that…

Switch is one of the longer tales, about Spider, a young man perpetually on the run due to his amazing invention. Doomed to be constantly abandoning his life and disappearing, he is innately suspicious of people – until he rescues a beautiful young woman. Wagner’s clean, unfussy style quickly pulls us into the story, told from Spider’s viewpoint, and makes us care about the characters. Which is important when considering one of main issues she raises with this storyline. If an artificial construct commits a crime, who should be punished – the cyborg, or the programmer? Not that you are given much time to ponder these questions while engrossed in the plot. Wagner moves events along at a cracking pace with the action-packed climax making this a satisfying read.

Venus and the Birth of Zephyrus is a major contrast. More of a piece of flash fiction, it is a tale of a spy satellite becoming self aware – and discovering feelings for one of its human charges. In these shorter tales Wagner’s talent shines through. Her knack of creating poignancy in a situation without it tipping into sentimentality takes finesse and control.

When Closed Eyes Open is another longer story, told by Chase, a trainee soldier. This tale raises uncomfortable questions. Though Wagner makes it clear early on that the soldier has been artificially augmented, the ending still left me feeling queasy. And yet had me wondering whether the terrible fate inflicted on Chase and his comrades might – in such dire circumstances – still be regarded as acceptable…

Canned Man is my personal favourite. A helpless cripple, whose consciousness has been uploaded into a spaceship, this story is a stark contrast to McCaffrey’s cosier version of shipminds. Wagner’s ability to create a character wrestling with a desperate situation in two pages, is impressive. Her story Fireworks on the Abandoned Towers website is a gem – and in my opinion, Canned Man is right up alongside it.

The Wreck of the Griffin is a classic swashbuckling story of daring-do, including a wreck and a battle for survival – except the captain’s daughter is also sporting a pair of artificial arms, along with the curvy figure and feisty attitude. And our hero comes complete with a pair of spider-bots, along with the chiselled good looks and infuriating male smugness. The pace carries the reader along with plenty happening and is the least controversial of all the stories in the book – except that you are left reflecting that if the heroine hadn’t been augmented, she wouldn’t have survived their adventures…

Evolution of a Shadow is the most disturbing of all the stories in the anthology. Shade, a highly augmented fighter, is locked in a vicious battle for survival with Jacob, who was similarly upgraded, but intends to use his martial skills to raise an army of ultimate soldiers to dominate the world. So the stakes couldn’t be higher. However, when a scenario leads to a small child being tortured by her mother in order to test her healing powers – there is a sense that things have gotten thoroughly out of hand…

I am aware that in reviewing these stories, I have picked out the themes rather than focus on the fizzing plotlines, but there is certainly plenty action going on. However, one of the reasons why I love this genre, is because along with a cracking good tale, the best writers also offer me interestingly difficult moral issues to consider. And Sarah Wagner is right up there with the best.
9/10