Tag Archives: Short Stories

Hopeful Science Fiction: Machine of Loving Grace

Click on the tag “hope” at this bottom of this post to read about all of my suggestions for hopeful science fiction. If you have recommendations for future instalments of this series, I’d sure like to hear them. Leave a comment below or send me message about it on Twitter.

Last winter I discovered the Better Worlds series, a science fiction anthology of short stories and films about hope that was published at The Verge two years ago. This is the tenth story from this anthology I’ve covered here, and I will eventually blog about all of them.

Machine of Loving Grace

Content warning: sexual harassment, cyber bullying, and sexism. I will be discussing these things in my review.

A close-up photo of a circuit board. Katherine Cross’ Machine of Loving Grace showed what happened when an AI designed to moderate video games took on a life of its own.

The content warning for this short story might make some potential readers pause. These are some pretty heavy topics, and they’re things that women, non-binary people, and members of the LGBT+ community can often be inundated with online.

With that being said, I encourage everyone who has the emotional bandwidth for it to dive into this tale. Ami, the AI mentioned earlier, was created to permanently end this abusive behaviour in video games. Imagine being able to play any video game you wish without ever needing to worry about other players mistreating you in these ways!

That idea was so remarkable that I had to find out how Ami’s reaction to these interactions evolved over time. She was programmed to be highly empathetic, so reading abusive chat logs was as disturbing for her as it would be for you or I to read them.

The cool thing about the world building in general was how realistic it felt. While we don’t yet live in a world where AI is capable of moderating video games so precisely, this sure seemed like something that we could all live to see happen. The explanations of how she was created and why Phoebe, the programmer in charge of her, was so surprised by Ami’s actions were well done.

So, too, were the reactions of the higher-ups at Rhombus, the company that employed Phoebe, when they realized how Ami was reacting to a problem that has been around since the Internet was in its infancy.

There are so many things I want to say about later plot twists in relation to the differences between how they reacted to online harassment and what Ami thought should be done about it. This truly is something that all of you should experience for yourselves, especially if you’ve ever been in a situation where someone told you to be patient or to not overreact to something that you knew was wrong and never should have been permitted.

Sometimes hope thrives in places you might be least likely to expect it, and that’s beautiful.

A Review of Dollar Tales from the Morbid Museum: Creatures

Dollar Tales from the Morbid Museum- Creatures by James Pack book cover. Image on cover is of two lights shining in a dark forest. Are they eyes or headlights? Title: Dollar Tales from the Morbid Museum: Creatures

Author: James Pack

Publisher: Self-Published

Publication Date: April 23, 2019

Genres: Science Fiction, Horror, Paranormal, Mystery, Contemporary

Length: 49 pages

Source: I received a free copy from the author.

Rating: 4 Stars

Blurb:

Welcome to the Creatures Exhibit. Visitors to the Morbid Museum seek the dark and twisted corners of the world. They are both terrified and intrigued by the unknown. Tales of killers, monsters, and madmen are curated by the Master of Death, Mr. Siris Grim. Mr. Grim collects the darkness that everyone attempts to hide and displays it within the corridors of his gruesome gallery. Who will be next to purchase a ticket and walk the halls of the Morbid Museum?

Review:

Horror fans, I have something special for you today!

As I mentioned in my review of An Imperfect Crime, Mr. Pack excels at taking perfectly ordinary characters and throwing them into situations they never could have anticipated. I love that plot device and was excited to see what he came up with this time.

There were a few tags I left off of this post for spoiler reasons. None of them were things that are commonly known to be sensitive topics, but I’ll happily discuss them privately with anyone who wants to verify if this is the right book for them. There were four stories in this collection, so I’ll give each one it’s own chance to shine in this review.

“The Harpy of Miller Road” began with a 911 call about a naked woman down the middle of a road. The fascinating thing about this emergency was how the 911 operator reacted to it. There’s so much more I want to say about this tale. It really captured the author’s writing strengths beautifully, especially when it comes to expecting his audience to do some of their own legwork to put all of the pieces together.

A man named Peter was questioned by the police after accidentally killing a stranger in “Disengagement.” I’m not normally the sort of reader who sympathizes with murderers, so it came as a bit of a pleasant shock to me to see how much I liked him and hoped the detective in charge of this case would somehow exonerate him. Did the facts seem to be turning against him quickly? Yes! Did that matter? No, not at all. Finding out what really happened and if Peter was as innocent as I hoped he would be made it impossible to stop reading this.

There’s honestly not much I can say about “The Hearing” without giving away the plot twists in it. Obviously, it’s about a hearing that will decide someone’s fate. David, the man in the centre of it all, was one of the friendliest folks you could imagine. The discrepancy between what he was accused of doing and how he behaved reminded me of “Disengagement.” There were so many similarities between the two that I did wish they could have been split into separate collections to keep readers from comparing them, especially since they were right next to each other in the page count. They’re both good stories. I just found it a little tricky to think about them without comparing them.

I’ll admit to being confused by “The Fall of the Foot” at first. There were a ton of characters running around in it and I didn’t immediately catch the cultural reference that was embedded in those scenes because it wasn’t something I knew much about growing up. That quickly changed once I caught up and realized just how cool it was to see these characters in a whole new light. Oh, how I wish I could tell you all who they were. Let’s just say that you’ll probably recognize them much faster than I did and that their adventures were well worth checking out.

If you enjoy this collection, I definitely recommend checking out the rest of the Dollar Tales.  Everything that I’ve read so far from this universe works perfectly well as standalone stories, but they’re even better when understood as a group.

Hopeful Science Fiction: Move the World

Click on the tag “hope” at this bottom of this post to read about all of my suggestions for hopeful science fiction. If you have recommendations for future instalments of this series, I’d sure like to hear them. Leave a comment below or send me message about it on Twitter.

Last winter I discovered the Better Worlds series, a science fiction anthology of short stories and films about hope that was published at The Verge two years ago. This is the ninth story from this anthology I’ve covered here, and I will eventually blog about all of them.

Move the World

A room filled with levers In “Move the World” by Carla Speed McNeil, Margery must decide whether to take the risk of using her once-in-a-lifetime chance to pull a lever and reset the world. Whether pulling that lever will make things better or worse is unknown.

The world Margery currently lived in was cold and harsh. Everyone who survived in it had to make difficult decisions to ensure there was enough food and warmth for all. This included sticking to the rigid roles everyone was assigned from young ages.

I do wish these roles were described in greater detail. Individuals were called various parts of speech like Nouns, Verbs, and Adjectives. Small groups of people were called Clauses or, sometimes, Sentences. I was fascinated by this social structure and wish the meaning of every designation was clearer.

This wasn’t the only possible life for Margery and the other folks in her world. I can’t describe the rest of them or how the audience learns about them without wandering deeply into spoiler territory, but I was fascinated by the many different among them. Each one was unique and made me want to keep reading.

There were so many things about Margery we never learned. I couldn’t begin to describe her age, race, nationality, sexual orientation, or backstory, although I wish they had been included whenever this information might have changed. What I can say is that her personality remained the same no matter what was going on around her.

She was always an intelligent and persistent person who believed that there was something better out there than what everyone was currently experiencing. The fascinating thing was that there was no evidence that supported this belief.

Perhaps she was wrong. Maybe pulling the lever would only make things worse for everybody.

And yet she continued to feel the irresistible compulsion to pull it. She was sure there was a better place out there somewhere.

Our world has seen a lot of suffering this year. I can’t help but to emulate Margery’s approach to situations that feel like they will either never end or will only get worse over time.

None of us know what the future holds, but that doesn’t mean we should ever give up hope that it will be better than our current circumstances.

Hopeful Science Fiction: Skin City

Click on the tag “hope” at this bottom of this post to read about all of my suggestions for hopeful science fiction. If you have recommendations for future instalments of this series, I’d sure like to hear them. Leave a comment below or send me message about it on Twitter.

Earlier this year I discovered the Better Worlds series, a science fiction anthology of short stories and films about hope that was published at The Verge two years ago. This is the eighth story from this anthology I’ve covered here, and I will eventually blog about all of them.

Skin City

Kelly Robson’s Skin City was about a street performer named Kass who got into trouble after falling for a radical privacy devotee.

The futuristic world Kass lives in is set about 80 years in the future in a time when climate change has become strong enough to seriously damage cities. Toronto and any other city that wished to survive had long since erected domes over themselves to keep violent, seasonal storms from flattening their historic buildings.

woman wearing virtual reality goggles
They might have looked something like this but larger.

This naturally meant that humans were crammed into much smaller spaces than many folks know in 2020.

To compensate for constantly being surrounded by strangers, some wealthy people in this universe have decided to wear a sort of electronic helmet over their head when they leave home that digitally erase other people in their line of sight and hide the owner’s facial expressions from strangers, too.

The reason why people who wore visors would want to hide their facial expressions is something best discovered by new readers for themselves. It was explained thoroughly and satisfactorily.

I enjoyed reading about these sociological and technological changes. They seemed like things that could easily happen to future generations given what life is like in 2020. I’ve known some people who gave up on social media for privacy reasons and many others who are painstakingly careful about what they post there.

Given the right technology, I can see a lot of people opting out of being seen by others, especially if they’re living in a cramped city that no longer has the resources to give people much personal space at all.

As for Kass? She wasn’t one of those folks who were wealthy enough to afford a status symbol like that by any means. Her income barely covered the necessities, and she definitely wasn’t someone who was thought of highly by the authorities. In fact, when the audience first met her she was in jail and looking at the possibility of spending the rest of her life there.  That’s the sort of detail that will keep me reading for sure!

The ending was well done, too. I would have liked to see more foreshadowing done for it so that readers would have a hint of what was to come when the earlier scenes continued to grow bleaker, but I enjoyed the twist when it was finally revealed. Honestly, it was the only logical outcome of everything that had been established about Kass and her society earlier on.

Now I know you’re all wondering how a story about a character who was incarcerated and deeply in love with someone who ordinarily would never interact with her could possibly be hopeful.

There was a time right before the final scene when I was tempted to stop reading. It didn’t seem possible for there to be a cheerful ending when Kass had so many things stacked against her pursuit of happiness.

The beautiful thing about the Better Worlds series is that it doesn’t require perfection from its characters, settings, or plot twists. In fact, some of the best stories in this online anthology so far have come from the most unlikely places in my opinion.

While this wasn’t my favourite story in this collection, it was a solid one.

Hopeful Science Fiction: A Sun Will Always Sing

Click on the tag “hope” at this bottom of this post to read about all of my suggestions for hopeful science fiction. If you have recommendations for future instalments of this series, I’d sure like to hear them. Leave a comment below or send me message about it on Twitter.

Earlier this year I discovered the Better Worlds series, a science fiction anthology of short stories and films about hope that was published at The Verge in 2018. This is the seventh story from this anthology I’ve covered here, and I will eventually blog about all of them.

A Sun Will Always Sing

You might be able to guess what the cargo is already. It wasn’t something that was intended to be a twist ending, although I’ll still refrain from saying specifically what it was in this review.

I liked the fact that nobody dwelled on the environmental damage done to Earth. It was something only briefly hinted at, but everyone had already had ample time to accept the fact that climate change was real and that humans were responsible for it. The two major reactions people had to it were things I think all of you should discover for yourselves. Yes, they were both hopeful, so no worries there.

With that being said, I found the terminology in this tale to be confusing at times. Some words were references to real things in our world, while others were created entirely for this universe to explain how society had evolved. It wasn’t always easy to tell those two apart which made figuring out what was going on tricky when the narrator didn’t explain themselves fully.

Keep a search engine handy when you read this and look up any word you can’t figure out from context clues. The spoilers for future plot twists are minimal to non-existent in most cases, and they’ll make it all easier to understand if you get stuck.

I still enjoyed the storytelling quite a bit, however. The narrator wasn’t human, so their understanding of our species could be humorous at times. I would have loved to hear what else they had to say about us and our idiosyncrasies in a longer version of this tale, although we really did get everything we needed from what the author wrote.

The ending was immensely satisfying. It reminded me of how hopefully Star Trek episodes would end during The Original Series or The Next Generation to give a fair comparison that won’t share any hints about what actually happened in the final scene.

This is feel-good science fiction at its best. I had no idea a pandemic was coming when I first began the Hopeful Science Fiction series, but it’s such a positive thing to focus on at the moment. May you all find as much peace in this and every instalment of it as I do.

Oh, and this story was also made into a short film. It contains spoilers, but it’s a good option for anyone who found the terminology a bit confusing like I did or who prefers visual storytelling. 

Happily Ever After: A Review of A Tale of Two Princes

Title: A Tale of Two Princes Author: Victoria Pearson Publisher: Self-Published Publication Date: January 1, 2014 Genres: Fantasy, Romance, Contemporary Length: 36 pages Source: I received a free copy from the author. Rating: 3.5 Stars Blurb: Sleeping Beauty meets The Frog Prince in this short but perfectly formed modern fairytale re-telling. Doctor Prinze is happy… Read More

Hopeful Science Fiction: The Burn

Click on the tag “hope” at this bottom of this post to read about all of my suggestions for hopeful science fiction. If you have recommendations for future instalments of this series, I’d sure like to hear them. Leave a comment below or send me message about it on Twitter. Earlier this year, I discovered… Read More

Military Science: A Review of 1NG4

Title: 1NG4: A Long Short Story Author: Berthold Gambrel Publisher: Self-Published Publication Date: January 11, 2019 Genres: Science Fiction, Mystery, Young Adult Length: 51 pages Source: I received a free copy from the author Rating: 5 Stars Blurb: Gunnar is part of a team studying a powerful new energy source aboard the seaborne platform Ryojin.… Read More

Top Ten Tuesday: Short Ghost Stories Everyone Should Read

Hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl These freebie posts are so much fun! Today I’m going to be sharing ten short ghost stories from around the world that everyone should read. Click on their titles to read them for free. 1. “Hover” by Samantha Mabry  Sometimes ghosts are more annoying than they are frightening. 2.… Read More

Glimpses of Horror: A Review of Regretfully Invited

Title: Regretfully Invited: 13 Short Horror Stories Author: Jan L. Mayes Publisher: Self-Published Publication Date: 2018 Genres: Science Fiction, Horror, Paranormal, Historical, Contemporary Length: 86 pages Source: I received a free copy from Jan. Rating: 3.5 Stars Blurb: Find out the answer to this question and more with this 13 story bundle of creepy, horror… Read More