Smashing Saturday Shorts (The End)

After a great deal of thought, I’ve decided to discontinue Smashing Saturday Shorts. It was fun while it lasted, but it turned into one of those things where the effort of keeping it up oughtweighed the fun of doing it in the first place. I’m sure it hasn’t escaped anyone’s notice that there really hasn’t been much in the way of regularity with those posts over the past, well, couple of months. It didn’t seem to generate much reader interest, either.

So rather than sit and angst over the fact that I’m not keeping it up, I’ve decided instead that it’s just probably for the best if I let the idea go.

No great loss, but if there was anyone out there who actually read those posts, I felt that I owed it to them to at least make some sort of formal announcement about it.

Smashing Saturday Shorts (13)

Making Gods, by Tony Cooper

Summary: A collection of three short stories that will get under your skin. In ‘Lord of Shadow’, a small boy becoming emotionally detached from his parents finds solace in the darkness. In ‘Making Gods’ two linguistics experts find an awkward romance over ancient carvings. In ‘The Colours of Jupiter’ a group of scientists pursuing an experiment into the nature of time discover much more.

Thoughts: This collection has some woncderfully disturbing stories in it, stylistically engrossing with the kind of flowing tone that draws the reader right into the action.

Lord of Shadows features a young boy who’s going through the typical child-trauma of having a new sibling around, divided attention from parents, all that stuff. Only this child has a little bit extra to him, in that he’s got a connection to shadows. There’s nothing that clearly states whether he’s in direct control of the shadows or whether the shadows are sentient around him and able to do his bidding, but regardless, he accidentally turns this power against his new brother, causing him to vanish. His parents, naturally freaking out, decide to distance themselve from the boy, who reacts as any child would react to finding out his parents don’t want him.

He lashes out. And is ultimately taken to a place where nothing exists but himself and the shadows that have become his only companions. The story has a childlike tone that sharpens the already creepy edge of the story.

Making Gods is, I think, the weak point of the collection. It uses an idea that isn’t entirely unheard of: a finally-complete translation of an ancient summoning ritual actually summons an ancient deity. Part of the ritual involved the fact that it could really only be safely completed by the blind, but since the researcher who proudly spoke the incantation didn’t believe it was real, nor was she blind, the summoned deity enacts vengeance and tries to take the life of the summoner.

Interesting idea, certainly, but more of the story was taken up with the discussion of translating the invocation than running from a god bent on taking lives. I think the action-packed section could have benefitted from being fleshed out, lengthened, but instead ot felt like it was done in haste to get the story over.

That being said, the final paragraph was a heart-breaker. The first-person protagonist holding the hand of the woman he’s just figured out he loves as she dissolves in the face of the god, giving herself as a sacrifice. Touching, and well-phrased.

The Colours of Jupiter caps the collection with an interesting little tidbit of science fiction. Experimenting with time leads to the proof that time is non-linear, and that everything exists at all points in time at once, but our brains compensate by presenting us a linear perspective to follow because we can’t cope with the knowledge of everything existing everywhere and everywhen. (Admit it, it’s tough to wrap your mind around when you really get right down to it!)

A hypothetical discussion amongst the scientists about whether it’s possible for the brain to perceive it all in reverse, to in a sense be living backwards and seeing the lead-up to your actions after you’ve already seen the consequences, turns out to be disturbingly true for one man participating in the experiment, who’s been spending his time trying to figure out who he’s been existing in reverse like that, and who traces it back, ultimately, to the experiment in the first place. Do the experiment, have something unexpected happen, start perceiving all the time ‘after’ it as coming ‘before’, with no memory of what led up to you living backwards.

Yes, it’s a mind-fuck, and it’s a wonderful little trip into causality and time-travel that I haven’t seen explored in this fashion before. I loved the twists and turns the story took while still proceeding in an orderly and smooth fashion. Beautiful.

It seems like authors on Smashwords have been really hit-or-miss with me, as I find things at the extremes of the talent spectrum but rarely anything in the middle. This is an author to keep an eye on, I think, who’s got fresh ideas and a good style for exploring the “what if” questions that make up speculative fiction as a whole. Take 15 minutes to look over this collection and see if you agree.

Smashing Saturday Shorts (12)

The Comfort of the Shriek, by Scott Crowder

Summary: When President Lincoln is shot dead, an apocalyptic cult worshiping in the swamps of Louisiana fears the end of days is near. When they find the apocalypse’s angel buried in mud, they know it. One of them, though, has decided the angel is not theirs to fawn over, it’s his. And he’ll do anything at all to keep it…

Thoughts: Wow. Just… wow! I was truly impressed by this story, the way it blended madness with possibility, the reality and despair of the situation that the reader finds themselves stumbling through.

The main character, Ryan, is a member of an apocalyptic cult that finds a statue in the swamp, which the priest of the cult declares to be an angel of God sent to bring the end times. Ryan hears the angel whisper in his mind, telling him to love her and to obey her. The cult, as is common, goes through an elaborate poison-drinking ritual to reach Heaven before God rains down his wrath on the world, and only Ryan plans on surviving, to finish off anybody who had second thoughts, because this is what the angel wanted.

You spend the story thinking that Ryan’s insane, but every once in a while you get little hints that make you start to wonder if perhaps there’s a method to his madness, if there really is something sinister about that statue. The ending reveals the truth, clearly and without room for doubt, but without going into an overly-long explanation of everything that happened.

Stylistically, I can’t find fault with this story at all. The language chosen was good, the pacing smooth and even. Even the formatting, which can be hit-or-miss with what you download from Smashwords, was dead-on. This is a story by someone with talent and dedication, and with a single exception, all of his stories on Smashwords are free, so I highly recommend you go and take a look at what he’s written. This is someone who can clearly go far, and I want to be there when it happens!

Smashing Saturday Shorts (11)

Dragonlove, by Mikael Eriksson

Summary: A warrior travels in the wilderness to rescue a woman from a dragon. But who saves whom?

A story about dreams, bravery and love. The castle holds a mystery, but is it really a mystery he wants to solve?

Thoughts: While this story suffered a little for poor word usage and grammatical issues in some places, once you look past that to focus on the story behind the words, you come across a rather interesting piece.

The story is ultimately about a dragon who keeps humans captive by giving them what they want: a beautiful lady to live with an adventure to keep them busy and active. The lady is, of course, the dragon in disguise, and often the adventures involve an attacking dragon. When the humans grow too old, the dragon disposes of them in one way or another, and sends out a calling for a new human to come riding through her forest, one she can keep again and who can entertain her while the years pass by.

It’s an interesting idea, and the way it was told was good enough to keep me reading to the end without experiencing the boredom that I’ve gotten with some of the Smashing Shorts I’ve read in the past. I think if Mikael Eriksson got a good proofreader and editor, he could really have something going here, and could go further than just putting up some free short stories on Smashwords. If you can ignore the language issue (and it’s comparatively mild, really), then I recommend giving this one a chance.

Smashing Saturday Shorts (10)

Alien Monster, by Barry Alder

Summary: A man searches for salvation for the deeds he committed on an alien planet.

Thoughts: An interesting idea, and one that I’m sure everyone’s thought about at some time or another, at least in some regard. If it’s not aliens, it’s some other devastated culture or another.

I confess, I spent the first third of this short story mentally saying, “Go cry, emo kid,” to the main character, because as deep as I can appreciate his angst being, it doesn’t mean I want to read about it for 33.33% of the story. But after that, the story actually touches on some rather compelling questions, among which is, “Is humanity and all its violence actually terrible on a grand scale, or are we just so arrogant as to think that nobody could do worse than us?” And the issue of predestiny, and whether the universe as a whole is a sentient being. As short as this one is, it tackles some hard issues, and doesn’t leave you with any answers but instead lets you think about it for yourself and arrive at your own conclusions.

Toward the end, though, it does take a bit of a disturbing turn and starts to sound like it’s endorsing atrocity, in a sense of the ends justifying the means. Man is small and can’t see the big picture, but his genocidal actions benefited the universe because it assisted the goals of humanity. One hurts many because a larger group will benefit. It’s more than a little disturbing, and it seems to handwave the moral and emotional issues it brought up earlier by saying, “The universe wanted it to happen, and besides, we all get reborn anyway so what happens to us now just doesn’t matter.”

But as disturbing as that issue is, it’s a testament to the author that they were able to cram something so deep into so few words, and leave a lasting impact on the reader. Stories don’t have to feel good in order to be good, and I think that’s was the goal here. It is a good story. I recommend you take a look at it. It won’t take long to read, but it really does get you thinking.

Smashing Saturday Shorts (9)

Pulsing, by Joshua Scribner

Summary: A strange mixture of horror and science fiction.

Thoughts: Well, that was a vague description. Let’s see if I can shed a little more light on the situation. The main character, Kep, is infected with… something. Not sure what. It just sort of happened one day at work, somewhat vaguely, and manifested as a pulsing headache that turned children around him into viscious psychotic little killers. Quite a creepy concept, actually.

This story suffered for its shortness, though. At less than 3000 words, it felt rushed, underdone, and sometimes bordering on nonsensical because nothing had time to be explained, just hinted at. A short story is all fine and dandy, but when the plot suffers for the shortness, it’s not a bad thing to add on another thousand words or so to make it better.

I’d like to see this one redone, expanded, developped further and then reposted. I can see a lot of potential here, and my curiosity was definitely aroused, and I wouldn’t want to see such a compelling idea go to waste.

Smashing Saturday Shorts (8)

What Dragons Prefer, by Dayle A Dermatis

Summary: A dragon slayer arrives to rescue a threatened town, but the real threat—and the dragon’s true desires—are not necessarily one and the same.

“What Dragons Prefer” first appeared in Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Fantasy Magazine, Fall 1994; and republished in Dragons: A Celebration of the Greatest of Mythical Creatures, January 1996. You can also listen to the story as a podcast at Podcastle!

Thoughts: A short little story that wastes no time on setup and characterization when that isn’t really what’s important to the main point of the story itself. There’s more than a fair share of moralizing in the 800+ words of the tale, but it thankfully isn’t so heavyhanded that you find yourself rolling your eyes and wishing that the author would get off their high horse.

Actually, the moralizing serves a wonderful purpose in the end, with the ultimate “what goes around comes around” twist regarding the mayor. I liked it. It was dark and amusing, and I couldn’t help but smile at somebody getting their comeuppance.

I suspect I might have to see much more of what Dermatis has written, after this. Stylistically, it’s tight and easy-going, and creative, and I like to see that in an author. This story, at least, is definitely worth a dark chuckle.

Smashing Saturday Shorts (7)

Statis, by Ted Stetson

Summary: Colonists sleep in stasis on a spaceship to the stars until something goes wrong.

Thoughts: Unlike last week’s SSS, I rather enjoyed this short story. The style was good, polished and smooth, with only a few places that could have stood a little tightening. The story itself was interesting, though I think I might have liked it better had the author taken some more time and lengthened it, added some detail, like the motives of the characters and the details of just what’s going on in their heads.

It was the ending that puzzled me, though. There are a few different ways it could be interpreted, and maybe it’s just too early on a Saturday morning, but none of them made complete sense. I got the feeling that I was missing something, and that something could have been very interesting indeed.

Looks like this could be an author worth watching!

Smashing Saturday Shorts (6)

Michael and the Other Side- The Discovery: The First Time, by Kahea Patterson

Summary: This is a story about a young man named Michale who learns about the dream world. He has his first OBE and learns that he can navigate through the dream world.

Thoughts: Wow. I mean… wow. I feel bad giving my opinions on this story, because none of them are good.

First of all, this reads like something I would have written in junior high. Possibly early high school. It makes me wonder how old the author is; their website says they went to university, though, which just, well, makes me feel bad for them. It’s like they have yet to learn that writing for children doesn’t mean you have to write like children.

The plot centres around Michael, a young boy who is experiencing the kind of nightmares where you think you’re awake and calling for help, but it’s all still a dream. Sleep paralysis. His mother tells him he’s having an OBE, or Out of Body Experience, when this happens (uh…) and then tells him to have fun with it by exploring the inner world of his dreams (is he going in or out, then), which is basically lucid dreaming. Not much to it other than that.

The way Michael’s experiences were being explained by his mother, it sounds like the author has read a few new age handbooks and gotten a little confused on some things.

The editing is so-so, the pacing needs work… Possibly if the author worked on writing for a few years and then tried again to make this work, improvement will have been made. But as it stands right now, I can’t recommend this author to anybody. Even the children for whom its apparently intended.

Smashing Saturday Shorts (5)

Okay, yes, so I’m technically posting this a day late. But I’m also back-dating it, so in a day or so, you won’t even notice!

Vampires of London, by Sebastian Alexander

Summary: So you have found my tale, I placed it here for you! Is this fate you may ask? Take a seat and make yourself comfortable, and read my tale. Unas has been waiting for you, yes! – for you since before you were born; Unas the devourer of souls and the drinker of blood.

Thoughts: Right away this story reminded me of the opening to the old World of Darkness tabletop guide, with its first-person “I’m sitting here telling you a story” style, even though it’s meant to be a letter left for somebody to find.

Shame that’s where the similarities ended.

The style, at times, is all over the place, sometimes strikingly elegant, other times amateurish and filled with overblown description. The imagery was ranged from powerful to boring, and I found I had a hard time making myself care what happened to the character. Was he going to be involved in some terrifying action or get pre-occupied with describing how dark and dank his surroundings were?

No sign as to why the vampire left the letter for the unnamed reader, either. No sign of stalking, just, “Oh yes, I left you this letter, haha, now your fate is the same as mine.” The character had no motivation to reveal what he revealed, and without motivation, why go through the trouble? How did the reader get lured into the situation anyway, to find that letter in the first place? That stuff may not be immediately relevent to the tale, but when I have to ask those questions and get no answers… When I have to make up half a story to make this all make sense in my mind, it isn’t a good sign.

If the author could balance their style somewhat, and expand upon things a little more, I can see something good in the making. But as it was, it still needs that work, I think, before I’ll be willing to take another chance on this author.