Top positive review
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Not a light read, but worth reading.
on August 14, 2012
First and foremost I would like to thank Night Shade Books for letting me read and review this book for them.
Short story collections containing works by multiple authors can be hard to judge fairly on any kind of rigid scale, because it is rare that a reader will find every story equally good or bad. I have given each story its own 1-5 rating as well. I would recommend this collection to any fantasy or science fiction fans, some of the stories were truly magical. This book is not a light read, and that is certainly not a bad thing...unless you were expecting a light read. Most of these stories are designed to make you think long and hard, and think hard you will.
Moon Six (Stephen Baxter) 1/5 - This story is rife with "space jargon" and I felt like I was reading the same page over and over again. The two distinct threads of the story never converge satisfactorily, and all the different "moon landings" take on a distressingly Sisyphean quality. I felt no interest in the protagonist and I could feel my mind reaching for that final half-blank page that always signifies "THE END."
A Brief Guide to Other Histories (Paul McAuley) 3/5 - I was really getting into this story when it hit a wall on the 2nd to last page. Sometimes it is better to let things fade out; to let them remain unexplained or unknown rather than to try and stuff everything in a box in a hurry. No one wants to open a messy box full of chaos with a pretty bow on the outside.
Crystal Halloway & the Forgotten Passage (Seanan McGuire) 2/5 - This story is a simple little tale about the lost wonders of childhood and the death of innocence that is inevitable when we "grow up." It read like a YA book, and a shallow one at that. I found the writing stilted and unfortunately unimaginative. Character development is non-existent, and I was unable to bond with Crystal for even a single sentence.
An Empty House With Many Doors (Michael Swanwick) 5/5 - Short but sweet, a touching account of the pain a widower can't seem to escape after his wife passes away. Are the things that happen to him real or imagined? Not knowing the answer for sure is what makes this story great.
Twenty-Two Centimeters (Gregory Benford) 2/5 - "It was hard enough to comprehend the mathematical guys when they spoke English." The irony abounds! I felt that way about the entire story. So many details and so much explaining about the physics of the surroundings, it was impossible to fall into the plot. If you are a die-hard space-lit junkie you might find this story to be incredible, but I found it very hard to get through.
Ana's Tag (William Alexander) 4/5 - A bit of Narnia but a little more sinister...this story read quickly and easily without being shallow and underdeveloped. Thoroughly entertaining and little bit scary, a girl and her brother happen upon another world and all of the unknown promises and dangers that it holds. It was simple and to the point, but engrossing enough to be a very good short story.
Nothing Personal (Pat Cadigan) 1/5 - The Dread, the Dread, the Dread! The problem with this story is that "the Dread" is so heavily saturated on the pages, yet isn't nearly as captivating and suspense-inducing as it needs to be. Talking about it more doesn't make it more interesting. A rather mundane story about a cop, no supernatural elements are even present in over half of the story. Towards the end, the entire supernatural premise gets directly explained to our heroine by another character through dialog. This is not a story for a reader who wants to think about anything on their own.
The Rose Wall (Joyce Carol Oates) 5/5 - A tiny masterpiece of decadent words frames the terror of a lost child. This is quite possibly a perfect short story.
The Thirteen Texts of Arthyria (John R. Fultz) 5/5 - This story follows a man as he traipses from one world into varying versions of another world. The author does a splendid job of weaving in contemporary language with unfamiliar names and places of the fantasy land: Arthyria. The writing-style alone transforms this complex fantasy into an enjoyable and understandable tale of conquest that readers can gobble up quickly and heartily.
Ruminations in an Alien Tongue (Vandana Singh) 3/5 - This story was very ambitious. Birha awaits her death while thinking back on her work with different universes, people, and places. Both engrossing and far-reaching at times, it was hard for me to decide if I like it or not. The answer that I came to was...sort of. Sifting through the words the reader can find a lot of semi-hidden treasures about humankind, love, and even death, but how hard do you really want to work to uncover meaning when reading a short story?
Ten Sigmas (Paul Melko) 5/5 - This story gives us a new twist on the Butterfly Theory. Every time the main character makes a choice, he is split into tens and sometimes hundreds of versions of himself. The twist here being that he is aware of all of his other selves, and can access their consciousness and vision in their other worlds. This story hinges on whether or not to do one's civic duty, to help someone in trouble and what happens when "most" of our character decides to help. A great, riveting quick read.
Magic for Beginners (Kelly Link) 5/5 - This story was fun, exciting, off-beat and enigmatic. I absolutely loved it. The story centers around Jeremy Mars, a 15 year old boy, his 4 close friends, and a television show that they are obsessed with about a magical library. The author makes a gift to the reader of quirky details juxtaposed with the "normalcy" of being a teenager that is never really normal at all. This story is a bit longer than the others, almost a novella really, but definitely worth every page. It is fantastic fantasy/whimsy at its very best.
[a ghost samba] (Ian McDonald) 1/5 - This story wasn't difficult to read as much as it was just not any fun to read. The basic premise is in fact this anthology's title - there are "other worlds than these." Take that and mix in a bunch of Brazilian words that you will likely have to look up (if you care enough to, I didn't), and that's really all there is.
The Cristóbal Effect (Simon McCaffery) 2/5 - What if James Dead didn't die in that crash? What if that crash never even happened because someone went to another "when" and prevented it? Would James Dean be a great actor for the ages? If old Hollywood fascinates you, you might really dig this story. Personally I found it kind of boring, but that is more my personal preference than any flaws in the story itself.
Beyond Porch and Portal (E. Catherine Tobler) 5/5 - This story is almost (or entirely) Edgar Allen Poe fanfic. I loved it; the story, the idea...all of it! The author puts complex ideas into simple but pretty words, and speculates that the brilliant authors of our world past may have come upon their ideas by being snatched into another world and putting their experiences in that other world down on paper.
Signal to Noise (Alastair Reynolds) 2/5 - I got this story, but it didn't really get me. A man loses his wife, and swaps places with another "copy" of himself in a "world" identical to his own where his wife still lives. The premise is that he does this for closure before he goes back to his own reality where his wife is still dead, but I am still not sure if he obtains closure, or anything else from this excursion. I felt almost no emotional bond to any of the characters despite the fact that this should have been a heartbreaking tale. Too long and full of empty sentiment, this one missed the mark for me by a whole world.
Porridge on Islac (Ursula K. Le Guin) 4/5 - This story is a short, thinly-veiled commentary on the dangers of genetic engineering. I would love to see this in a longer format to get to know the characters and the history behind the current state of the plane of Islac.
Mrs. Todd's Shortcut (Stephen King) 2/5 - Definitely well-written, as is the norm for our beloved King, but I found this to be a bit boring. We get 2 old guys, sitting on the porch of a store in Castle Rock, talking. That's it. The subject matter of the characters' story takes a long time to get going (as far as short stories go), and once it does we get just a tiny taste of the supernatural treasures that King serves up so well. It's unfortunate because the "genre" of the supernatural in this story is reminiscent of Lisey's Story, which is one of my most favorite King novels.
The Ontological Factor (David Barr Kirtley) 2/5 - This story didn't really click for me. Steven goes to tend to his late uncle's mansion and finds that there are doors to other worlds within. He meets Asha, who is from another, more "real" world than Steven, and they have to defeat the demon Abraxas, who wants to do something vaguely bad to Earth. The denouement is supposed to be action-packed but I didn't feel it, and the ending is just plain blah.
Dear Annabehls (Mercurio D. Rivera) 1/5 - A kitschy, tongue-in-cheek intergalactic version of Dear Abby, the novelty of this one didn't win it any love from me. Whiny readers write in to Annabehl who turns into The Annabehls as several variations of herself come into the story. The Annabehls respond with the typical plucky go get `em attitude that is expected from canned advice columnists.
The Goat Variations (Jeff Vandermeer) 5/5- Mr. Vandermeer is absolutely bulletproof in my opinion, and this short story does nothing to make me reconsider. I had read this one before, but read it again so I could give a fresh review. This story has a lot to say, and says it all with efficiency and enthusiasm. The things it does not say will pop into a reader's head unbidden, because this author is an absolute master at showing, not telling.
The Lonely Songs of Laren Dorr (George R.R. Martin) 4/5-Anyone who has read anything else by GRRM knows that "succinct" is not a word that would ever be used to describe him. In fact, I think the very thought of forcing one of his ideas into a short story is a big injustice to readers, although this one was not bad. The story is fine, a little abstract yet still easy to comprehend, but you know he could do so much more with this in a 1,000-page behemoth of a hardback. I would classify this story as an average story with an above average ending, the little twist at the end bumped this up a few points in my opinion; it is unfortunate that we don't get to experience any of the masterful character development that is this author's forte'.
Of Swords and Horses (Carrie Vaughn) 4/5 - A teenage girl disappears, seemingly into a paperback novel, leaving her grieving parents behind and searching for answers. I liked this story because it was simple. It doesn't ask a lot of the reader, and it doesn't give up a lot either. There isn't a ton of "light reading" in this anthology, but I would say this close.
Impossible Dreams (Tim Pratt) 5/5 - Part love story, part alternate-universe story; whatever you want to call it, it made me smile. One film buff meets another film buff from an alternate reality, and they both become fascinated not only with the movies of each of their respective worlds, but also with each other.
Like Minds (Robert Reed) 1/5 - So there's this...puddle (?) called The Authority. And you give it...things you write. And then it gives you back...things written (primarily) from other versions of you. And there's a sort of God, and a kid named Josh, who may or may not be the same person. The Authority exists to teach you something about your soul, or the soul of all mankind, or something to that effect. I found this story to be overly ambitious, muddled, self-important, and the ending made me actually physically roll my eyes. Yikes.
The City of Blind Delight (Catherynne M. Valente) 3/5 - A magical/quasi-real takes you to the City of Blind Delight - but is it Utopia, Purgatory, or Hell? You didn't mean to buy a one-way ticket, but would you sell your soul to stay in The City? I found this story to be interesting and not entirely unpleasant. It's a little vague but I think that is the author's intent, and it seems to work out well for her here.
Flower, Mercy, Needle, Chain (Yoon Ha Lee) 4/5 - Flower, Mercy, Needle, and Chain are guns, each with their own special attribute. The only thing I found disappointing in this story was that as soon as I really go into it, it ended. A book or even a series of books following each of the guns and their wielders would be a fantastic read.
Angles (Orson Scott Card) 3/5 - I wish this story had skipped all the scientist stuff in the middle and just stayed with the one storyline about Hakira trying to get back to Japanese-ruled Japan. I found it interesting (and brave) of the author to use only Jewish and Japanese people as the (captive) makers and refiners of other worlds; clearly based on the stereotype of high intelligence attributed to these two groups of people, which the author does in fact address directly.
The Magician and the Maid and Other Stories (Christie Yant) 4/5 - Aurora is so in love with her husband that she is willing to prostitute herself in order to further his career in magic. Then suddenly, both her and her husband are snatched from their world and tossed into another and then separated. Sometimes the thing you are looking for is in the last place you would expect it to be - right in front of you.
Trips (Robert Silverberg) 3/5 - Chris Cameron wanders from San Francisco to San Francisco, sometimes it's a few decades in the past, sometimes it's post-apocalypse, sometimes it's almost home. The problem is that we don't really know why he is wandering, he speaks extensively of his wife back in "his" San Francisco, and of how happy they are together. He compares himself to Faust, saying he is wandering just because he can, not because he has to, not because he is running away from anything. Unfortunately all of this leads to a sense of aimlessness in the story, with no one to root for and nothing to wonder about.