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text 2016-09-01 07:45
I Entered the DWL Short Story Contest & the Short that I Wrote for Booksy

 

The Desi Writers Lounge (DWL) is holding a short story contest. I submitted an entry that is almost 2k words long. The results will be announced in October, so I will wait until then to share it on the blog.

Until then, I will be sharing the shortest of shorts that I wrote for the Booksy subscription. It was included in the boxes with the other goodies. Here it is:

Karachi, One Summer Night…
 
industrial-incandescent-bulbs


Not into a bulb! Anything but that…”, the Ifrit begged but it was to no avail. What her hellions wanted, they almost always got. Fawj smiled as her daughter, Sid, morphed into a golem as big as a house. She looked down at the trembling Ifrit and lifted her behemoth foot, threatening to squash him. The Ifrit shook his head and vowed to murder his boss who had sent him into this madhouse in the first place. “It will be easy, they had said. They’re just a bunch of kids and their mother. You will be out of the house before they even realize you were in”, the Ifrit muttered as he transformed into a bulb in a room full of an octet of kids and their mom.

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Ifrit
 


The golem bent down and picked up the bulb with surprisingly nimble bamboo-sized fingers. She hung him on an overhead beam and clapped like a little girl. She was a little girl, no older than five, realized the Ifrit as it gave her the evil eye, even as a bulb.

rock_golem_by_beonarri.jpg
Girl Golem
 


The Thief of Thieves, he had been apprehended by a five-year-old as he sneaked inside her house to rob her! It did not matter that she had morphed into his personal nightmare at that time. Which was why, his guise had slipped, and the girl had snared him with a tentacle of an arm. It was too painful for him to remember what happened afterwards. He had been forced to turn into everything, from a cat’s chew toy to this last humiliation, a light bulb.

Shaytann
My Kinda Ifrit
 

Brighter!” Sid growled now and he shined as bright as he could.  “Is that bright enough, mommy?” The girl asked, snuggling against her mother. Fawj nodded, watching her other children get started on their homework.

 

keep-calm-and-no-homework-tonight
As if!
 
Find out how to get your Booksy box here. If you liked this short story, there's another one that you can read -- that one is about a little girl and Death!
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review 2016-06-15 20:48
Riverkeep
Riverkeep - Martin Stewart

[I received a copy of this book through NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.]

A coming-of-age adventure in a world that is both threatening and full of wonders, following a boy who embarks on a journey to save his father: after Wulliam witnessed his dad being possessed by a river spirit, he decides to take his only parent to the sea, hunting down a legendary beast whose fluids are rumoured to have many healing properties. And even if it means abandoning his duties as the keeper of the river, Wull feels he doesn't have a choice: either that, or let his father wither and die.

There were quite a few magical, poetic descriptions and moments in this book, and I never found it hard to picture the characters' surroundings, or to imagine the mormorach, diving in the dark waters, preying on ships and crews bent on taking it down. Nor was it hard to imagine little Bonn, or Tillinghast's strange body (bodies?).

However, I was a bit disappointed in the “adventure” itself, for it was rather sluggish in more than one place, and some events and character arcs felt put on a bus after a while. Most of the people Wulliam meets have their quirks and an aura of mystery: from the undertaker to Tillinghast the man who's not alive, from Mix and her strange tattoos to Remedie cradling her strange baby, from the solitary scientist in the Deadmoor to the silent Mr Bent. The problem is that some of those people were given their own adventure... yet said adventures were never really concluded: only Wull and Tillinghast seem to have an ending of their own (as well as a few other characters, but let's just say that their ending is a little more, uhm, permanent). As a result, it felt less like an open ending, and more like the author wanted to get to Wulliam's ending mostly, with his quest being a little... on the side? I may be mistaken, but that's how I keep on feeling about it now. I still don't know why Mix doesn't eat, or what happened to Remedie and Bonn.

Wulliam was also pretty annoying as a character. On the one hand, I could understand his desire to save his Pappa, along with his underlying somewhat selfish reasons (he wants to save him because he loves him, of course, but also because he doesn't know how to be the Riverkeep in his stead, and wishes for his guidance some more); I could also understand how he'd come to be angry, considering everybody seemed to hitch a ride and not lift a finger to help. On the other hand, well... those characters helped in different ways (Till does pay for the trip, after all, and Mix does have a knack to gather resources unseen), and Wull after a while became more the annoying, tantrum-throwing type than the rightly-annoyed, unfairly-treated one.

Conclusion: ~ 2.5 stars out of 5. I liked the atmosphere, the depiction of the river and of the places travelled in this novel. Nevertheless, the pace was rather uneven, and unless it's the first book in a series and we're bound to learn more in a second one, not bringing closure to other characters' stories made me feel unsatisfied.

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review 2016-04-03 00:00
Two Necromancers, an Army of Golems, and a Demon Lord
Two Necromancers, an Army of Golems, and... Two Necromancers, an Army of Golems, and a Demon Lord - L.G. Estrella “I’ll make them pay. Nobody kills my zombies and gets away with it!”

Totally absurd and perfectly logical! Pitted against an army of mutant golems and an evil demon lord is the most unlikely team of heroes: a fire-obsessed elf (to put it mildly), a magic shovel-wielding necromancer with his ninja rats-loving apprentice (wearing pink-rimmed glasses, no less), an old plantsman with a penchant for bonsai trees and uh... a bureaucrat (I don't really need to attach any adjectives to him). Hilarious and nicely written, I liked the first part better and I'm looking forward to the next adventures of this budding group.

“The banjo?” Avraniel snorted. “You play the banjo? Please don’t tell me that you’re one of those mopey necromancers, you know, the ones who sit in darkness all day writing bad songs about how the whole world has gone to hell and how everyone you love has left you.”
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review 2016-02-05 21:00
The Sea Is Ours
The Sea Is Ours: Tales from Steampunk Southeast Asia - Jaymee Goh,Joyce Chng

[I received a copy of this book through NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.]

An interesting change of setting, mixing south-eastern Asia culture and various other aspects to engineering and more “steampunkish” elements. I appreciated this nice change of pace, so different from the typical corset & goggle aesthetics: though I still love the latter, variety is always good, and the whole steam/mechanical technology shouldn't be restricted to European or American settings.

Descriptions and characters mostly felt real enough, and I had no trouble imagining what their surroundings looked like. Some stories used “foreign” words whose meaning wasn't too difficult to guess, so it added to the immersion factor while not being overly confusing. A certain dichotomy also permeated this anthology, though in a harmonious way, in that several of the stories mixed technology with traditional or supernatural aspects: the Westerners' cold, rational technology as opposed to a technology combining magic or spirits to science. As simplistic as the first may seem, it still flowed well enough for me.

What I found lacking in this anthology is something I find both very difficult to achieve as a writer, and lacking in short stories in general: it came with a lot of excellent ideas, character concepts and backgrounds, but tended to leave the reader to dry by cutting off abruptly the narratives. I kept expecting either more of a punchline at the end of stories, or to learn that those had also been developed / were to be developed into novellas or novels later. As a result, I more than once reached the end of a story thinking “am I missing a few pages here?”

Favourite stories:

“On the Consequence of Sound”: though the ending was a bit predictable, I really liked the idea of using music to make items and ships levitate.

“The Unmaking of the Cuadro Amoroso”: exploring various ideas, such as artists that are also scientists (or is it the contrary?), science versus faith, an oppressive government, revenge, and a polyamorous relationship presented in a totally natural way.

“Working women”: a bit too abrupt to my taste in how events unfurled, however I liked its weaving of three women's stories, colliding through mechanical transformations, how society perceived them, and how they acted to (re)claim their own worth and independence.

Formatting: a few typos here and there, however I read an ARC, so this was probably to be expected. I don't know about the printed book.

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review 2015-06-17 19:11
The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year, Volume Nine
The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year, Volume Nine - Lauren Beukes,Joe Abercrombie,Rachel Swirsky,K.J. Parker,Paolo Bacigalupi,Jonathan Strahan

(I received a copy through NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.)

4.5 stars. Usually, collections of short stories are hard for me to rate, as they always contain the good, the bad and the ugly, so to speak. This time, I can say this was a different experience. There's no story in here I didn't like at all: at worst, I was slightly indifferent, and only to a few of them. This anthology's definitely worth the read (unless you don't like horror stories being mixed with SF/F, which is a point of view I can understand).

My favourites:

* Moriabe's Children: in which a parallel is drawn between deep-sea monsters and all-too-human monsters dwelling on the shore.

* Ten Rules for Being an Intergalactic Smuggler: Even though the world developed here isn't particularly original, I found this story pretty entertaining and fun to read.

* Tough Times All Over: A romp in a city full of thieves, smugglers, mercenaries and various other shady types, all running after a mysterious parcel that keep eluding them and passing to yet the next person in the chain.

* Cold Wind: Predators and preys from long ago, in a modern city that has forgotten who they once were.

* Interstate Love Song (Murder Ballad No.8): Psychopaths on a road trip, and the way they perceive their journey and the people they meet. Not the easiest story to get into at first, due to its writing style, yet this style then contributed to keeping me me enthralled all the way.

* I Met a Man Who Wasn't There: In which con-artists and magic collide, told from a somewhat jaded yet mischievous point of view.

* Grand Jeté (The Great Leap): A widower about to lose his daughter too decides to invest into forbidden technology to create what could amount to a golem. However, his own child isn't dead yet... and accepting the one who's going to "replace" her isn't so easy.

* Shay Corsham Worsted: A retired secret services agent tries to prevent an old weapon from becoming a problem... but the secret's been so well-kept that nobody seems to know what it was about anymore.

* Tawny Petticoats: Another story of con-artists in a fantasy world, where nothing goes as planned and everybody's trying to outwit the other parties. Fairly enjoyable.

* The Fifth Dragon: A story of love, friendship, choices and loss, as the moon's being colonised and gravity-related physical issues start getting in the way.

* Four Days of Christmas: Very short but to the point. The story of Santa toys, from their manufacturing to how they get rediscovered much later, their harshness-denouncing journey made creepier due to these being "jolly" toys.

* Covenant: A good twist on the theme of serial killers, repentance and irony of fate.

* Cimmeria: From the Journal of Imaginary Anthropology: A group of academics expand on the theme of "what if Cimmeria was real, and how it would have evolved in our contemporary world." A story where imagination becomes real, giving birth to a whole nation completely escaping its creators.

* The Scrivener: This story meshes fairy tales with subverted themes of writing and literary criticism.

* Amicae Aeternum: A girl has to leave, and wishes to spend her last night with her best friend, saying goodbye to all the things she'll never see or have again. Both very nostalgic and full of hope for the future.

In-between:

* The Long Haul from the Annals of Transportation, The Pacific Monthly, May 2009: Marriage dynamics in an alternate world where the Hindenburg disaster never happened, and where airship became a norm in contemporary times.

* The Insects of Love: Mysterious and hinting at memory/time slippage. I would've liked it to be a little clearer on this latter part, though.

* Shadow Flock: A heist story, enjoyable but a little wanting in terms of a conclusion.

* Mothers, Lock Up Your Daughters Because They Are Terrifying: Adopted teenagers girl gather and perform black magic in their quest for identity. The apparently ineffective spell gives them what they want... at first.

* Kheldyu: Action, stealthy infiltrators, interesting techological evolutions, and an "ecological" plot.

* Calligo Lane: Fascinating space-bending magic based on origami. However, the plot wasn't really defined.

* The Truth About Owls: A tale about a young girl exiled from her country, having to adapt to a new life but also unable to fully embrace her own roots.

* Collateral: (Already read in Upgraded) In which an enhanced soldier has to face the consequences of her choices and training, and come to conclusions after sifting through what's right and what's wrong.

The ones I liked the least:

* The Vaporization Enthalpy of a Peculiar Pakistani Family: Interesting, especially for the theme it wields, but it wasn't rooted enough in sci-fi or fantastical elements for me. (Not a bad story.)

* The Devil in America: The mix of slavery and ancient magic could've been interesting, but it was so disjointed that it made it hard to follow.

* Someday: I kept thinking "why not" when it came to this society's depiction of mating and having children, but in the end I couldn't decide what was actually the point.

Conclusion: A recommended read. A few of the stories lacked a properly defined plot and punchline, but this is something that was much more pronounced in other anthologies than this one.

NB. When I write "punchline", I don't mean "the most original one in the world"... just an ending. Leaving things too open-ended in short stories always seems weird to me.

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