The Lampworks Lamplighter SF & Fantasy News & Reviews
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It seems like shorter science fiction has been enjoying a renaissance in recent years. Maybe it’s me. Maybe I’ve just been paying attention to it again. But after a long time when I read nothing shorter than a full novel, and often trilogies or longer, I’ve been rediscovering the pleasure of succinct storytelling.
Science Fiction cut its teeth on the short form. Pulp magazines published them monthly and anthologies collected the best stories for annual volumes. Important stories like Foundation were first serialized in magazines before they were stitched together with enough continuity to make a novel. Then there were theme anthologies like Dangerous Visions or I, Robot. It seemed to me like those had fallen off in recent years.
As I read and reviewed Moggies in Space for this newsletter, though, I reflected on how many good short stories I’ve read lately. A lot of them have been published standalone, like Everything But the Squeal by John Scalzi or Compulsory by Martha Wells. I’ve also been reading the bi-monthly Fantasy & Science Fiction magazine, which usually has a couple of gems in it.
In the midst of this short-form revival, I’m excited to have a short story appearing in the upcoming Of Gods and Globes III anthology. The previous two volumes have had some excellent works, and I’m pleased to be accepted into the next volume.
What short science fiction stories have captured your interest lately? I’d love to hear your new discoveries and fresh finds. You can reply to this newsletter or send me mail at email@example.com.
Monsieur Resche is an art thief. He has crossed a bridge into a quaint town that disappeared from Switzerland four centuries ago. All the magic that our world once had has ended up there. A precisely tied knot, an exactly folded paper, or a cunningly drawn figure can unlock wonders and horrors.
Resche has a mind that lets him excel at this new craft, but that brings him to the notice of powerful mages who play a great game of geomancy with tiles the size of countries. And when he looks for the bridge back to Geneva, it is nowhere to be found.
The Fractalist priest offers aid that may not be what it appears, the Jeweler has intricate schemes, the newspaper editor has taken an interest, the Astromancer had good advice before she was murdered, and Resche’s cat just makes wisecracks.
Knots is a compelling story filled with unexpected characters, plot twists, literal location twists, mystery, and redemption.
Have Kindle Unlimited? Read Knots for free on Amazon!
Find it on amazon
What We‘re Reading
Visit our archive of reviews and recommendations on the Books We Like page of our website. You‘ll find over one hundred recommendations in Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Non Fiction.
The Forge of God
The moon Europa disappears from its orbit around Jupiter. New mountains appear overnight in Death Valley and Australia. Aliens appear and deliver conflicting messages. When probes impact the oceans and begin burrowing towards the core, it’s clear the Earth’s days are numbered.
Faced with god-like aliens who won’t communicate or negotiate, the story becomes how people face the end of the planet. Some believe the biblical apocalypse has come, some attempt military responses, scientists search for understanding. A few try to plan an escape.
Bear draws a wide view of humanity’s response through a range of viewpoint characters, though few of them get much dimensionality beyond their assigned roles: scientist, writer, officer, President. Still, it’s the human drama that is center stage as the story unfolds.
The novel was written in the eighties and set in the “near future” of the nineties. This creates a kind of uncanny valley of a setting, where he got a number of predictions spot on but missed others, especially in what the internet would become. In the end, this is a haunting yet hopeful tale of the end of the planet. You’ll have to read it to see what I mean.
Buy on amazon
Moggies In Space
This is a book about cats in space. Since my most-checked-out book when I got my first library card when I was five years old was Space Cat, I immediately wanted to read this. Being marginally more cautious now than I was at five, I checked over the mostly-positive reviews and read the first page. Then, seeing that it was on Kindle Unlimited, I figured I had nothing to lose but a few hours.
There are eleven short stories in this volume, all about cats of some description. Mostly good, sometimes heroic, but always recognizably cats in nature. I would say the median story in this collection is quite good and a few are excellent. I didn’t enjoy the second one, which was a horror story featuring the least cat-like creature of the bunch. I’d skip that one if I were you.
For the rest, I enjoyed tales of cats hunting new alien vermin, chasing off space pirates, inspecting their cargos, and keeping their humans in line. I had a good time with the book. If you like cats, I predict you will too.
Buy on amazon
Night Train to Rigel
I was immediately drawn in by the conceit of a literal train between the stars, a whimsical nod to the bygone era of grand terrestrial railroads (and a whole raft of “Night Train to …” references). Frank Compton, a former intelligence agent, is offered a ticket on the Quadrail from the hand of a man suffering from an excess of bullet holes. By implication, a job. Despite having just taken a different job, Frank takes the ticket and finds himself in a web of politics and threats that could threaten all the species in the galaxy and the Quadrail itself.
The Quadrail is the only method of interstellar travel known, and it’s operated by the Spiders. Emotionless, enigmatic, and absolutely opposed to violence, the Spiders keep all weapons from traveling on the Quadrail. Thus they safeguard their monopoly and keep galactic peace. Anyone with designs on empire-building would target the Quadrail first.
This is a fun bit of science fiction wrapped up in all the tropes of the era of luxury rail travel across the Continent and the schemes of the conquerors to turn those trains into troop transports. It works on many levels.
Buy on amazon
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The Legend Of Dana Jasper
In the aftermath of a devastating bomb blast in Afghanistan, young Dana Jasper’s life is forever altered. As an autistic boy, he had always felt like an outsider, finding comfort in his own bubble. But when the tragic loss of his parents forces him to move to the bustling city of Chicago, little does he know that this pivotal moment will unleash a remarkable transformation.
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Sergeant Ripley Coulter leads the Army’s E-Squad, defending the metaverse from online attacks in NeuralNet, a completely immersive reality.
When enemy fighters take him out in a massive explosion, he wakes up in a strange new world powered by steam and primitive electronics. Fortunately, his game implant is still operable . . .
In this world, London is Ethinium. The UK is Greater Umbria. And the empires of Europe reign supreme atop ancient steam vaults filled with dark secrets.
Coulter joins the Royal Venture Society and aligns with the king’s forces fighting Darhaven, a mysterious source of corruption deep inside the vaults . . .
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Deep in the heart of Texas, at the UOG training base, Kevin Ore’s dream of touching the stars becomes a thrilling reality. Yet, beneath the glittering promise of space, shadows stir. Commander Mitchell’s probing doubts set the stage for a journey where courage will be tested beyond the limits of gravity.
As Kevin navigates weightless simulations and forms bonds with fellow aspiring astronauts, his encounter with the enigmatic Mary unlocks a Pandora’s box of mysteries.
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Of Mycelium and Men
William C. Tracy
Agetha and her husband have spent their whole lives in the fleet’s zero-G. Now all is turmoil as the fleet lands, discovering they are surrounded by a single fungal biomass spanning the entire planet. To build a new home, the fleet must confront a dangerous organism, and Agetha must decide if she can raise a family in this inhospitable landscape.
Jane Brighton holds tenuous command over the colony and its administrators. She and the other gene-modded leaders emerged from their four-hundred-year suspended animation to find a crew much different from the one that departed Old Earth. Jane must direct the colony’s fragile growth and defend it against being overrun by the fast-growing biomass.
But there is something none of the colonists know. The massive organism that spans the planet is not simply a fungal mass, nor even a chimerical combination of species that once roamed the planet. The biomass has desires and goals, and one is to know these strange beings carving out a home in its midst.
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Tales From Tharassas
J. Scott Coatsworth
The Fallen Angel
Charlie Fah, Cha’Fah to most of the world, has never fit in with the other citizens of Gully Town, thanks to his darker skin that sets him apart. But one day, an Angel arrives on a supply run from Earth, and what happens next sets Charlie on a new path that will turn his life upside down.
The Last Run
Sera is the last runner from Earth, bringing badly needed supplies to the Tharassas Colony across a twenty-five year gulf between the planets. Jas works on a hencha farm to make ends meet, harvesting berries from the semi-sentient plants. Neither one that knows their lives—and worlds—are about to change forever.
The Emp Test
Jey awakens to find himself in the care of a handsome stranger—a cheff from one of the mountain tribes. Afraid for his life, Jey has no choice but to let the man take care of him and his broken leg. Avain is on his Aud’ling—the coming-of-age test that requires him to spend a couple months away from his own people. The two of them will have to come to an understanding if they’re going to help one another.
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