Hugo Short Stories

Stories:

Well here we are at the end of the reading I did for the Hugos. I will do one last post covering other categories I voted for, but after that it will be back to reviews. I may do something from WorldCon, but I am not sure if I will actually find the time to do so, especially since I will need to write and post from my phone so we will have to see how that goes.

I have to say that this was an excellent bunch of short stories and there weren’t any of them that I didn’t enjoy so I highly recommend that you check them out, they are all linked above.

The Court Magician

A street kid becomes fascinated with street magic and gains the attention of someone in the court who offers him a choice, he can stick with the street magic or learn real magic but there will be a cost for it. The story then follows his choice and the consequences of it.

It’s well told and has a very interesting premise at the heart of it regarding the nature of power and what it can cost to use it.

The Rose MacGregor Drinking and Admiration Society

A group of supernatural creatures sit around and lament about the Scottish lass who stole their hearts and dumped them.

I enjoyed this, I always like tales of positive female sexuality. The author should learn that a Scottish shape-shifting creature that sometimes looks like a horse and likes to drown people is called a Kelpie, not a Pooka. Otherwise a very fun story.

The Secret Lives of the Nine Negro Teeth of George Washington

George Washington was famous for having a set of false teeth. I must admit I don’t know the history of them, but I do know that slave teeth were often used for them so it is certainly a strong possibility that they were.

Anyway, the story is basically telling the tale of the people the teeth were taken from and it’s wonderfully written, given a voice to people often overlooked. Very well done story.

STET 

One of the most unusual short stories I have come across given the form it takes is of notes between an editor and the writer of a piece written about the effects of driverless cars. It is deeply personal and quite raw, especially given how it’s presented. Excellent piece of writing and well deserves it’s place on the list.

The Tale of the Three Beautiful Raptor Sisters, and the Prince Who Was Made of Meat

I have to say that the story title alone is absolutely fantastic. The story itself is the strangest of fairy tales about, well, pretty much what the title says it is. Empowering, well written and a whole lot of fun.

A Witch’s Guide to Escape: A Practical Compendium of Portal Fantasies 

This story is about a librarian, who is also a witch, trying to work out what she should do about one of her regular customers, a young boy who is desperately seeking escape from the life he is trapped in.

I found this story struck a deep personal chord with me and I was actually trying at the end of it. Beautifully well written and honestly explains the reason why I love fantasy worlds so much and also why the idea of portal fantasies spoke to me on such a deep level growing up.

I have to say that choosing the order for these was really, really hard. I dropped the two less serious tales to the bottom, but both of them were still excellent. In the end my choice was between A Witch’s Guide to Escape: A Practical Compendium of Portal Fantasies and The Secret Lives of the Nine Negro Teeth of George Washington and I ended up going with the first one, largely because of how personally I felt the story.

But seriously, this is such a good list of stories, it makes me really keen to read more short stories to be honest if this is what the field is like currently.

Hugo Novellettes Part 1

Books:

Running later with this than intended due to being wiped out at the weekend and not having had a free evening yet this week to get this written up. But here we are, time for my first part of the Novellettes I read for the Hugos, the second one to come soon.

As a note, if you want to read any of these there are links above to them all and you can read them for free. There is also an excellent audio version of The Last Banquet of Temporal Confections on the Cast of Wonders podcast which is well worth a listen.

SucceedIf at First You Don’t Succeed, Try, Try Again

So this story follows an imugi (a Korean lesser dragon) in their quest to become a fully fledged dragon, failing a number of times over thousands of years (each attempt can only be done once every thousand years).

Along the way their path meets that of Dr Leslie Han and they end up more entangled in human affairs than they would ever have thought possible.

I will not go into more detail than that because it would be too easy to spoiler this story and I absolutely do not wish to do that! It’s a beautiful tale and honestly it really got to me emotionally. I was quite teary by the end of it. I mean to be honest, given how much I love dragons this story was always going to get to me on some level, but it actually got me on several levels and I absolutely adored it.

Please read it, it’s well worth a look and an excellent start to what was a category full of excellent stories.

TemporalThe Last Banquet of Temporal Confections

With this one, I actually heard half of the Cast of Wonders audio version of it before I got to reading the category, but had to finish it in the text as the second one wasn’t going to be out when I needed it to be. I have now heard both parts and definitely worth a listen.

The story is about a land where it is now ruled by an oppressive regime. In this land there is a baker and his wife, he has developed a way of making pastries that trigger memory responses in those who eat them and the rule now holds banquets for their court with the pastries as a central part.

One of the most impressive things about the story is the way it uses the premise of the pastries as a vehicle to explore how events led up to the banquet at the centre of the story. It also deals with ideas of revolution and the quiet ways that people can resist an oppressive or harmful government.

There are parts of the story that can be hard to read at times, though it is in no way graphic about it, but it does resonate with elements of our current political situation and is very well told.

Nine Last DaysNine Last Days on Planet Earth

In this tale we follow LT, a young man in an alternate version of history where a meteorite shower seeds the earth with strange plants that seem to be from another world.

The story entwines him growing up, dealing with his sexuality along with the growth of the plants and humanity’s struggle to deal with the problems caused by them.

Again, I don’t want to go into too much detail about what is going on with them because it will spoil the story and it is something anyone can read for free.

There was a lot I liked about the story, it’s always nice to see positive gay representation and this does that very well. It’s also an unusual take on an alien invasion that reminded me a little of Rosewater by Tade Thomson (which is also definitely worth a look), though not quite the same scenario and definitely not the same sort of ending.

Of Ghosts and Memories – short story

OGAM CoverApologies for not updating in a while, things have been hectic. Since I haven’t had any luck submitting this short story anywhere I thought I would stick it up here and see what people think whilst I work on other things.

Note that this is a personal story with horror elements to it and it does deal with topics of abuse so please be warned before reading.

 

 

Of Ghosts and Memories

by Mairi White

It’s hard not to freak out as I round the corner and realise that nothing around me looks the way it should. For as long as I can remember I have always been able to find my way back to somewhere I have been before effortlessly. But where the library should be, instead of the old concrete building with the brick front and the stairs next to it leading up to the shortcut through the car park, there is a new modern building, all big mirrored windows and beige coloured stone, too new to have been tainted yet by pollution.

I stop, staring at it for a long moment, feeling utterly lost and suddenly on the edge of tears. Being lost always unsettles me and this is not the time to deal with that.

A gnawing sensation starts in my gut as my body reacts to the sudden stress. My legs suddenly go weak and I lean a hand against the wall for support.  As if the weather can sense my distress, the sky clouds over and the warmth of the autumn sun suddenly vanishes, leaving me with an icy sensation in the pit of my stomach and shivering slightly.

For a long moment I stand there, drawing deep breaths into my lungs as I try and calm my heart before it beats its way out of my chest. I cannot fall apart right now, I have too much to worry about already.

It’s been over a decade since I walked this way, it was bound to have changed. My phone is in my coat pocket so I fish it out carefully, trying not to pull anything else out as I do so and open up the map, it doesn’t take long to get it to give me a route and I resume walking, fear of being lost starts to subside and is instead replaced by older fears the nearer I get to my destination.

The rest of the journey goes by in a flash, I reach the right street in less than ten minutes and stop at the top, looking down the hill at the row of terraced houses, their stone, grey facades stretch in a uniform line all the way down. There aren’t many people about and no one seems to be paying me any attention, which is actually a relief because I am not sure how well I can stop my my feelings from showing on my face and I don’t really want to deal with the concern of strangers right now.

The house is only a few doors down from the top of the street, so I soon find myself standing outside of somewhere I swore I never wanted to see again. It looks incredibly normal, the same two-storey terrace house with a small garden out the front as the others in the street. There is a For Sale sign stuck in the garden, near the wall at the front, but nothing else out of place about it. It used to belong to my best friend, back when I lived a few miles from here and something within has haunted me now for years.

My heart rate spikes again and my hands get clammy, I jam my nails hard into the palms of my hand, the pain grounding me as I try to get a grip on myself. Now that I am here a part of me is not sure I can go through with this; not sure I can face what awaits me within this place. I steel myself and fish out the key I have been lent to show myself around, the advantage of knowing the estate agent means I have been trusted to do this without an audience. My hands are shaking as I go to put the key in the lock and it takes me another couple of minutes to get the door open.

I feel like I should be looking at somewhere far more unsettling, but the hallway before me is irritatingly normal, just dark. I enter the house carefully and reluctantly close the door behind me.

The click as the door latches makes me jump and there is a sudden feeling of pressure in my chest, as though the atmosphere inside is suddenly closing in around me. It takes all my willpower to start to walk forwards, the downstairs bathroom is on my right, but something stops me from opening that door just yet, so I head on, past the bottom of the stairs and into the living room on the left.

There never used to be a door to this room when I visited, it was always open to the rest of the house. In the years since I was last here someone has installed one, so I push it open and step into a bare room, the windows overseeing the currently neat front garden.

Back when I used to stay over, I often used to sleep in this room, curling up on the coach under a pile of blankets. Staring at it now, I remember waking one night, frozen in fear by something and looking over to see a light at the top of the stairs. I first thought that it was just the light from the upstairs bathroom, but no, this light was moving downwards and that terrified me. I pulled the covers over my head, screwed my eyes tightly closed and prayed for it to go away, too afraid to go and see what it was.

The memory prompts me to walk over and stand where the sofa once was, and I turn to look through the doorway at the stairs beyond. Nothing seems to happen though, no sign of whatever light I seem to remember, so I lie down on the floor, looking towards the corner of the room by the window where the TV once stood. I close my eyes for a moment and it feels like I have been transported back in time. I can hear the sound of the TV, feel the blankets over me and… something else. It’s as if I can feel eyes on me and I go cold, my blood roaring so loudly in my ears it sounds like someone screaming.

Am I screaming?

Suddenly I can’t move my body, I feel trapped and powerless. The voice in my mind is shouting at my body to move but it won’t obey me at all. In utter desperation I finally manage to force my eyes open to see the reality of the empty room.

I almost cry with relief at the normality of the room around me though it still takes me a while before I get control enough of my body to move, gently persuading myself to relax so I can get back up. My legs are still shaking as I lean myself against the wall opposite the door. I am not sure what that was, a new memory perhaps? I do vaguely recall nightmares about staying down here, but the details always slipped away from me when I woke.

Rattled, I head out of the living room and turn left into the kitchen. A door to the back garden stands roughly opposite the door I entered in. I lean against the doorframe for a moment and then head inside. I can almost smell the home cooking that my friend Laura’s mum used to do here whilst we all sat around the table. This is a place that was filled with laughter and good food and I relax for a moment, feeling a little of the tension leave me.

I walk further into the room, moving to where the table used to stand. One moment I am lost in the happy memories this place holds and then I stop where the kitchen table was and the temperature seems to plummet again. I try to move back from it but another memory grips me and the paralysis descends again.

This time I am sitting in the kitchen then, where I am standing now, my best friend Laura and her sister Sam are across from me. Suddenly I can feel ghostly hands roaming up my body and over my chest. I am frozen to the spot, but I look across and they are laughing and smiling as normal even as I am unable to move anything more than my eyes. Do they not see him? How can they not see him?

Just as quickly as it comes the memory releases me and I stagger back against the wall, wincing as I hit it harder than I expected. It will likely leave a bruise. I take a moment to catch my breath.

Did that really happen? Am I recalling actual events or something else?

A deep fear washes over me, and I am afraid of what else I might uncover here. My therapist was so sure that I need to come back to find out what really happened to me, but I suddenly know without a doubt that I shouldn’t be here, I shouldn’t have come. I push myself back upright and head out of the room, deciding to leave now before it’s too late.

On my way towards the door I pass the downstairs toilet and I stop dead in my tracks. There is something about that room which tugs insistently at my memory and before I really know what I am doing my hand turns the handle and pulls the door open. In front of me is a perfectly ordinary room: one toilet, one sink and a mirror above it. The moment I catch my face in it another memory overwhelms me.

The water in the sink is running and I look up to the mirror and there is a dark figure directly behind my right shoulder watching me, one hand snaked around my waist. Strangely this memory holds less fear, it’s like even in my memory I am watching this happen to someone else, like a film playing in my head. My mind is numb, and my body just acts on autopilot without needing my permission.

I turn the tap on, echoing the start of the memory and splash my face with cold water. This seems to help draw me back to myself and I stare at my face for a long while, I look even paler than normal, my hair falling over my face as I hunch slightly. As the numbness fades I feel start to shake again, I can see the fear in my eyes and that makes it churn in my stomach.

My hand stretches out and turns the tap off and I look back up to see the figure there again, this time not in my memory but now.

I stumble backwards, still sure that I can see the shadow of the man, now it’s between me and the front door so I flee towards the back one, back into the kitchen, desperate now to get myself out of this house.

But now the figure is now in front of me, standing behind where I used to sit at that kitchen table. I cannot see eyes but somehow, I know that he is watching me, and I stumble backwards, tripping over my own feet and landing heavily at the foot of the stairs.

Before I can stop myself, I am pushing myself to my feet and half running, half falling up the stairs. My heart is pounding so hard it’s trying to climb out of my throat. I run passed the bathroom on the right, and head straight into the first bedroom, the room that used to belong to my friend and her sister, slamming the door after me.

I slide down onto the floor, sobbing heavily in terror, my legs too weak to keep me upright. My back rests against the wood, hoping that maybe I can hold the door closed with my body weight. Terrified, I fumble for the phone in my pocket and manage to pull it out, but my hands are still wet, and I drop it and it bounces away across the carpet towards the far wall.

My breath is catching in my throat and I crawl forwards on the floor, not entirely caring anymore if the shadow follows me or not now, desperate to get to my phone so I can get someone to come and help me. My fingers close on my phone and I pull it to me, shaking too badly to do much yet other than hold it.

As I lay on the floor, struggling to get my body back under my control so I can use my phone, I hear the door open behind me, footsteps thudding dully into the carpet as the figure walks towards me. I freeze, lying perfectly still and squeezing my eyes shut, unwilling to see whatever is following.

The figure bends down and I feel a pressure against my back, as something presses against me. It takes all my willpower not to scream or whimper. Hot breath catches the back of my neck and a voice whispers in my ear, “Turn over, please turn over.”

Suddenly I am slammed back into the past. This isn’t reality, it’s another memory. I was fourteen and I did lie here whilst that exact thing happened to me. It’s like a door bursts open in my head and it all comes flooding back.

My eyes snap open, the room is as empty as it was before. I slowly get to my feet, tucking my phone back into my pocket, my heart still pounding in my chest. I remember that day now, I remember lying there terrified of what he would do, just pretending to be asleep and hoping that he would go away.

Trembling, I walk to the door and open it, heading slowly back down the stairs. As I stare into the living room I remember being on that couch with him, he would stay up after everyone else had gone to bed and I was alone. I remember his hands; the feel of his fingers inside me and I almost throw up.

I stagger towards the back door, looking into the kitchen out of a morbid sense of curiosity. The hands aren’t ghostly now, they are his, touching me secretly even whilst his family are in the room.

This can’t be real, musn’t be real, but I know it is. I collapse again to the floor, sobbing but this time in relief. The door is open now, I can’t shut it again, even if I want to.

I let it all out, I cry and scream and cry some more. Years of pain, shame, guilt and sorry flood uncontrollably out of me until there is no more to come. I am physically and mentally exhausted now.

Slowly I get back up, tidying myself up as much as I can before heading out of the front door. As the cold air hits my face I breathe it all in and step out into the street as the door closes behind me.