Sunday, April 16, 2017

Continuing the Tor Short Challenge

I don't know if there is a Tor Free Shorts Challenge, but I'm all up for dominating this fun collection of imaginative stories.  Tor Shorts have some of the most simple, but elaborate story lines spanning into a small amount of pages. I'm embarking on my journey to conquer these beautiful stories.The best thing is that these stories are free! FREE! Something so awesome being free is just an absolute treasure trove. These stories are short and can usually be read within 5-30 minutes and that's such an awesome thing!  If you are interested in taking on the Tor collection, let me know!
So far I've read these stories:
    Bridge of Snow by Marie Rutkoski- 5 stars because this story is set in the Winner's Curse world with an excellent fairy tale story.
    The Witch of Duva by Leigh Bardugo- 5 stars because I love Bardugo and this story was A+.
    The Too-Clever Fox by Leigh Bardugo- 5 stars because it's beautiful.
     All the Snake Handlers I Know Are Dead by Dennis Danvers- 5 stars because it's a stunning magical realism story.
    Red as Blood and White as Bone by Theodora Glass- 4.5 stars because the story's transitions were beautifully done, but I wanted more.  
    Little Knife by Leigh Bardugo- 4.25 stars because it's beautiful, but something felt missing. I did love the ending!
    Ponies by Kij Johnson- 4 stars because it was super creepy.
    Among the Thorns by Veronica Schanoes- 3 stars because it was sick and creepy, but I wanted more.
    The Log Goblin by Brian Staveley- 3 stars because it's a simple story.
   Orphan Pirates of the Spanish Main by Dennis Danvers- 1.5 stars because it was weird and not in a good way.

In the last year, I have discovered I'm a lover of short stories. I love reading a story that is only a couple of pages and falling in love with them. I find that short stories really capture the level of a writer. A story that moves me without a multitude of pages shows that the writer is capable and I enjoy the feeling of finishing stories if I really love them.

(Read in November 2016)
meat + drink by Daniel Polanksy

1.25 stars
I do love reading short stories and it's been some time since I read a Tor short. Sadly this one is very lackluster. It has no real oomph to the story. It's written a la karen's review style without capitalizing letters, which is a style I really enjoy, but for this story it doesn't work. I felt as though I was reading a story written by a twelve-year-old. The pacing was choppy, the sentence structures were brief and had no direction, and the overall story was unoriginal. Vampires are nothing new and this story did absolutely nothing for me besides give me a reason not to start working on my math study guide for finals.

Whimsical Writing Scale: 1

Character Scale: 1

Plotastic Scale: 2

Cover Thoughts: I usually love Tor illustrations, but this one doesn't evoke any strong emotions from me.
(Read in December 2016)
Friedrich the Snow Man by Lewis Shiner

2.5 stars

"If you gaze long enough into the holidays, the holidays will gaze back into you."

As a freshman in my university we are forced to take a class called UNIV100. It's a required course. I wanted to take the one that focused on dystopian fiction and its relation to society today, but I had marching band at that time. Luckily, I chose to take this class called Disobeying the Norm. I knew it was a literature based course, but I didn't realize it was a philosophy class. It was my personal favorite class of my first semester in college. We study the key Existentialists. I realized that Friedrich Nietzsche is my personal favorite. The idea of him turning into a snowman brings great joy to my heart. Especially since he was such a bigot- he was incredibly racist and he hated women, but his ideas were brilliant. Also this is worth taking ten minutes of your time to read.

"What cruel fate had brought me back to life, only to find my work subverted to the cause of war and hatred? I had proclaimed God dead; was this His revenge?"

Cover Thoughts: That is the scariest looking snowman. He looks as though he's going through an existential crisis. *slowly backs away from my jokes*
(Read in March 2017)
34307963The Last Novelist (or a Dead Lizard in the Yard) by Matthew Kressel
1 star

This quick Tor short focuses on the story of a novelist from the planet of Mars who is slowly dying and takes refuge on Ardabaab. He meets a little girl who inspires his last story to continue on and finish his last tale.
I'm sure quite a few people will enjoy this story, but I was not one of them. The writing felt pretentious while also retaining a clipped dialect. It felt too conflicting and the constant mention of wikis was just annoying and made the story feel modern while trying to retain its sci-fi storyline. I personally wasn't a fan of this one, but I urge of others who are fans of Tor shorts to check this one out because I'm sure that someone will absolutely adore it.

Whimsical Writing Scale: 1

Character Scale: 1

Plotastic Scale: 1.25

Cover Thoughts: It's a cute illustration, but it doesn't really stand out to me.
(Read in March 2017)
Ecdysis by Julianna Baggott

1.5 stars

This Tor short follows an unnamed character who was a girl born with the initials of A.S. As a young girl she wished to be a boy and would fill her socks with sand and place it in between her legs. In this world, people can take on avatars to match the skin or the body they wish to take. We never really know if she becomes a boy or not because she says deep down the desire is always there and that's what matters most. I am not transgender so I have no clue how a young child must feel experiencing the confusing nature of gender when their physical self doesn't match their mental self. It's a debated topic by people who aren't trans that being trans is a mental disease called gender dysphoria (I'm not saying that I agree or disagree with this merely stating a fact) and I do feel, personally, that this story gives the tone of painting being transsexual as a mental disease. I don't know if it's the concept of the world or the whacky, flowery writing, but it felts like trans-sexuality was being compared to a disease with the need "to pick myself clean" and take on a body. It sounded as though the main character was self-harming herself and while the trans community does have high suicide rates, I'm not sure if this was what the author was intended to portray. Again, I'm not trans and so I don't have a very big grasp on the feelings within the trans community. I don't think the writing in particular for this Tor short helped me to understand this character because while I generally like flowery prose, I don't like pointless prose. I have no clue what the author was trying to say. I'm happy to come across a Tor short with a trans main character, but I'm hoping to find others that have a better portrayal with this topic because I don't feel like the story was really able to accomplish that feeling of being out of one's body as fully as it could have. There were a few paragraphs where I really felt how isolated and saddened the character felt at never being the image of her mother because she didn't identify as a woman and I thought that was lovely, but the rest was a confusing mess to me.

Whimsical Writing Scale: 2

Character Scale: 1.5

Plotastic Scale: 1 (b/c I have no clue what is really going on...)

I do want to know what trans people think of this story because I did some research and it doesn't seem like Juliana Baggott is a trans person, so I'm don't think this is an OWN voice story, but I'd love to know what others think and if I'm just reading this all wrong because I'm not apart of the community and don't want to assume anything.

Cover Thoughts: I love this cover so much. The first time I saw this cover I saw a boy and then I saw a girl. It's pretty remarkable how well the art work captures the essence of the main character.
(Read in March 2017)

Excerpts from a Film by A.C. Wise

5 stars

"That moment right there was when I knew. Even if I didn’t understand it fully at the time, the knowledge was burned right onto my soul. That’s what happens to girls. If you don’t fight back, if you don’t run away, someone bigger and stronger will chew you up and just walk away. They’ll leave you crumpled on the ground like so much trash, and the world will never know you existed at all."

Wow. That's all I can say about this Tor novella. The story follows Mary, Eva, Lillian, Eve, and they are all the same person. She's a woman of many names and many faces. Ghosts have been trailing her since she's come to Hollywood. She's determined to be famous and George, a producer, has all the means to make it possible. If there's one Tor novella you need to read, it's this one. It's longer than Tor shorts usually are, but I think that's what makes this story so amazing. I just can't recommend it enough. I'm speechless and while some may not find this story moving to them, I absolutely did. I'll give you some backstory as to why this story works for me and maybe it'll work for you, too. I love old Hollywood. Books like Valley of the Dolls 50th Anniversary Edition are my jam because I love old Hollywood and its grit. I love the sparkling lights and beauty, but I also love the desperation in the actresses behind the scenes that sometimes lurks into films. I love how old Hollywood is the place of the depraved and they were plastered on the screen. I also love ghost stories and I love how haunted old Hollywood feels. Old Hollywood has left a resonating mark on the famous hotels of the time and ghosts roam the town. I find it so fascinating and alluring. I also love this story because it takes a turn in addressing movies and serial killers. I just finished writing a paper about how violence escalates do the media that is plastered everywhere, particularly in movies and TV shows. It's Mary's mission to bring these girls to the screen and to show who they are in opening crime film, but it goes wrong with the death of Elizabeth Smart, branded by the media as the Black Dahlia. Mary sees Elizabeth clearer than all the other ghosts that follow her and she has a new idea... an idea that will help her become an everlasting star. I LOVE THIS SO MUCH. It's right up my alley with being macabre, morality depraved, beautifully written, and it's short (which I love because when short things make me love them it means that they are meant to be loved).

Whimsical Writing Scale:5

The thing about dead girls is once you see them, you can’t un-see them, and you realize they’re everywhere. If Mama admitted to this one, she’d have to admit what might happen to me, what might happen to her, and she couldn’t bring herself to do that."

Mary is the main female character in this novella. We don't know Mary very well besides the knowledge of her being from an abusive home (something very dear to my heart because the portrayal was accurate and similar to past circumstances I've experienced) and it's quite heartbreaking to only know this one concrete fact about Mary. We also see that she's determined (to be a star), resilient (survives and runs away from an abusive household), and that she's cunning (spoilers as to why this is and you should read it to find out). I don't mind being shown who she is through George's perception and the few snippets of her encounters with ghosts because I feel like I know Mary quite well while she still retains the allure of an old Hollywood star.

"I can’t just be a face or a name, I have to be every face, every name. I have to be all of them in one. If I can put all those ghosts up on screen with me, people will have no choice but to see."

Kick-Butt Heroine Scale: 5

The main male character is George. We meet George at an interesting point in his life. He's obsessed and mentally haunted by Mary. He's also physically haunted when she appears in all the reels of his movies. Then he has a heart attack. It's an interesting way to introduce an integral character to the story. We meet him at his death and we meet Mary as a ghost. It's an interesting juxtaposition that follows throughout the story. I don't particularly like George because he reminds me of the men from Feud: Bette and Joan (if you aren't watching it, get on it because I love it) and how they only want women in Hollywood for sex or to turn women against each other (he doesn't do that, but whose to say he just wasn't shown doing that).

"Movies are a special kind of magic, playing with make-believe and blurring the line between real and unreal. Humanity is the other half of the equation; they have to be willing to believe, take the ghosts flickering up on screen into their very souls and allow themselves to be changed."

Swoon Worthy Scale: 2

The Villain- All the killers and copycat killers who steal lives from women.

Villain Scale: 5

"There’s a monster killing his way across the country. I guess I followed behind him and cleaned up the mess he made. This whole damn country is haunted, every single step of the way."

Overall: You should go read this on Tor's website right now!!! It's amazing and I love the blending of history (Elizabeth Short's famous death) and old Hollywood. It's spectacular.

Plotastic Scale: 5

"That’s my plan, my dream. I’m going to live forever, up on the big screen."

Cover Thoughts: I love it. It's black and white and fits the style of old Hollywood.
This next one isn't a Tor Short, but I reread this beloved short story and I highly recommend it. 
157076The Most Dangerous Game by Richard Connell

5 stars (Originally 4.25 stars)
Update: It's been almost five years since I read this short story as a freshman in high school and recently I read Zodiac by Robert Graysmith. Since becoming familiar with the killings the Zodiac executed, as well as the possible ones he may have committed, I wanted to reread this short story. Zodiac pretty much copies all of Zaroff's obsession with hunting humans. It's quite fascinating to read such an old short story that has hints of the psychological stamping that most serial killers have: a hatred of others (he is the same race and background as Ivan and undermines his intelligence), feeling superiority, the need to dominate. It's a very interesting story, but it sets me on edge and I feel dirty reading it. Sometimes it's too much to be close to those who have no caring for human life. I do still enjoy the story and highly recommend it. Connell captures a lot within a few pages and sets up a remarkable story. Even more interesting is the implication of killers. Are men of war serial killers? Does killing someone who is hunting you constitute as murder and how is that any different from an animal killing a person to save itself from death? Is survival of the fittest a real concept when it comes to free will or does it kick in when we are on the brink of death? These are interesting questions posed by this short story and I don't know the answer to one of them. I think that's what makes this story so relevant even today.

Whimsical Writing Scale: 4.5

Villain Scale: 5

Character Scale: 5

Plotastic Scale: 5
Have you read any Tor Shorts? If so which ones do you recommend? If you haven't they are free online and I highly encourage you all to check them out! 

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