This collection of short stories is a delight and a treasure - yet it's more than your typical collection. There's a challenge here, a defiance. The stories are broadly within the fantasy and science fiction realm, but many of these tales scratch at itches under the skin, or make you feel the pain settled deeply into bones.
Nowhere is this better seen than in The Home For Broken. It's a story confronting the issues of disability - challenging the idea of people being broken. It's an agonising, painful story of parental choices, denial, and dealing with a life that has no easy choices. It's never been published outside of this collection, and it is absolutely worth your money alone.
But it's not alone. There are other gems scattered throughout this book. There's Godfall, the title story, with humanity mining the fallen corpses of deities as they crash to earth. There's The Poison Eater, bitter with the taste of small town life. There are issues of sexuality, sexual identity, gender roles (Black Widow absolutely kicks butt while exploring this), mortality (or immortality in The Vessel Is Never Empty), and far more, all wrapped around characters who are never soaring ideals but as screwed up and complicated as any of us. Like any collection, there will be stories that hit the mark with a reader and others that won't - I wasn't sold on the whimsy of A Troll's Trade, for example. That's not to diminish the work as a whole, though. This has quality throughout - not so long ago I read an Octavia Butler short story collection, and I couldn't help but feel reading this that Odell's work bore comparison.
Given the amount of work by CH Clepitt I've read already, I probably shouldn't have been surprised by the splendidly named I Wore Heels To The Apocalypse. And yet here I am, surprised and delighted in equal measure.
I Wore Heels ain't nothing but a good time. It's fun, it's a frolic, it's the end of the world. Kerry is a website designer inclined towards baggy clothes and comfy shoes when an unexpected apocalypse leaves her in her least favourite shoe choice and with an absence of transferrable skills. Not much use for html in the wilderness since she left her one-bedroom flat.
Instead, she finds herself caught up in less of a battle for survival, more a forage for comfort - all while her travelling companions deal with their own issues of sexual fluidity. The end of the world can apparently do great things for clearing out those social pressures preventing you from admitting your attraction to the same sex. They won't laugh at you down the pub any more, after all.
This is a quirky, perky ride, frequently making you giggle and chortle in ways that make people eye you suspiciously on the tube train. Don't worry about that, you never know when an apocalypse might come along to let you chortle in peace.
I Wore Heels is the best I've read yet by CH Clepitt - and I was already a fan.
The Last City: A Dust Anthology
Back in the day, I used to be a big fan of the Thieves' World anthologies - shared-world stories inside a fantasy city by a host of great writers. So it was with some glee I picked up The Last City, a sci-fi version of something similar.
The city of the title is the last bastion of humanity, built into an asteroid and separated by levels which function not only as physical structure but as social strata. The further you go from the hieracrchy, the dirtier the city gets and the cheaper life feels.
The opening pair of stories do a great job of setting the scene - first there's Robert M Campbell's tale of an adventure gone wrong and the low lifes ready to exploit an opportunity for advancing themselves, then there's Jane Jago's fabulous tale of Sam Nero PI, a detective up against the odds but smart enough to make the most of the technology at his hands.
There's a real mix of tales here - you might not get the most cohesive feel for the city as a whole but you sure do get a glimpse at the fragmentary nature of life there.
I really enjoyed Thaddeus White's tale of a colony ship on the way to the city whose crew is forced to make tough choices, and it was great to encounter a new writer to me in Juliana Spink Mills, whose Blood Makes Noise both intrigued me with its exploration of an unusual death and had me humming Suzanne Vega all day.
This isn't the last we'll see of the Dust universe - I look forward to more.
There's a decent starting premise in this book - but alas, it tends to go wayward after that.
After the apocalypse, supernatural creatures have tiptoed back out from the hidden places they had survived in during the time of mankind - and have now reasserted their dominance of Earth.
We start with a group of such beings thrown into an impromptu alliance as they try to escape imprisonment. There's a native American shapeshifter - the lead character - and his unexpected companions, a witch, a necromancer and a gremlin, who collectively hightail it out of there and seek refuge in an abandoned Costco.
So far, so good - but sadly we get so bogged down in descriptions of the large breasts of the red-headed companion and before you know it, it's all about whether the shapeshifter will be sleeping with one or both of his female companions as they get overexcited by his magical touch.
It's shallow, and it treats the female characters as little more than sex objects, and from where it started out, it really could have been much more.
If you're into old-school fantasy, then this is what Chris Turner seems to be aiming for. You know the type of tale, full of derring-do, sword-swinging and busty maidens, the kind that Robert E Howard used to pack Conan off on.
The busty maiden in particular in this tale is introduced as "barely a day over sixteen" so the frequent mentions of her high proud perky breasts and the swiftness with which she hops into bed - or, well, nearby bush - with muscled hero Vetra is more than a little uncomfortable. Oh, and of course she's a feisty redhead too - why is it always feisty redheads? (And I say that as a redhead)
The story zips along, and Turner also incorporates some of the horror elements that Howard used to love too. If you're into such old-school swords and sorcery, you may well have a good deal of fun. I just wish it had steered clear of cliche and not had me feeling uncomfortable and muttering about the age of the perky redhead.