Well I guess I was right that Tor would also win the "wait for the last possible moment to release their longest story of the month" award. I'm fairly sure this is something that only bothers me because it means that I was not able to get the review up on Friday. Of course, Tor was nice enough to make it up to me by publishing some great stories. Really, it's a full month, with four stories and a graphic story. So a lot to look at and none of it bad. Indeed, Tor is a great resource for some amazing stories, many of which tie in to other, larger works. So it's the gateway drug of fiction sites. It gave me pet elephants to cry about and ghost busting to cheer. There is an abundance of talent here and I'm just going to get to it, okay?
"The Two Weddings of Bronwyn Hyatt" by Alex Bledsoe (7463 words)
Stories set in other worlds can be tricky, especially at Tor where there is a little less of a push for them to stand on their own. This story follows the titular Bronwyn as she prepares for her wedding and is approached by a group of Little People to have something of a cultural exchange. Dealing with pressures from her family to have the wedding a certain way, Bronwyn jumps at the chance to do something different and yet acceptable. And yet there is something not quite right about the arrangement, and Bronwyn has to be a bit quick on her feet to stay ahead of the little people and prevent herself from being bound into an arrangement that would be terrible for her. It's a nice story and I think that it does a good job of introducing something new and explaining everything so that I could understand. I do think, however, that this would have made more sense having read the source material. Which really is no large complaint, because I assume that many stories like this are to entice readers to check out the longer works. This story offers up a taste of the world and offers probably some additional resolution to whatever happened in the novel. So there's that. For me, it might not be the first thing I'm going to read next, but I am adding it to my mental "this sounds interesting/is worth a second look" list. For people looking for an Urban Fantasy that seems to draw in some romantic aspects with a focus on family, there are much worse places to go.
"Elephants and Corpses" by Kameron Hurley (6912 words)
This story is about a man who can jump from corpse to corpse and his one friend as they try to do something right for once and end up in a rather unpleasant situation. Nev is the corpse merc, the man who believes that a body is just a body. Which works for him, because he has to drive them around. The world-building surrounding the corpse mercs is interesting, solid. It makes sense and seems a part of this world. It also makes for a good argument between the characters, with Nev's one friend believing that people survive in some fashion after death, that some part of their soul resides in the bones. Which makes what Nev is doing much more a violation. Something he never thought about. Or didn't want to think about. Of course, the setting is also one where women have more power than men, and there are a few ways that enriches the story. Really the work is well done and the pace fast and the story flows nicely. It's not exactly the most complex of plots, but it allows for a complexity in the characters and their situations rather than having some sort of labyrinthine mystery to solve. It all works, and I was quite sad when the elephant from the title turned out to not be long for this world. But I like how it was gotten back to in the end, and how the story takes Nev close to despair, close to losing everything, but keeps him relatively hopeful. He's still alive and has lots of new things to consider. So yeah, a good read.
"Ginga" by Daniel José Older (8304 words)
Hey, another Bone Street Rumba story is up on Tor. I loved the first of these tie-in stories, and quite enjoyed Half-Resurrection Blues as well. But then, I think I'm more a fan of Kia than of Carlos. I mean, Carlos has his moments, don't get me wrong. But Kia made such a compelling character in "Kia and Gio" and her return here is amazing. I so wanted more of her in Half-Resurrection Blues and I am pumped that she is going to have a larger role in the next novel. If this story is any indication of how the viewpoints might work, it bodes well, because the story moves back and forth between Kia and Carlos, giving each a time to move forward, to get a taste of their voices. Carlos, more the veteran now despite still not knowing much about his past. And Kia in the student role in some ways, as fully alive and full of intelligence and power and fun. The plot of the story follows some strange events around a park that is attracting the attention of some strange spirits. Kia seems to be in the center of things, in part by being in the wrong place at the wrong time but also there is something different. People keep knowing her name, from her new dance/martial arts teacher to the ghost that tries to kill her. But Kia proves to be much more resourceful than most people around her suspect, and she handles herself well, kind of putting Carlos to shame, which is hilarious and the character just play off each other in a way that is natural and very entertaining. It's very much a story that ties in to a bigger setting, and for those who have not read the other story or the novel there might be some confusion. But once again, this story makes me very excited to read more by the author. Which actually works out, as I'm going through Shadowshaper (for review purposes, but be sure and pre-order it now) at the moment (so far it is great!). Anyway, this story is just fun. Go read it. And if you haven't, go read "Kia and Gio" because that story is also amazing.
"Zapped" by Sherwood Smith (14373 words)
Well here's another story that I would probably just throw all the money at to read more of the story. Basically it sets up a world where some people have powers. These people are all connected to a mysterious group that disappeared, but not directly. Because they're all young, in high school or younger, and that youth infuses the story with a great energy and newness and almost innocence, despite the fact that none of these young people are really innocent of the world. They have all had to deal with their share of trouble and oppression. The main character, Laurel, can zap things with a form of telekinesis. She also has a dad and two moms who all live together (which is pretty neat). She deals with pretty normal things (aside from the magic powers, I guess) until she finds out that she's not the only one with powers, and then she joins a group of others, and together they try to do good while also helping each other with the elephant in the room: how did they get their powers and why? that question is left for another time, though, as the group investigates instead a hate crime that went on where a young gay boy was put into a coma. The story is intense at times but takes a very interesting and nuanced look at high school life that is full of diverse characters. Laurel's first real friend, Mercy, is revealed to be a trans woman and the story is careful to give her backstory the weight it deserves while also showing just how harmful it can be to a child who is pressured into expressing a gender that is not their own. Of course, there is also a whole slew of complications with that because the "leader" of the group of talented kids, a lesbian (or at least bi and in a relationship with another girl), cannot accept that Mercy is really a girl. It all seems to muddy the waters of the story, but in a good way, keeping things interesting and not too black and white. The story moves right along and the action is solid, the character work very strong. I'm not doing my due diligence to see if this is a tie-in piece but I hope there is more. The setup is good and I would definitely read more from these characters. A fine read.
"Con/Game" by Cory Doctorow and Jen Wang
This is a follow up to the authors' In Real Life graphic novel that was released from First Second. As I read that one, I feel a bit better about reading this. It's a fairly straightforward story, the main protagonists of the graphic novel coming up against an abusive troll in a position of power within the game of Coursegold Online. The two characters get their characters banned by this guy and devise a way to get back at him. Not by killing his avatar, but by tricking him into breaking the rules of the game that he was violating so that he gets fired and has to start from the beginning like they do. It's still charming work (though I don't think I saw Penguin in a Hat, my breakout character from the graphic novel). The story plays out in a fairly standard way. The good guys prevail but still have to deal with being banned. They are shown a bit as knowing which rules to bend and which not to, and using the game to help actual people make money is pretty neat, though here most of their help takes the form of removing an abusive guy from power. Still, this is also very short, and part of that means that the payoff isn't quite what it could have been. It's a nice story with a good amount of humor and also some bits of serious glimpses at online gaming. The art is as amazing as always, too, which is nice, matching the characters' avatars to their real life bodies. For anyone who read the graphic novel, this short piece is more of the same goodness. Indeed.