Category Archives: Read

Short Story Reading List for August/Sept 2016

At the Writer’s Digest Conference this weekend I went to a talk by someone who was a ‘slush pile’ reader for various prestigious sites/awards.

I thought: that sounds like torture and probably a really good idea for someone who’s trying to inspire people to write short stories. Maybe I should do that.

So I started looking at various publications I might like to read for and realized, I don’t have a really good handle on any of their house styles. So maybe I should start reading them more seriously, before I do anything drastic. I should be reading more short stories anyway.

What I’ll Do

So I went investigating. And made, as I do, a list.

In an effort to do that, here are some stories I’m going to read in the next month or so.

How I’ll Do It

I’m going to achieve this by this method: any time I pick up my phone to go on Facebook for a random browse, I will instead, click on one of these links!

  1. The Fish Merchant, by Tobias Buckell, from Clarkesworld
  2. Word for Word, by Kate Heartfelt , from Waylines
  3. Nahiku West, by Linda Nagata, from Clarkesworld
  4. The Sentry Branch  Predictor Spec: A Fairy Tale, by John Chu, from Clarkesworld
  5. Chip’s Six Attempts at Popularity, by Jake Kerr, from Waylines
  6. The Changeling and the Sun, by   , from Ideomancer
  7. On Horizon’s Shore, by Aliette de Bodard, from OSC’s Intergalactic Medicine Show
  8. A Heretic by Degrees, by Marie Brennan, from OSC’s Intergalactic Medicine Show
  9. Vanishing, by Peter S. Beagle, from OSC’s Intergalactic Medicine Show
  10. The Thing on My Shelf, by David Gerrold, from Science Fiction & Fantasy Magazine
  11. An Open Letter To The Person Who Took My Smoothie From The Break Room Fridge, by Oliver Buckram , from Science Fiction & Fantasy Magazine
  12. Those Brighter Stars, by Mercurio D. Rivera, from Lightspeed Magazine
  13. War of Heroes, by Kameron Hurley, from Lightspeed Magazine
  14. Taste The Singularity At The Food Truck Circus, by Jeremiah Tolbert, from Lightspeed Magazine
  15. Asymmetrical Warfare, by S. R. Algernon, from Nature (2016 Hugo nominee)
  16. Cat Pictures, Please, by Naomi Kritzer, from Clarkesworld (2016 Hugo nominee)
  17. Left Behind, by Cat Rambo, from Clarkesworld
  18. The Bog Girl, by Karen Russell, from The New Yorker

Then What?

I’ll make notes in my reading log and share my thoughts in the Reading Room feature at

Reading War of The Worlds, Chapters 6 & 7

Chapter 6 – The Heat Ray In The Chobham Road

The humans are not coming off much better than the Martians in this chapter. Some things never change…

Chapter 7 – How I Reached Home

He does a fabulous job of capturing the way that the most vivid and extreme experiences are suddenly just part of our experience, a memory, and how we can’t conjure up the feelings any more. One minute the narrator has collapsed by the road the and next he’s back to himself again.

A few minutes before there had only been three real things before me —- the immensity of the night and space and nature, my own feebleness and anguish, and the near approach of death. Now it was as if something turned over, and the point of view altered abruptly. There was no sensible transition from one state of mind to the other. I was immediately the self of every day again — a decent, ordinary citizen. The silent common, the impulse of my flight, the starting flames, were as if they had been in a dream. I asked myself had these latter things indeed happened? I could not credit it … p. 266

It’s not often I come across a word I don’t either know or can’t figure out from the context. But this has me stumped:

The intense excitement of the events had no doubt left my perceptive power in a state of erethism. p.269

Oh, how fabulous. It’s a term, more properly erethism mercurialis, which is a neurological condition, also known as Mad Hatter’s Disease (because hat makers used mercury to make the brims of hats stiff. The mercury fumes — my chemist husband has told me this story in the past — are a neurotoxin and made people irritable, physically weak and could result in delirium.)
And he knows how to end a chapter!

I did not know it, but that was the last civilized dinner I was to eat for many strange and terrible days…p. 269

Tell me you’d put this book down and walk away now and I’d call you a liar!

Reading War of The Worlds, Chapters 4 & 5

Chapter 4 – The Cylinder Opens

The poor shop assistant! Wells really leaves him dangling.

The description of the Martian is creepier and more alien than anything I’ve actually seen in a film.

 Chapter 5 – The Heat Ray

This is a big feature of the musical, so I’m eager to see what really happens…

I remained standing knee-deep in the heather, staring at the mound that hid them. was a battleground of fear and curiosity.

I did not dare go back towards the pit, but I felt a passionate longing to peer into it… p.259

Ack! Aren’t you right there with him?

“Did you see a man in the pit?” I said; but he made no answer… p. 259

Does nobody else care about the poor shop assistant? And they call the Martians brutes?!

I stood, staring, not as yet realizing that this was death leaping from man to man in that little distant crowd. All I felt was that it was something very strange. An almost noisless and blinding flash of light, and a man fell headlong and lay still; and as the unseen shaft of heat passed over them, pine-trees burst into fire, and every dry furze-bush became with one dull thud a mass of flames…p.261

This is so very chilling. He’s not telling us he’s horrified. He’s allowing us to see it as it happened, only with the knowledge of what’s actually happening.

The end of this chapter is masterful: the fear that descends on him ‘like a thing falling on me from without’, infected me too!

Reading War of The Worlds, Book One, Chapter Three, On Horsell Common

war of the worlds by h.g. wells, chapter 3 As with any extraordinary event, a crowd has gathered. Boys, as they will, are throwing stones at the unknown phenomenon. The narrator muses on how utterly incomprehensible this is to the average ogler:

Fewof the common people in England had anything but the vaguest astronomical ideas in those days…p.253

Unlike in the musical, our narrator seems not to be the Journalist, but an independently wealthy gentleman, with nothing to do but dabble with intellectual ideas and hobnob with others who do the same. That’s how he gains access to the inner circle around the cylindar.

My mind ran fancifully on the possibilities of its containingmanuscript, on the difficulties in translation that might arise, whether we shoud find coins and models in it, and so forth…I felt an impatience to see it opened..p.254

…and even if you knew nothing else about this story, the writing here tells you to scream ‘Idiot! Run!’ at the narrator :)

Chapter Notes

I love the sense of pause in this chapter.

He describes the scene, the crowd, the oppressive heat of the day (‘not a could in the sky nor a breath of wind’). He shows us ‘half a dozen flys or more fromthe Woking station…a basket-chaise from Cobham, a rather lordly carriage’, all the sightsee-ers of every class, coming to gawk.

He’s really ratchetting up the tension without being at all flashy.

Reading War Of The Worlds, Book One, Chapter Two

Many people in Berkshire, Surrey and Middlesex must have seen the fall of it… p. 249

 This was one of the things I loved about this story when I was young and listening to the musical version. I knew these place names…I lived in Surrey. It was the 1970s, almost 80 years after the book was written, but it wasn’t hard to picture the setting. We spent Sundays going for walks through the very countryside he travels.

Reading it now (over 30 years after we moved far away from Surrey) I had to go and look up places like Chertsey, Ottershaw and Woking and make sure I hadn’t made this up. Sure enough, my old hometown is definitely in the vicinity, and there are plenty of place names on the map that I recognise here.

He approached the mass, surprised at the size and moreso at the shape…p.250

The writer in me is wondering how the narrator knows this. I’m going to assume that Ogilvy meets up with him later and relates this. My critique group would never let me away with this kind of perspective shift (unexplained) these days. Modern readers are so demanding. Sigh.

(I’m so nervous for Ogilvy. Not just because I remember what’s coming, from the album, but because Wells says “poor Ogilvy” the firsttime he mentions him in this chapter. You know that can’t be good. Foreshadowing, people!

He met a wagonerandtriedto make him understand, but the tale he told and his appearance were so wild — his hat had fallen off in the pit — that hte man simply drove on. p 251

Heavens! Imagine being seen without your hat! Clearly, a madman. ;)

One can imagine them, covered with sand, excited and disordered, running up the little street in the bright sunlight just as the shop folks weretaking down their shutters and people were opening their bedroom windows… p. 252

Poignant and foreshadowy. Tension builds…

Chapter Two Notes

Wells is doing a good job of writing a suspense thriller, here. We know it’s going to go bad, from everything he’s said so far, but still he lets us see the excitement of Ogilvy the astronomer and Henderson the journlist as these two men of curiosity investigate the most exciting new thing that’s ever happened to them. He really takes his time, building up the World ThatWas, without boring the reader.

I feel compelled to read on, how about you?

Reading War Of The Worlds Book One, Chapter One

Dedication: to my brother Frank Well, this rendering of his idea.

P. 238

Given how successful this book became, it seems like a very generous gesture to acknowledge it wasn’t his idea. But of course he couldn’t have known how successful it was going to be (one might say “no-one would have believed…”)

Book One – The Coming of the Martians

I-The Eve Of War

No-one would have believed, in the last years of the nineteenth century… P.244

I will never not hear those words in Richard Burron’s voice!

Men went to and fro…serene in their assurance of their empire over matter. It is possible that the infusoria under the microscope do the same. P.244

New word! Excellent word.

The Tasmanians, in spite of their human likeness, were entirely swept out of existence in a war of extermination by European immigrants, in the space of fifty years. P. 245

First: wait, what?! I don’t know this story and must look it up. If it’s true (and it probably is), ugh!

Second: “in spite of their human likeness”?! Even as smart and modern and enlightened a thinker as H. G. Wells is hampered by the conventions and scientific limitations of his time. Even when he senses the pure error of the thing.
“Men like Schiaparelli…failed to interpret the fluctuating appearances of the markings they mapped so well.” P. 245

Reading this 117 years later, we know so much more. But it’s fine. I’m reading this as alternate history or alternate reality spec-fic!

…the serio-comic periodical Punch…made happy use of it in a political cartoon. P.247

Oh, I do hope someone eventually mocked this up…

It seems to me now almost incredibly wonderful that, with that swift fate hanging over us, men could go about their petty concerns as they did. P. 248

I love that he spends half a page detailing the tranquil, idyllic banalities of daily life-as-it-was (he’s “learning to ride the bicycle” — not a child’s occupation in the machine’s own youth!)

Chapter One Notes:

This whole chapter is solidly, delightfully science fiction. He talks about current scientific knowledge, real research locations and scientific instruments and practices, but puts them to work in his “what if” story. Love it!

War of The Worlds by H. G. Wells Readalong

  I’m reading “War of the Worlds” for the first time, despite feeling like I know it off by heart. 

I don’t. I know Jeff Wayne’s concept album of the story off by heart. I grew up listening to it obsessively. I was around six years old when it came out and I know we had a copy of it soon after. I used to lie on the floor of our living room, not far from the site of the events in the story, and pore over the artwork in the double album’s booklet. I must have had to ask my parents to put on the LPs for me, because I’m sure I wasn’t allowed to do such a delicate task at the time.

I was obsessed. Old enough to grasp the horror of the story and the vivid illustrations (buildings falling on elegant, panicked Victorian women and men, crows picking at strings of flesh…), but too young to understand about consequences and grief and to be scarred by the whole thing. 

I remember dancing along to it with a friend, acting out the story, lip-syching before it was a thing.
Later, when I was a newly-wed, we got hold of a cassette copy of the Orson Welles radio play and listened with fascination to that ‘mockumentary’ version too.
Now my own chilren are listening to the Jeff Wayne version, and singing along.

But I still haven’t read the book.
So I ordered a copy of the Everyman Library volume “Threee Science Fiction Stories by H. G. Wells” (Including The Time Machine, which I have read, and The Invisible Man, which I only know from the classic black and white film). 

I started reading today and I couldn’t help but make notes as I went along. So I’m posting them here as a ‘read along’ (in the vein of Debbie Ohi’s Final Attempt To Read The Lord of The Rings readalong from 2001). Feel free to join in, pitch in, or just follow along.


Subversive Children’s Literature

E. Nesbit was a staple of the British children’s library section and I’m sure I must have read some of her books (as well as watching Jenny Aguter waving her petticoat at steam trains: another rite of passage for those of us of a certain age), all the while assuming that the “E” stood for something like Edgar or Edwin or something equally Victorian and male.

It was only a couple of weeks ago, while enjoying “Raising Steam” by Terry Pratchett, with it’s sly references to “The Railway Children” and the spirited “Edith”, that I twigged: E. Nesbit was a girl?! 1

But I don’t think I really appreciated how good E. Nesbit was, or how subversive.

She does a fabulous job of showing the world from a child’s perspective, by showing how clueless most adults are. In this exchange a small boy who has, unexpectedly, been made king, goes off to fight a battle against a dragon he has unleashed. It’s a pivotal point in the story, because the king has decided to face up to his mistake and try to correct it, no matter the cost. And his nanny responds just as you’d expect, if you think about it:


Is it any wonder kids stop listening to us, eventually?

I also particularly liked this throwaway line:


I’m not sure you could get away with that now. Not in the US, at least!

People used to think that writing for children was somehow a “lesser” pursuit, which probably has something to do with why women were “allowed” to do it. But this brilliant stuff!

When I read this (and T.H. White2)
I think it’s pretty clear which tradition Neil Gaiman comes from. He has that gift for seeing the world from a child’s perspective too. And for being clever without being pretentious.

Anyway, enough if this. I’m off to read the book I allegedly bought for my nine year old….

Thanks, Retold Tales, for bringing me this gem!

  1. I was also told recently that S.E.Hinton, of “The Outsiders” fame, was not only female but actually a girl, having published the novel at 16!
  2. Not, I’m fairly sure, a woman hiding behind her initials.

StoryADay Summer – Reading Version

You know I love a challenge.

It’s going to be harder to write during the summer months, with boys underfoot and trips to here there and everywhere (bonjour, Bretagne!), so I’m going to spend my summer months feeding the creative monster.

I’ve been finding it hard to write recently, partly because my brain is begin pulled in fifteen different directions. I’m feeding it with information — about education, about fitness, about nutrition, about cognitive behavioural therapies, about music, about all kinds of practical stuff — but I’m not feeding it with the kinds of stories it needs to lift itself out of the everyday world and into the world of stories.

JulieReadingSo I’m going back to the Bradbury Method of creativity-boosting. I did this last summer and it worked like a charm: I read a new story every day (and an essay and a poem as often as I could manage that) and found myself drowning in ideas. I had a burning urge to write; I sketched out ideas for stories; I wrote some of them over the next six months and released them as Kindle ebooks that have sold actual copies and generated actual profits. I have others that are still in various stages of drafting. But more than all that I was happy.

So that’s what I’m going to do: Read a short story a day during June, July, August and you can follow along by pointing your RSS reader here: (I use Feedly on my iPad, phone and computer to keep up with the feeds of blogs I love. I highly recommend it. remember the old Livejournal friends view? It’s like that. Or the Facebook status update view without, you know, Facebook). Or you can Subscribe to Julie Duffy Reading (& stuff) by Emailand get a daily update of all my reading-related posts (some days it’ll just be the title of the story. Some days it’ll be a potted review, and frankly it might get kind of annoying, so use this method with caution).

And feel free to join me. Leave comments, link to what you’re reading, start your own Reading challenge and blog…