I’ve really been enjoying reading short stories from Tor.com – it feels decadent to sample one or two different authors during my commute – and so I decided to continue working my way through their treasure-trove of original fiction, each story presented with its own specially-designed cover by one of various talented artists. This selection includes all manner of fantastical sub-genres, taking in horror, romance, morality tales and epic fantasy with a comic twist. Find the first batch here. More coming soon!
DARK WARM HEART: RICH LARSON
The first months of marriage are always a time for adjustment and accommodation, but Kristine has been more open-minded than most. In pursuit of his doctorate, her husband Noel has just returned from a research trip to the frozen wastes of Northern Canada. There, among the ice and storms, something happened: something that Kristine can’t quite put her finger on, which has left her husband fractious and prone to outbursts of violence. As Kristine waits for an opportune moment to break some news to him, Noel spends hours sinking deeper and deeper into the recordings he made in the north – looking for something, but what? This eerily dark fantasy asks how far we are prepared to go in understanding and accepting the people we love.
Illustration by Samuel Araya
TWO’S COMPANY: JOE ABERCROMBIE
As I was saying just the other day, in reference to Traitor’s Blade, I haven’t yet read any novels by Joe Abercrombie, the master of ‘grimdark’. But I have read this short story and, if its tongue-in-cheek irreverence is any guide to his usual style, I think I’m going to get on very, very well with him. Here we join Shevedieh, called Shev, who is travelling with the muscle-bound heroine Javre, Lioness of Hoskopp, through the bleak and miserable north with enemies on their trail. When their path across a bridge is blocked by the hero Whirrun of Bligh, called Cracknut Whirrun, the resulting encounter between two great heroes could be a thing of legend. But the long-suffering Shev isn’t particularly bothered about legend, because their pursuers are coming ever closer… Full of witty jibes at hero conventions in epic fantasy, and lashed with delicious throwaway comments (‘Shevedieh is not my servant … She is at least a henchman. Possibly even a sidekick‘), this is a really enjoyable romp. I wonder if the characters are from one of Abercrombie’s longer novels? I’d love to learn more about them. And I really must read his First Law books.
Illustration by Tommy Arnold
THE TOO-CLEVER FOX: LEIGH BARDUGO
This story has the feeling of an old morality tale, straight out of Aesop’s fables. It is set in Bardugo’s fantasy world built for her Grisha novels, but I haven’t read any of these and you don’t need to know them to enjoy this story. It’s the tale of Koja, the scrawny fox whose cleverness and quick tongue have always kept him safe from harm. He’s talked his way out of traps and become famous among the other animals of the forest, but this master trickster has one fatal flaw. For the trickster can be tricked, and cleverness is only useful as long as we don’t allow it to blind us. Setting the scene amid snow, dark forests and Russian-tinted names, Bardugo warns us not to judge by appearances.
Illustration by Anna & Elena Balbusso
SIX MONTHS, THREE DAYS: CHARLIE JANE ANDERS
Judy and Doug are on their first date. They’re probably the only two people in the world who can truly understand each other. Doug can see the future. Judy can see multiple possible futures. They’ve both been expecting this meeting. But how does it change us to know the future? This clever, brain-scrambling story poses impossible questions: if the future happens as we expected it to, does that mean that we know the future and the future is truly fixed, implacable; or does it simply mean that we’ve made the future we expected through a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy? Judy believes that it’s possible to trick the future, to change tiny details which, later on, might open up an entirely different course. Doug, by contrast, is locked into his grim, ordained path, unable to see the point of looking more broadly. A tale of love, frustration and miscommunication, this is also a very clever (and award-winning) conceptual experiment.
Illustration by Sam Weber
THE WATER THAT FALLS ON YOU FROM NOWHERE: JOHN CHU
With no explanation, water has begun falling from nowhere onto those who lie. The amount varies depending on the gravity of the lie, while an equivocal evasion can push someone into unbearable angst. In these circumstances, Matt and his boyfriend Gus are considering taking the big step of getting married. There’s just one problem. Matt’s conservative Chinese parents don’t know that he’s gay. So, in an effort to get his life in order, Matt decides that he and Gus will visit Matt’s parents for a family Christmas and, somewhere along the line, Matt will try to find the courage to come out. He’s going to have to be careful though, in a world where everyone can detect the smallest lie. This is a cute, feel-good story without an awful lot of depth, but it certainly raises a smile. Best read with Google Translate open in another window to tackle the few Mandarin phrases.
Illustration by Christopher Silas Neal