Wednesday, January 7, 2015

A List of Stories, Costing a Quarter Each

Short fiction writers are some of the ultimate cheap entertainers.  A lot of it is free to read.  What isn't free is of a high quality, for the most part.  However, you'll likely not like all of the stories in a particular issue of a magazine you buy, or in an anthology.  On a different, yet related coin, it's tough and demoralizing to some writers when their writing doesn't make them much money.

A new source of fiction and poetry,, is intriguing.  It allows you to pick and choose what stories you want to read from the site, for a quarter each.  That way, you sort of make a custom anthology for yourself.  And better than an anthology, all of the stories you pay for are placed onto a list in your dashboard together, so you have easy access to all of your stories at the same time.  This service is good for writers too, because every time you read a story on, the writer gets 22 of the 25 cents you spent.  Not much, but a very fair price for a story, especially the longer ones on the site.  Some stories are less than 200 words, while the longest are 2,000 exactly.  No matter what length, each read will cost you a unique form of currency, a read!  You can buy reads in increments of 20, paying $5 for every 20 reads.  I highly recommend paying the $5 for an initial 20 reads from the site and see what you think.

If you're unsure of this whole concept, I suggest you try whatever story is currently the free read of the week on QuarterReads.  At the time of this writing, that story is "Nuclear Family" by Alex Shvartsman, which is a very good dark Christmas post-apoc story.  Yes, dark, Christmas, and post-apoc all combined!

If you decide to try QuarterReads out but have no clue what to read first, I have a solution!  Below is my recommendation for your first 8-9 reads, in alphabetical order.

1.  "A Thousand Cuts" by Alex Shvartsman
1642 words of horror, fantasy, and light romance with an eerie voice and tone; Shvartsman is a master of the form.

936 words of sci-fi; very cool concept for the most part.

596 words of sci-fi that plays with how stories lose their truthfulness over time; cool setting elements and beautiful execution.  (Disclaimer: the subject of this story is Jesus', whose life story has become riddled with misinformation by 1,000,000 AD.  I am a firm Christian, but I did not take any offense.  I just want to warn you, if you think it might offend you.)

4.  "Christmas' End" by Jamie Lackey
166 words of fantasy; brief, but with potency in every word.

5.  "Golden Years in the Paleozoic" by Ken Liu
960 words of sci-fi from one of the biggest names in sci-fi short fiction; wonderful voice.

6.  "Minor Details" by Jaleta Clegg
1815 words of fantasy with two young female characters, one of which is dyslexic.  The fact that she is dyslexic is very important to the story.  It's a bit weird a points, but overall very funny.

7.  "Queen of the Noble Gases" by Patrick Stahl
962 words of speculative fiction; okay, you don't have to read my sole QuarterReads story if you don't want to, but I'd really appreciate it if you did.  It contains anthropomorphic noble gases who are actually nobles within the gas anthropomorphic gas community.  I think it's a cool idea, at least.

8.  "Superior Firepower" by Alex Shvartsman
981 words of fantasy; this concept is a little strange and perhaps a tad undeveloped, but the writing itself is excellent.

9.  "Things That Matter" by Amanda C. Davis
981 words of sci-fi that also just so happens to have Christmas and post-apoc flowing deep within its veins, though not quite as dark as "Nuclear Family" (which you should buy if you're reading this after it's no longer free).  The setting is developed well.  Great prose from one of my favorite spec fic writers.

Friday, January 2, 2015

Last Christmas

I've been gone for about a month and a half.  Has anyone noticed?  Probably not.  Well, anyway, I just got a chance to watch the 2014 Dr. Who Christmas special, "Last Christmas," and I've decided to review it.  Normally, I will only review television episodes from the view of the teleplay, but today I'm going to review it with a bit more openness, just with a higher emphasis on the story as it would appear in black ink on white paper.  I'm using two new labels today: Television Episode Criticism and Dr. Who.  In 2015, I hope to get into a decent rhythm of random blogging (how's that for an oxymoronic phrase?), with a wider range of topics covered.  I'm not an expert on anything I try to talk about on this blog, but I think just writing my thoughts on various things I'm interested is very fun and if anyone happens to stumble upon my posts, I'd be happy to hear their thoughts.

I'm a pretty big fan of Dr. Who.  I've seen all but one episode that has aired since the reboot in 2005, at least so far as I can gather.  There might be a few more that have slipped into the cracks.  The Christmas specials are some of my favorites.  "Last Christmas" definitely ranks high on lists of top Dr. Who Christmas specials, top episodes of this season (or series, if you prefer the native terminology), and top episodes featuring Peter Capaldi.  It might be among the top ten episodes of Dr. Who in the modern era, and almost certainly in the top twenty.

Setting is always a high-caliber product of Dr. Who episodes.  "Last Christmas" erred slightly on the side of "normal," though every scenic location was built for its purpose within the plot and character arcs of the story and was therefore splendidly done.  Going with Chekhov's Gun, the main setting needed to be pretty plain, because nothing in the main setting was very important.  It was what was going on and by who in that setting that mattered most.  A touch too much gray, perhaps, other than that it was to satisfaction.

A few characters of lesser-import could have been developed a little more in this episode.  Some were given very strong character-builds, which left the blanker ones looking rather blank.  However, you can't expect every character in a space opera to be awesome.  If that was the case, than it would make the characters we need to think are awesome look noticeably less awesome by comparison.  Still, a smidge more flavor on a character or two wouldn't have been a waste of time, I don't think.  As for the main cast, "Last Christmas" did a very good job in linking the end of the first part of this season/series with the beginning of the next part.  The Doctor's companion, Clara, needed to quickly recover from a traumatic event, and this episode allowed her to do so without it feeling rushed.  Some of that trauma definitely needs to be shown later on, and I think it will be a great plot point at some point, likely in one of the final episodes of the season/series, but the way that this episode conducted things will help prevent a lot of future melodrama or the dreaded T.V. "let's pretend none of that just happened."  The Doctor got some needed development as well.

"Last Christmas" hit plot out of the park.  It started with very subtle foreshadowing, confused us, made us think that we weren't confused, and then confused us some more.  It wrapped character and setting in close for a Christmas hug and held on tight.  The writers had a lot of time on their hands (about sixty minutes) and they used almost every moment wisely.  They used try-fail cycles!  A lot of try-fail cycles!  I loved it.  Maybe the aliens could've been a little less plot-tailored, but I think a show like Dr. Who can get away with that.

If you haven't watched Dr. Who and would like to, I recommend three places to start: the beginning of the modern era (2005), the first episode in the Matt Smith era, or this episode.  If you don't have a lot of time on your hands, start with "Last Christmas."  You probably won't be disappointed.