Anthologies, Love Them or Leave Them?

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I seem to be running into more and more anthologies these days.  Name a publisher and I can show you a long list of anthologies they have published in just this year alone.  I am not sure what is driving this trend.  Are authors writing more short stories? Do publishers find it easier to publish short stories in an anthology rather than  release them on their own?  Torquere Press has their Torquere Sips.  Dreamspinner Press has Nap-sized Dreams but  is now only accepting stories under 15,000 words for use in their anthologies alone.  For the most part, I look to find short stories in anthologies these days.

What is an anthology? An anthology is a collection of short stories by various authors that is usually grouped together by a common theme.  I have seen anthologies where the stories all occurred in the same city, that was the common thread.  Or different stories about a group of friends, each having their own tale in the anthology. Think Hearts From The Ashes from Samhain Press, a favorite of mine, for an anthology along these lines.  And the number of authors found in each anthology can be anywhere from three to thirty!  An anthology is quite the diverse creature.

So why all the mixed feelings with regard to anthologies?  For some readers, its because they prefer a much longer story.  They want a novel.  These are readers who revel in the long view, jump with joy over complex characterizations and equally complicated story lines.  And for the most part, those can only be found in the novel or novella form.  Think banquet versus amuse-bouche (a one bite appetizer).  Some readers get frustrated with anthologies or short stories because they feel they just get engaged with the characters and plot only to have them end abruptly.  I understand that but often feel that is due to the quality of the short story being read.  A well done short story should leave a reader satisfied in every way, an increasingly rare occasion these days (see Scattered Thoughts Looks A Short Story Writing).

I think we need to look at anthologies a bit differently than we do with novels or novellas. And perhaps with a different expectation as well.  We all have our preset notions when it comes to novels we like.  And when we finish a novel, after having invested a certain amount of time and emotion, if it does not meet those expectations, than we are disappointed and frustrated with book and author alike. But an anthology can represent, should we choose to look at it this way, a chance to look at a compilation as something quite different. And rightly so, because there is a different expectation in the amount of time invested because of the shorter length as well as large quantity of stories involved.

Perhaps an anthology becomes a daunting proposal when you think of reading multiple stories one right after the other.  I get that as some of these collections are quite huge.    I used to just plow through the collection, one right after the other, only to find the stories running together towards the middle, a method that never seemed to do the authors or their tales justice.  Now I try to read them in short bursts and that has made it easier for me when not only reading but reviewing the anthology.  These are short stories, not a run on novel and they should be read as such.  I think we forget that at times because they have been grouped together in one volume.  But that fact doesn’t change the actuality that these are short stories, separate from each other except for an artificial grouping made by a publisher.

For me, an anthology is often a smorgasbord or even a Tapas Bar. A series of small plates or appetizers, instead of a formal banquet of a novel.   There will often be something familiar,  maybe a well-known or well-loved author or two.  And there will be surprises, new writers or authors never heard of before.  Or just maybe there will be a story from an author whose literary works you don’t normally connect with for whatever reason but here you find a story from them that just blows you away, giving you a new perspective on this author you normally pass on.  All those reasons and more make the anthology a format to be looked at with anticipation and with affection.  Think your goody bag at the end of the evening on Halloween. How did you approach it? Did you dump it all out at once or pick through the candies left inside the bag?  For me, the anthology is the Halloween goody bag.  There will be some apples, or a banana, along with Twix, or Mounds Bar to go with the Reese’s Pieces and Hershey Kisses at the end of the night.  You can read it all at once or pick through it, reading it a little at a time. Like some, love some, pass on others.

I have come to love anthologies for the jewels I have found inside, authors and stories alike.  Inside anthologies I have discovered the joys of a sloth shifter (Charlie Cochrane for Lashings of Sauce) or the grief of love lost and found again (Two Tickets To Paradise). Give them a try, they will undoubtedly surprise you.  And let me know, anthologies, do you love them or leave them?

Here are some of the anthologies I have reviewed:

Animal Magnetism

Closet Capers Anthology

Lashings of Sauce

Making Contact

Private Dicks Anthology

Two Tickets To Paradise

Fever Anthology

Unconventional At Best

Review of Making Contact Anthology

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Rating:  4.25 – 4.5 stars

Space, the final frontier, as a certain well known Federation Captain would say on his 5-year mission into space, has always consumed our thoughts and dreams.  We have always wanted to know what is out there, its vastness and mystery ever present.  All we need to do is look up to be faced with the unknown. How will we get there and what or whom will we meet once we do are questions innumerable authors have tried to answer in poems, movies, stories and graphic novels. Making Contact is a new science fiction anthology from Dreamspinner Press that examines some of those questions along with what type of love will be found among the stars?

Making Contact gives us ten stories by eight authors.  The stories range from aliens attempting to “fit it=n” among the human inhabitants when they arrive on Earth, humans trying to live in isolation on a lonely outpost, intergalactic conflicts among the races, an alien drunk tank and pirates in space.  There is humor, mystery, heartbreak, and a swashbuckling yarn of space pirates and derring do.

I found this to be a really strong anthology and the variety of stories and themes keep me glued to the Kindle one after another.  Don’t expect cohesion other than the fact that they fall under the science fiction m/m banner.  Just a look at the authors represented should tell you that their visions of space are as unique as they are.  Their narratives explore space from so many different perspectives.  The first story, Better Than Cola by JL Merrow is the only one to feature an alien so far removed from the humanoid mold that the author had to come up with an equally alien method of sexual exchange.  I loved this story as it left me with more questions running around my head than was answered.  Some of the aliens are recognizable in form that the authors have put their own twist to, aliens with fur, aliens with different skins tones and facial markings, and even a new take on vampires in space that will break your heart as it did mine.

Normally when I review anthologies, I only mention the stories I loved.  In Making Contact, that includes them all in varying degrees.  Here they are in the order they appear in the book.

Better Than Cola By JL Merrow

Newly arrived on Earth to work in the Melliti embassy, Summer Storms meets Nathan Chambers, who is tasked with teaching the alien visitor how to deal with human social interaction. The thrill of casual touch exposes an immediate attraction between them, but how far can intimacy go between two totally different life forms?

JL Merrow has done a fantastic job of giving us an alien so far removed from us but still one whose thoughts and emotions can stir attraction in another.  Summer Storms is a plurality of beings contained inside a “human shaped envelope”.  They have to adjust themselves to casual human touch and the way in which their “envelope” reacts to the human sent to help them deal with interspecies interaction.  This story has so much charm while still being sexy and alien.  Merrow left me wanting to know more about their physiology and culture while giving me a satisfactory glimpse into the unknown.

Revolving Realities By Cari Z.

Dr. Eliot Hollister is desperate to locate the Ulysses and her crew before tragedy strikes… again. The lone survivor of a hostile attack compounded by human error, Eliot is using an alien artifact to search through alternate realities, trying to change the outcome in a parallel dimension. Eliot’s challenge once he finds the ship? Convince Captain Paul Alvarez he’s for real before the Ulysses falls prey to the same trap.

Cari Z brings alternate universes into play with her story of a lone survivor grabbing as a last chance to save his lover from death, even if it is not his actual lover, but the man he is in another universe.  Wonderful characterizations play off against time as Eliot tries to stop the scenario from playing out again in the new universe but runs up against the same scientist hell bent on exploring the world  beneath them.  His frustrations become ours because we know what will happen if he can’t stop the mission.  My only quibble is that it ended too soon.

The Sacrifice By Sue Brown

After twelve years, the leaders of the Free Worlds have finally found a man willing to sacrifice his life to the gods of Segelian to ensure an alliance with the mineral-rich planet. But when Stane raises the dagger to perform the rite, he looks into the human Steven’s eyes and is horrified to discover he is destined to kill his life partner. If Stane doesn’t complete the ritual, it will destroy any chance for a treaty… and it might also change the world of Segelian forever.

Sue Brown uses two worlds, one homophobic (human), one a male/male warrior culture and the extended war between them that will end with a human sacrifice.  She does a nice job of world building including a world divided by religious caste and the warrior caste and makes us believe it. I loved Stane and Steven however implausible the final intervention.

Alone By Andrea Speed

Scientist Logan Murakami doesn’t have much to keep him company during his lonely vigil at Outpost Proserpina. But he knew that going in, and it’s the perfect place to focus solely on his work: a neuro-optical interface that would be the perfect engine for artificial intelligence… an intelligence that Logan hopes is taking on a life of its own.

What I loved most about this story is that it plays out internally in the mind of Logan Murakami.  Solitude and remoteness are definitely two of the factors to be considered when talking about space travel.  How to achieve it, do we need a base of operations to extend our exploration? And what type of person will be able to handle those conditions?  All compelling questions that need viable answers and Speed attempts to provide some of them in the person of Logan Murakami.  Raised in isolation in Alaska and solitary by nature, he unexpectedly ends up alone at the outpost and uses this time to perfect his neuro-optical interface with the goal of  having it attain intelligence.  What happens exceeds his expectations and gives him something so much more. Just outstanding.

Losing Sight of the Shore By Emily Moreton

Secondary communications officer Jay is assigned to a boarding crew when the Hydra discovers a seemingly abandoned, powerless ship floating in space. While exploring the derelict ship, Jay finds a barely conscious man with purple skin and silver eyes. After surviving a raider attack, Felix is understandably afraid to let Jay go—even when cultural differences threaten to stop any contact between them.

Moreton gives us romance in space that emerges from survivors of an attack upon their ship.  I liked the romance even if I wanted a little more of the alien culture and history of the purple skinned people living in ships among the stars.  I got some lovely bits of characterization from Jay and the other members of the crew, I just wish I felt I got the same result from the aliens.  A really sweet story that could have been fleshed out a little more to make it absolutely terrific.

Gifted in Tongues By JL Merrow

After inadvertently outraging local sensibilities, space pilot Torvald “Spitz” Spitzbergen faces a five-year stretch in a Lacertilian jail. His only consolation is trading insults with his cellmate, Tao, a six-foot libidinous Felid. But Tao seems to have a distinctly fuzzy understanding of the difference between fighting and foreplay…

Merrow gives us an alien drunk tank!  How could you not love this?  Spitz seems like the very type to get his drunk on, outrage the locals, and be very surprised to find himself with the remains of a hangover, two very different cell mates and the worst morning after he has had in a while.  I chuckled throughout this story, Merrow’s  descriptions painting the scene so perfectly that I had no problems picturing it all as it happens.  Cracked me up, made me blush, and left me wanting more.   Now if only I can talk the author into bringing Spitz and Tao  back for further adventures.  Pretty please?

Analytic Geometry By Andi Deacon

Kevin Ikoro has an incredible opportunity: his boss at Helix Multicorp wants an analyst’s view of how the corporation’s Exploration division works, and Kevin is now a member of explorer team Alpha 3IG. His teammates, a set of brilliant twins named Cameron and Theo Banark, are fascinating, and Kevin finds himself harboring a serious case of lust for Cameron. But exploration is unpredictable, and his teammates may not be what they seem. The shortest distance between two bodies isn’t always a straight line.

Another neat story full of twists that added dimension and depth to this little space gem.  I don’t want to go into this except that I loved the characters where the attraction of the mind trumps attraction of the body.  Sexy, humorous and with a little bit of mystery thrown in. Again the characters that Deacon creates here are so terrific, so unique that as the end I wanted so much more.  The surprise alone is worth the story but it is the family that is forming that captures my interest, imagination and heart. Just a great job.

The Monsters Below By Lyn Gala

Brai’s never dreamed of fighting the monstrous sub-humans who infest Kestia, but when his lover joins the service, Brai does what he always does… he follows. Then Rick is lost on his first mission, and Brai is left alone in a murderous rage. Now on his own first mission gone terribly wrong, Brai has his chance to get back at the monsters for killing Rick—only the government hasn’t been honest about the nature of the enemy, and Brai might find that the caves hide a secret that could change his life.

I was not prepared for the heartbreak that is this story.  Lyn Gala gives us an intense, knuckle biter of an update of vampires in space and makes it hurt even as the characters bleed out and die.  Again for me to go into detail would ruin it but Gala’s characters are beautifully realized and the situation they find themselves in so dire that our hearts and minds are caught up in their plight immediately.  This story kept me up and thinking into the wee hours of the morning.

Feral By K.R. Foster

Desperate to end a war, the king of the Lunar Pryde agrees to submit one of his offspring to mate with a member of the Sol Pryde royal line. Cynfael, prince of the Lunar Pryde, fled the planet six months ago searching for freedom, and nothing could convince him to return… except his father’s threat to marry off Cynfael’s twelve-year-old sister Adara. After fighting for freedom his entire life, Cynfael must return to Starion to face his unknown mate and an equally unknown future.

What is it about felids or specifically felids that walk upright with many of the same emotions and thoughts of humans that captures our imagination so?  I kept running across so many of them from author after author and genre after genre. Still, I end of loving them all. Feral is Foster’s newest addition to felids in space. Cynfael is another prince being forced to wed the son of warring royal line and bring peace to the planet they inhabit.  There are so many nice touches here from Cynfael’s ability to communicate with the planet to a comb made of filed down teeth that I wanted an extended version to fill in the gaps left by the story.  We are left in the dark about the loss of Cynfael’s mother, the war ongoing, the purity of his genes (does it relate to his color?) and so much more. A little more volume was needed to add layers to an intriguing tale.

Ganymede’s Honor By Cornelia Grey

Colonel Ardeth Connor has been rescued from death, but he’s not sure his new life is any better: he’s effectively trapped aboard a rebel ship that defies the Federation to collect ice meteors, stealing life-sustaining water for the poorest of planets and asteroids. As an anonymous part of Captain Gabriel’s crew, Ardeth is biding his time until he can escape… and learning there’s more to space than just the Federation.

This story reminded me so much of an interview I just saw with an astrophysicist.  She was talking about space travel, space ships and the Tardis. Ok, yes, I am a geek.  I make no bones about it.  She was talking about the fact that our modes of transportation in space didn’t need to be those sleek versions that populate the page and  movie screen, that we could travel about in something as funky as a phone booth or a Rubic’s Cube.  On in this case, a space galleon similar to those that rode the waves way back when.  I loved this story.  It left me smiling for hours just picturing the Ganymede under her solar sails in search of meteorites to capture.  Cornelia Grey’s story gives us pirates in space or should that be rebels in space and turns it into a swashbuckling story of love, sexy rebel captains who shouts to his crew ‘Unwind those cables, bunch of useless yobs!” as they prepare to harpoon a ice meteoroid out of a swarm, and his crew man the sails and chains as the ship rockets under them.  What a scene, what a crew!  It got the blood boiling, the eyes wild, the heart pounding…..oh how I wanted to be on the ship with them and maybe snuggled up against Ardeth and Gabriel, just saying.  I do have a thing for his tats.

And just the idea of a galleon sailing through space, the stars all around her…that’s magic right there.  Grey’s story hit a lot of my buttons and left me cheering the crew on to great glory and many more stories.  I feel much the same about every author here with their diverse take on space and making contact.  I loved their stories, I wanted more of their aliens and human interaction.  I hope this spawns even more novels featuring the being that made me laugh, made me cry and made me exult that space means no boundaries of any sort.  No boundaries to the imagination and no boundaries as to who we can love and be loved by in return.  More please. Much, much more.  Engage.

Cover art by Analise Dubner, cover design by Mara McKennen.  Love the cover, great colors and a catchy design.

Autumn Comes to Maryland, Vote 6 for Equality and the Week Ahead in Reviews

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Good morning to all and what a spectacular day it is here in Maryland.  The sky is that crystalline crisp blue that I only see in Fall, the clouds fluffy white and a huge flock of Canada geese just flew overhead, their cries trumpeting the arrival of Fall.  How I love this time of year, my pulse quickens, my step is a tad more brisk (such as it is these days), and I feel like rejuvenated after the sweltering heat of summer. The Monarch butterflies are flitting through the garden on their way to Mexico, and what a journey they have in front of them, over 3, 000 miles of ingrained need to fly to a place they have never been.  Amazing when  you  consider they are fragility on wings.

Autumn is a time of movement, a time of activity, both measured and frantic.  Beaver and muskrats are busy with caches of food and antlers, so too are the squirrels and white footed mice. All have plenty to do to make sure the food stores are full for the winter.  Bees zoom around the garden, gathering pollen and nectar from the spectacular profusion of gold, white and purple flowers of the season.  The  New England asters, goldenrod, the Black-eyed Susans, and the Joe Pye weed that linger on.  Most people think of Autumn colors as red, yellow and orange, but the fall gardener knows that the harbinger of Fall also carries the colors of white, gold and purple to all the gardens and fields around us.

Fall brings change.  Leaves swirl to the ground as the sap returns to their roots in preparation for Winter, seeds are scattered by wind and animal alike, and the animals start their migration to the winter feeding grounds.  The songbirds seek the safety of the night for their travels while the raptors, secure as top predators of the air, wing their way south during the daylight hours, soaring above as they follow the coasts and mountains. I watch the squirrels stuffing leaves into the neighbors chimney with all the energy and enthusiasm of teenagers on energy drinks.  I have never seen those neighbors use their chimney and hope that for the squirrels sake that this continues.   My old bird feeder finally fell apart from the relentless onslaught from the non flighted visitors and  a new one should arrive any day, carrying with it the hope of a squirrel proof feeder. Hah, I say from experience.  My money is on the squirrels.

I am hoping for another change in Maryland this fall.  It is 51 days until the election and I am hoping that this fall brings Marriage Equality for all in the state of Maryland.  If you  live here, please vote for Question 6 and make it legal for all GLBTQ to marry here.  It is long past time for this to happen, equal marriage rights are long overdue.  Let’s be a voice for progress and become a partner in movement for equal rights for all.  Vote yes for Question 6 and let’s make the promise a reality!  I will be there on voting day and hope you will join me.

Finally, October will see several special events on my blog.  First up, actually the very first week is Regency Sci-Fi week with JL Langley in preparation for My Regelence Rake release October 1st.  I have an interview with JL, recap of the series to date, a discussion about  Regency novels, and a contest to give away a copy of My Regelence Rake to someone who comments during the week!  Whew!  I am also participating in the Howloween Blog Hope at the end of October where I will be giving away a Amazon gift card during the blog hop!  So stay tuned, my pretties, we have a great time planned this fall.  Change is in the air, I can feel it.  Can you?

Here are the books to be reviewed this week:

Monday:                         Life As A Fairy Thrall by Katey Hawthorne

Tuesday:                         Making Contact (Sci Fi Anthology)

Wednesday:                   Nate’s Deputy by Lavinia Lewis

Thursday:                       Gregory’s Rebellion by Lavinia Lewis

Friday:                             The Melody Thief by Shira Anthony

Saturday:                         Wolf’s Own Book One Ghost by Carole Cummings