“All These Shiny Worlds II”

I’ve read the first anthology in this now-series, and I’m finally getting around to the second one. As I usually do with anthologies, I’ll be splitting it up so that each short story gets its own short review. And, before we launch into that, I’ll give a quick review here: it’s worth getting. Here’s your link.

Out in the Dark

Meryl Stenhouse
Oh, I’m already enjoying the focus on science fiction in this anthology. And these days, I’m also a big fan of stuff being realistically concerned about the impact of climate change – like the ever-increasing importance of naval superiority as the seas rise, and the sorts of defenses you’d need to keep a city from drowning.

Alter Ego

Russ Linton
See, I kinda get where the whole “fourth person perspective” thing was going… but I’m not sure if it worked for me. I mean, superheroes, so a plus in my book, but still, told a bit oddly.

The Silk of Yesterday’s Gown

Misha Burnett
Oh, that was darker than I was expecting, and the opening paragraph makes it pretty clear that it’s going to be fairly dark. Yikes.

A Rough Spirit

Dave Higgins
For a bit of a ghost story, I do enjoy that I had to stop to laugh at the main character’s obliviousness at one point:

“If it pleases Hiroto-sama, I am called Anew. I have some skill in massage if the noble lord has woken with any stiffness?”
He tried to keep his gaze on the small bowl and not the scrubbed skin beyond it. “A little rice and a sip of water will suffice.”
“My brother has strong fingers if-“
She’d noticed something was wrong too. He needed to distract her. He slid the tray closer. “Tell me of Hayabiro while I eat.”

Other than that, I’ve gotta say, this whole thing is “stuff happens to this guy and he overthinks it,” but it was surprisingly entertaining the whole way through.

The Apprentice Appears

Bryce Anderson

Elsie pressed the trigger, sending a taxidermied squirrel flying through the air.

Need I say more? It’s hilarious, as is everything of Anderson’s that I’ve read. On this one alone, it’s worth reading the entire book.

Merge

Simon Cantan
This is the short story version of this comic, and I think it works even better than the actual comic did. To be fair, it’s a bit more hopeful than the comic – there’s robots outside the simulation, so things are still getting done, but still.

Without a Care in the World

Richard Levesque

Then he cleared his throat and said, “I am now officially invoking the Asimov Act – uh, I mean the Sentient Technology Emancipation Act, under the conditions of which you are obligated to release this independent being from servitude immediately.”

The Lancer

David Kristoph
Okay, remember when I said Merge was dark? This was darker. Yikes.

Bodies of Evidence

Jefferson Smith

“Okay Lou, I can squeeze you in. And how will you be paying?”
“On account. Maladein Industries.”
“One moment, please.” She was gone for over a minute. “Hello, Lou? I’m not showing any accounts under that name. The closest match I have is for SKULL International Consortium of Evil, Local Rep: Sheldon Maladein.”
“Damn, I forgot about the merger. That’s us. Sorry.”

I’m a big fan of “daily life in a world with superheroes” kind of things, and this definitely delivered on that.

Borrowed Lives

I.A. Watson
The editor’s note did a good job of covering it: it’s an exploration of how a new technology would fit into everyday lives. (The actual plot contains a bit more intrigue than that, but still.)

“The law hasn’t caught up with this, Mik. Why would there be a law against something nobody knows is possible?”

The Earth Ship

Graham Storrs
Imperialism is always the same, isn’t it?

Digital Commander

J.S. Morin
Oh, I liked this. It’s a pretty possible future, and the way the world-changing advances in technology were being handled as they were being developed? Downright responsible.

The Traveller

Christopher Ruz
Oh, this is not what they should’ve ended on, my heart can’t take it.

All These Shiny Worlds

So, if you haven’t heard of StoryBundle, it’s definitely something you should check out. It’s a Humble Bundle type of thing, but focused on indie books, rather than games.
I honestly can’t remember how I came across it the first time, but I do remember buying the first Immerse or Die bundle, and quite enjoying it. Now, I’m subscribed to StoryBundle’s email list, and I’m starting on All These Shiny Worlds, an anthology put together based on the concept of Immerse or Die.1
As with the way I usually do anthology reviews, I’m going to give a short response to each story. I’m doing something new, this time, though, and being a more responsible reader – each short story, in this review, has the author’s name listed. Where applicable, their name is a link to reviews of other books/stories of theirs that I’ve reviewed.2

The First Man in the World

Misha Burnett
An interesting take on the idea of a generation ship – rather than an AI steward, have an actual human doing it, cloning them a new body when the old one breaks down. I’m not entirely sure if I like that idea, to be honest – sure, AI is tough, but I think the whole thing could’ve been managed with a good set of algorithms that know to wake up a human caretaker from cryo-sleep or whatever if something it’s not programmed to deal with happens.

Three Demon Gambit

J.S. Morin
Oh, this was fun. Everyone with sense knows you shouldn’t make deals with the devil, or demons in general – they’ve had millennia to become experts in all sorts of tricky little contractual loopholes. But summoning three demons and playing them against one another? Oh, that’s delightful.

Rolling the Bones

Richard Levesque
Eurgh, the editor’s note at the beginning was right about this one. Not all that dark, but creepy. That poor girl.
And it ended on the worst wordplay I’ve ever read. Bonus points for that.

All the Way

Graham Storrs
Reminds me of nothing so much as the teleportation problem – continuity of self across iterations. As a counterpoint to the arguments someone was making in this, I’ve got a relevant SMBC comic. Either way, it was a sad little story about transhumanism, I suppose? One of those post-singularity ideals, at least.

Scales Fall

Dave Higgins
This one was darker, and weirder – Egyptian magic, rather than what we see all too much of in most fantasy, and a lot of the different beliefs present in ancient Egyptian religion. I honestly don’t know how I feel about the ending – I can’t quite say if it’s a happy or sad ending.

The Ant Tower

Christopher Ruz
Oh, this one was almost something I’d like. Almost, but not quite, because of course it had to go all dark. Bah, and humbug. Nice character building, at least.

Heft

Brett Adams
Back to the fun sort of thing – a rather iffy description of CIA operations, with that characteristic disregard for the illegality of CIA operations on US soil, and then breaking into the church of Scientology of all places. What a nice little adventure, and the twist ending? Delightful. Plus, one hell of a hook on this, as it opens with

The sex snail.
Meetings with Walt always ended with the sex snail.

The First Acolyte of the Upshan Berental

Bryce Anderson

She’d once overheard a priest call it “The Sacred Thingy,” which had seemed blasphemous but also accurate.

Go click on that link on Bryce’s name, because he’s a wonderful writer and I’ve loved everything I’ve read that he wrote. This was no different – a funny little story, set in a valley cut off from the rest of the world and guarded by… The Sacred Thingy. And I must say, I don’t disagree with the final decision the protagonist made – in her place, I’d have done the same thing.

Bronwen’s Dowry

Belinda Mellor
It was sweet! The competition scenes had me a little bit nervous – I’m still not entirely sure on what happened with the person who got first, what their actual prize is, but it worked out well for everyone, I suppose.

The Spider and the Darkness

Russ Linton
I think the setting this one starts in would definitely qualify it as ‘dark fantasy,’ but it does eventually get out of there. It kinda reminds me of some of the scenes in Battle Magic, Tamora Pierce’s most recent book. Secrets of the earth, and all that.

The Dowager’s Largesse

Jefferson Smith
This… might be my favorite one of the whole book, thus far. I love the setting it’s in, and I want to read more of it. I love the idea of an old Empire with old magics written into the land, somewhat forgotten or ignored by the current government. I love that the Dowager Empress put together this whole complex system of free booze and magic3 as a way of searching for something, and I love the way she checks to see how things have worked out. I really do hope she survives what she started.

Theriac

Becca Mills
There’s some Buffy vibes to this one, but gone all… church-y. Which is a bit weird, and made me almost instinctively disagree with some of the things the main character thought, but it allowed for some really interesting character growth.

The Red Flame of Death

Van Allen Plexico
Again the religious fervor, but this time quite necessary – it’s the best thing for fighting demons, after all. I like the implications in there – that one day mankind will be able to utterly defeat the forces of darkness. When it comes to fighting demons, that’s not the sort of thing you usually see; usually those stories imply that it’s like fighting entropy, and one day the darkness will win.

The Blue Breeze

Regina Richards
Oh, this is a fun setting for a story. Two suns, one of which is somehow ring-shaped? That one makes me suspect it’s some sort of science fiction setup, and the ring-sun is an orbiting mirror-station or something. The protagonist lives in the Hell Hollows, which is possibly the most vicious place possible- even the trees are carnivorous.
Aside from that maybe-space-station thing going on, there’s also a Mysterious Ancient Ruin at one point, and it’s basically hitting all my buttons for a setting I’d like to read more of.

The Rakam

Karpov Kinrade
Oh, there’s a lot going on here, and I hope there’s a full novel set in this world, because I would love to see more of it. All sorts of fun macrobiology, and there’s something weird going on with the gems. A lot of fun.

And that’s it, for this anthology. I quite enjoyed it, and it’s apparently free as a Kindle book? Oh my. Go read.


  1. The point of the anthology, per the introduction, was to be a lower opportunity-cost variant of the StoryBundle; it’s easier to read a short story than an entire novel by a new author, so giving a bunch of new authors a chance is easier in short-story format. 
  2. I went through and put in some better tags recently, and I may as well get some use out of them. I also might go back and do this same sort of thing for my other anthology reviews, but no promises, it’d take quite a while. 
  3. It’s a fun mix, really. 

The Vampire of Northanger

I almost didn’t wind up reviewing this one. Which, as per my weird set of rules about writing reviews, is a way of saying I almost didn’t wind up finishing this book.
I’d actually started writing a sort of review in my head, because Bryce Anderson is an author that I quite like – he wrote The Improbable Rise of Singularity Girl, a book which I loved, and we’re actually mutual followers on Twitter. So, at about 10% of the way through the book,1 when I was almost to the point of giving up on it, I was quite sad. “I wanted to like this book,” the post explaining my failure to read it would’ve begun.2 At that point, I had nothing really wrong with the book – it just wasn’t the sort of thing I enjoy reading. I was kept there by two things, foremost of which was the introduction to the book. Again, normally I don’t read introductions, but as I started to skim past it a few things caught my eye, and I read a random paragraph of the introduction, realized it wasn’t the sort of introduction I’m normally wary of, and went back to read the whole thing. It’s a hilarious piece of work: the ‘description of the writer’ bit makes mention of the fact that the introduction was written by someone who is paid “a handsome living” by the endowment of a chair at school that no longer exists. “As a public service, he can often be found on the current grounds of the former school, laying traps for feral students and attempting to educate whomever is ensnared. He assures us the process is entirely humane.”
The second thing keeping me there was, again, loyalty to a writer who I know to have proved themselves admirably in the past.

Fortunately for me, I didn’t have to write that “I have failed at reading this book” post, because the book picked up quite well from there – it was a bit of a long, slow start, but then, I enjoy everything Diana Wynne Jones has written, and her books have a plot diagram that looks like a wide sawtooth: a long, slow build to a beautiful crescendo, which takes place ten pages from the end of a 400-page book.
The Vampire of Northanger had a rather similar structure, I could say, and did the same sort of thing once past that initial 10% “I can barely go on” mark: I found myself unable to put down this book which I’d been barely able to hold up before. The exact turning point, I can demark quite easily: the introduction of Emily. He’s a lovely character, a dog made into a bit of an incompetent hellhound, and it was at this point that I realized the book wasn’t going to be just a Jane Austen novel with the backdrop slightly changed.3
And from there, the book was off. I’ve a phrase stuck in my head, which was planted there when a friend asked what I was reading, then set upon looking for reviews: “a delightful, violent romp through supernatural England.” That’s pretty accurate, if I do say so myself, and I wish I’d thought of it first, but alas.
(Here, I’ll point out how visibly my writing style has been impacted by spending so much time reading a book in the more Victorian style; the voice in my head is speaking with a rather snooty Oxford accent at the moment, and I can hear it sniff with disdain every time I try to use a modern colloquialism. Hopefully this fades soon.)

So, my final opinion on the book: a slow start, which I’ll ask the reader to power through, after which you discover a lovely adventure novel, with a good bit of mockery coming from the narrator, mostly directed at the kind-to-the-point-of-naïve4 protagonist. The other characters are delightful, once they get into the stride of the story, and perhaps my favorite bit of the whole thing was in the very end of the book when the protagonist finally figured out the blindingly obvious secret and basically sat down and said “well, I’m dumb.”
Seriously, it was quite a good book. Go have a read.


  1. Thank you Kindle, for telling me precisely how much of a book I’ve read 
  2. Like I said, normally I don’t acknowledge books that failed to hold my interest long enough for me to read them, but I felt I at least owed that much to Mr. Anderson. 
  3. To my readers who enjoy the writings of Jane Austen: I don’t mean to insult her, I’ve just come to terms with the fact that the style of her writings are not the sort of thing I enjoy. There are, I’m sure, a good amount of people who would love to read “a Jane Austen novel with the backdrop slightly changed.” This is not quite the book for you. 
  4. Yes, I’m aware that ‘naive’ and ‘naïve’ are just alternate spellings for the same word: nonetheless, I think the second looks better, and I just enjoy having excuses to type an umlaut, okay

The Improbable Rise of Singularity Girl

I finished reading The Improbable Rise of Singularity Girl last night. I also just got the book yesterday morning, so that really tells you what I thought of it. I can definitely see why it passed the Immerse or Die test.1 Which is, incidentally, how I wound up hearing about the book, as a tangential reference from an author I follow who has a book in the Immerse or Die StoryBundle. I’ve been meaning to get that book2 and read it at some point, and the descriptions of some of the other books fascinated me.3 So I dropped enough money on it to get the full bundle, Bonus Books included.4 And now, having burned through the first of those books in a single day, I figured, clearly I enjoyed reading it enough to ignore a bunch of my responsibilities5 and curl up in a chair and read for hours on end, so I should probably do it the honor of a review.

Continue reading The Improbable Rise of Singularity Girl