“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.

“Oath Keeper,” or, “I was very wrong about where this book was going”

I’m gonna be honest, I didn’t actually intend to finish this book so soon after I read the last one, but it sorta just happened. Whoops.1
So, first things first: this is the second book in an ongoing series, and I kinda doubt I can get through a review of it without at least slightly spoiling the first one, so if you, like me, hate having things spoiled, and you haven’t read the first book, go do that.
Now, on to the second: much like the first, it’s got a lot of different plot lines going on at once. One or two got dropped entirely, which I thought would make things a bit easier to follow, but they got replaced with different new ones. Seriously, the cast of this series is spreading like nobody’s business. Which kinda works, I guess – it makes the whole thing feel bigger, but manageably so, to have so many different angles on the same underlying plot.
And that plot, I must say, got more interesting than I was expecting: most of the way through the first book, and a good bit of the way through this one, I thought I had a good grasp of where the series was going. It felt a bit like a Star Wars arc: you get some success in the first book, everything goes to hell in the second, and in the third you’ll pull it all back together, good guys win, fireworks and a party in a forest with a bunch of weird small creatures.2
And boy, was I wrong about that. I still think it’s possible for the arc of the series to be wrapped up in the third book,3 but what actually needs to be wrapped up is very different from what I was expecting to need to be wrapped up.4
It was a very solid addition to the series, though; the first book took a bit to get going, but this one has done a much better job of capturing that Septimus Heap-style “I have no idea what’s going on, so many questions, I can’t stop reading” feeling.5 I definitely recommend it – though, as I said before, read the first one, and then the second one.


  1. I’ve also realized how well I’m doing for reading Jefferson Smith’s books; with this one done, I think there’s only one non-children’s book he’s got published that I haven’t done a review of, and it’s in my To-Read pile. 
  2. There’s definitely a few analogues between the two series, you’ve gotta admit. 
  3. Which, I should note, doesn’t actually exist yet. Not that I’m mad about this or anything. 
  4. But seriously, I really hope there’s going to be a third one, because the ending of the second is such that I could see that being the end of the series, but the sheer amount of unanswered questions would drive me insane. 
  5. I’m referring to it as a ‘Septimus Heap’ thing because that’s the first series I can remember reading that really did that; media-wise, I think it might have been the Atlantis animated film that Disney did as a direct-to-VHS/DVD thing when I was a kid?
    Tangent off this tangent: that was a good movie, and I’m disappointed that the spin-off TV series turned out to be so meh and only got three episodes. What an under-appreciated movie. 

“Strange Places,” or, “I don’t know if it’s the *places* that are the strange part”

In the “books I don’t know how I wound up with” category, we have Strange Places. I actually wound up starting the second book in this series before the first, which was a bit annoying – I’m not a big fan of spoilers, y’know, and accidentally spoiling the ending of the first one wasn’t the best thing that could’ve happened.
Still, I did enjoy the book; the way it begins is definitely interesting, and I think I enjoyed that part the most. About a quarter of the way in1 it jumps off the rails, though, and even a bit of fourth-wall-breaking “this is so weird” from the narrator/protagonist didn’t work to keep me from calling the book out on the suddenness of it all.
Still, the story is interesting, and I’m invested enough that I’m going to go back to the second book and continue reading. From the first book I’ve figured out a bit more about how everything works in the setting, but plot-wise it’s all loose threads still hanging there.2
Which is where I’ll leave this review – fairly short, but I’m supposed to be on vacation right now, and this is ostensibly work,3 so I’m going to cut it off here and go back to getting sunburned on the beaches of southern California. If you’re interested in the book, here’s the link.


  1. Pushing the limit of my ‘no spoilers’ rule here, I know. 
  2. I think there’s three books, but I only have two, so… I’m going to be sad when I finish the second one, aren’t I? 
  3. At least, according to the organizational systems in my task- and time-tracking software it is. 

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 Brotherhood of Delinquents

I’m currently engaged in a project of binge-reading: it started when I found my Kindle1 in one of the innumerable boxes and started scrolling through it trying to pick a book to read. I realized that, much like my Steam library,2 it’s full of stuff that I’ve never even opened.
So I went through it, put every unread book in a new to-do list,3 and got down to reading.
Sunday morning, I finished reading The Brotherhood of Delinquents by Jefferson Smith. To be honest, I have no idea how this book wound up on my Kindle – according to the app on my phone, it’s a Document rather than a Book, so I suppose it was from an Indie Book Bundle kind of thing? I’m at a loss.
Anyhow, I enjoyed the book quite a lot. It’s the sort of book I used to read a lot as a kid – the protagonist is quite young, an apprentice, and it’s got the whole “uncovering something amazing” vibe that I adore.
But that wasn’t my favorite part of the book. No, that honor went easily to the amount of world-building that clearly went into this book. From the fantasy-standard slightly-off-norm names for things (‘Reeve’ as a sort of governor/elected-military-leader position, for example) to the amount of historical references present,4 an impressive amount of thought went into the background of the book.
There’s a specific part of world-building that the book pulled off masterfully, though: the ‘ancient magics/construction’ archetype. The entire book takes place in a single town, a massive Keep built to an exacting standard to defend a kingdom that wasn’t often described. It’s a leftover of an ancient war, one that was ended with colossal magic to the tune of “the wastelands start within sight of the Keep walls, and continue for god-alone-knows-how-far.” Clearly, things have just gone downhill since the days of yore, because there’s no mention of anyone creating new magic, and there are frequent descriptions of people moving away from the Keep, and the decrepit war-machines still sitting around.
To be honest, I can’t quite pin down why I thought this so resolutely throughout the book, but I was stuck on one concept: this whole thing is in the future. I have no idea if that’s what the author was going for, but every bit of magic present struck me as something that could be easily pulled off with sufficiently-advanced technology. Every time some magic was used, I started picking apart how I’d do it in a science-fiction environment, and it all made sense. The ancient mage was a technological wizard, my mind decided.
And that sort of thing makes me love a book. In the fifth5 Septimus Heap book, there’s a vague reference to some ‘ancient drawings’ that portray… the Apollo missions. It’s a moment where you go “oh, holy crap, that all makes sense,” and I just adore those moments. If ever I write some fantasy, you can just go ahead and assume it’s set in a distant future where someone got good enough with technology that they said “screw it” and turned the control interfaces into a system of magic.

Anyhow, I’m going off-course. I’m too easily distracted to be a book reviewer.
Final say: I enjoyed the book, and I’m hoping there’s a sequel out there.6 Go read it.


  1. It’d been missing for a while. Moving is fun! 
  2. Currently featuring in the area of 100 games that I’ve never played 
  3. Quick shoutout to Things, the task-management app I prefer on both my MacBook and iPhone. 
  4. I can’t tell if I enjoyed or was annoyed by the amount of references to a single mythical hero. Like, it was nice that it kept going back to a single name, it created a bit of recognition, but it got a little bit overplayed. Though, that could be my raised-in-the-TV-age sensibilities – the myths of my childhood are far more numerous than any medieval society would’ve had access to. 
  5. I think, it could be earlier or later in the series, I’ve got no idea. 
  6. We still don’t have internet at the new house, so I’m sitting here writing this in Ulysses, and I’ll upload it next time I’ve got WiFi. Hopefully I’ll remember to check for a sequel when I do that, but I definitely won’t remember to go back and update this post.