Tag: suspense

On plots, again

“I don’t work with plots. I work with intuition, apprehension, dreams, concepts. Characters and events come simultaneously to me. Plot implies narrative and a lot of crap. It is a calculated attempt to hold the reader’s interest at the sacrifice of moral conviction. Of course, one doesn’t want to be boring … one needs an element of suspense. But a good narrative is a rudimentary structure, rather like a kidney.”

—John Cheever (x)


Novelette: “Grow, Divide, Sacrifice, Thrive”

“Grow, Divide, Sacrifice, Thrive,” by Jo Miles

Appeared in Metaphorosis, February 21st, 2020, and on the podcast (read and listen!)

8,913 words

Brilliant premise for a speculative fiction story, and I enjoyed Chris and Lilith’s characters very much. I did feel that the climactic, cathartic confrontation with Chris’s grandmother went on too long and wasn’t suspenseful enough. But overall I liked it.

I thought I heard the podcast narrator trip up a couple of times and use feminine pronouns for Chris, which was jarring, but it’s possible I misunderstood.

Short story: “The Tunnel Ahead”

“The Tunnel Ahead,” by Alice Glaser

Published in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction in November 1961; anthologized in 7th Annual Edition: The Year’s Best S-F (edited by Judith Merril); The Future Is Female! 25 Classic Science Fiction Stories by Women, from Pulp Pioneers to Ursula K. Le Guin: A Library of America Special Publication (edited by Lisa Yaszek); read for PseudoPod 688, February 7th, 2020; PDF here and also readable here; also adapted into a film called The Tunnel (2016)

3,193 words

Practically all exposition, and I don’t sense any particular buildup of dread on the way (maybe I’m dense), and yet the PseudoPod episode definitely kept me listening.

How anyone in this society could have more than two kids is beyond me. But I sometimes wonder that about our society too.

Short story: “Eastbound Train”

“Eastbound Train,” by Andrea Hansell

Appeared in The Lascaux Prize Volume Five (2019)

A few thousand words

A real page-turner, and (spoilers) the reveal at the end is satisfying, though I suppose I could have seen it coming if I’d thought about it. Interesting how we don’t find out how much the kind woman knows. Would she still help them if she knew they were Jewish? I think she would. I hope she would.

Novelette: “The Thames Valley Catastrophe”

“The Thames Valley Catastrophe,” by Grant Allen

Appeared in The Strand, December 1897; featured in PseudoPod 664, September 13th, 2019

7,516 words

(Big implicit spoilers ahead, and this is a good story with enough suspense that you’ll want to go in cold.) Alasdair Stuart’s expressive PseudoPod reading (and his grim warning at the start) made me feel anything could happen, so that I actually paused halfway through out of a creeping fear for the main character’s wife and children. I felt like it was really happening.

Not what I think of when I think of horror, but truly horrific.

Short story: “Sacrificial Iron”

“Sacrificial Iron,” by Ted Kosmatka

Appeared in Asimov’s May/June 2019, published on April 19, 2019, and on their podcast (listen)

7,485 words, according to Rocket Stack Rank

I loved the suspense, the gradual unveiling of why this guy wanted to murder his companion, the reveal of who finally dunnit, and especially the great, cruel twist at the end. Some survive to pass on their genes and some don’t. The way the guy destroys the last bit of evidence is brilliant. I disliked the last few lines however—too unsubtle.

Rocket Stack Rank strongly criticizes the science here. To me the science was just the backdrop and the infodumps didn’t bother me a bit. The chemistry metaphor didn’t bother me either; I wouldn’t have found it heavy-handed if it hadn’t been hammered home so much.

Kosmatka reveals in an interview that he got “a decade of nothing but rejections” from Asimov’s. How amazing that writers keep going despite that kind of discouragement, and what a gift for readers.

Short story: “My Boy Builds Coffins”

“My Boy Builds Coffins,” by Gary McMahon

Appeared in Black Static #46, May–June 2015 (purchase the issue here); featured in PseudoPod 664, September 6th, 2019

5,412 words

(You’ll want to enjoy the suspense in this one, so beware of spoilers below.) I found this wonderfully original and interesting, but the ending left me dissatisfied. Where is the real boy—in the coffin or in the house? The one in the house appears wrong, but so does the one in the coffin. I would have liked it better if the coffin boy seemed less ambiguously to be the real one. I like a sense of logic even in creepily ambiguous, open-ended horror.

I really liked the use of the boy’s past anger issues to keep the mother on edge and wondering, and that creepy wedding ring image.

I didn’t realize till I googled that the title was from a Florence and the Machine song. I like it less now that I know it’s an allusion. Still, it fits nicely.

PseudoPod now includes the text of the story in the podcast episode text, which makes it easy to follow along.

Short story: “The Glove Box”

“The Glove Box” or “Glove Box,” by Annie Neugebauer

Appeared in The Dark City Mystery Magazine at some point (read online here); nominated for a Stoker Award; read by Alex Ford in Tales to Terrify 389, July 12th, 2019

1,961 words (my guess was 2,000)

Cleverly wrings suspense out of what seems at first a slight incident. I like it. Not sure about the title though.

Short story: “Gephyrophobia”

“Gephyrophobia,” by Rykie Belles

Appeared here in Strange Horizons, June 10th, 2019, and on the podcast

1,544 words

(Spoilers.) (I don’t always warn for spoilers but this one is subtle.) Love the slow, tantalizing, delightfully incomplete reveal. I find the story satisfying despite its fragment-like quality and inconclusiveness.

What I just learned is a novel excerpt but I think is also a short story but I’m not sure: “Ross Perot and China”

“Ross Perot and China,” by Ben Lerner

To appear in the New Yorker May 27th, 2019, and read for The Writer’s Voice (both online here)

A few thousand words

I really like Adam’s panicky journey, and the suspense over Amber’s fate right up until he makes to leave the scene. And Amber’s rambling monologue too. I’m trying to piece together the themes. Amber’s contempt for her stepfather, her contempt for her boyfriend; Adam’s mistake regarding the house, his inability to connect with Amber, his pointless attempt to make her see what he sees behind his eyelids. Is Amber to blame for their failed relationship? Or is it that Adam is, like the stepfather, a bit of a blowhard, a bit of a phony, his efforts to communicate insincere? That’s certainly what the title suggests: Amber doesn’t care about Ross Perot and China because she understands that it’s just talk.

Ross Perot. Now there’s a name I haven’t heard in a while.