Reviews

Snapshots I Brought Back From The Black Hole | Lightspeed, Jun 2011

Snapshots I Brought Back from the Black Hole by K.C. Ball is told by an A.I. linked to Captain Sergei Kolenkhov of the Albert Einstein, the spaceship in which the exploration ship, Quantum Wanderer, rode out to a black hole.

Chloé Dubois is in the exploration ship maintaining its distance above the black hole’s event horizon. Tethered to the Einstein is a module containing Andy Mercer, Chloé’s husband; filming her ship.

Other human emotions are involved here, making for a solid story.

Reviewed by Sam Tomaino for SFRevu | Jun 2011

 

The first of the original stories is pretty much actual science fiction, which we really don’t see all that much of in this zine.

A hazardous expedition. The AI narrator is the perfect witness to the events that unfold around a doomed love triangle – or perhaps it is a quadrangle, because the AI is not a neutral party.

Sergei Kolenkhov is captain of the Einstein, but it is Chloé Dubois who pilots the actual observation craft, right on the edge of the black hole’s event horizon. Sergei is in unrequited love with Chloé. She is married to Andy Mercer, in a drone tethered to the Einstein and hovering near Chloé, making the recording which is expected to pay for the entire expedition. And now the tractor field is showing signs of failure. The engineer wants to reel in the drone. Andy insists on remaining out with Chloé, and she is backing him.

He’s arguing because he wants to have it all his way. I know his recording systems. He can fix imperfections when he does the final edit back on Earth, push the data through graphics interpretation coldware, clean the edges, let his own A.I. work on it.

I like this. The narrator’s voice is engaging, as is the photo motif, and there is subtlety to the plotting; I like the way the narrator knows when everyone is lying. I can’t quite figure how Andy, whom everyone seems to detest on sight, manages to captivate the incomparable Chloé, but that sort of thing can be inexplicable.

RECOMMENDED

Reviewed by Lois Tilton for Locus Online | Jun 2011

 

Little Green Guys | Little Green Men – Attack!, Mar 2017

An overall really enjoyable anthology of comedic SF stories built off of the classic SF trope that aliens are “little green men.”

“Little Green Guys” by K.C. Ball. Given my love for “Guys & Dolls” and for Damon Runyon in general, how could I not love this Runyon-esque Roswell alien landing story? Really, how could I not wish I had written it? Absolutely my favorite story in the anthology. Great voice, great fun.

Four out of five stars from Anthony at Good Reads | Apr 2017

 

Sweetwater Notion and the Hallelujah Kid | Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Jan 2014

A skiffy alternate history when the moon has been colonized in the 19th century, with characters like Jack London, our narrator, residing there. Also the Kid, aka George Clayton Moore, who introduces Jack to Miss Sweetwater Notion on her return to lunar soil with a disagreeable husband with whom she now forms a trapeze act, scheduled to perform for the historic arrival of President Teddy Roosevelt on the moon. The Kid, alas, is still in love with her from the old days. But there are conspiracies afoot, and derring-do ensues, with great sacrifice.

I get stuck here on the notion that the Kid is someone else, not named George, but for this to be so, time would have to be seriously out of joint. Otherwise, this is entertaining enough skiffy action stuff, sufficiently far removed from scientific plausibility to call it fantasy for the purposes of inclusion in this zine.

Reviewed by Lois Tilton for Locus Online | Jan 2014

 

Jack London on the moon. Tycho City is preparing to welcome Teddy Roosevelt’s first lunar visit when London’s friend, the Hallelujah Kid, greets his lost love disembarking from the shuttle from Earth. But she’s married to a rich bully with a bodyguard in a mechanical suit. London struggles to get his columns for the local paper written while helping his friend rekindle his old romance. But things aren’t as they seem, and the pair end up scrambling to save both the president and their home. The tone matches the setting perfectly, and overall, the story is a lot of fun.

Reviewed by Jamie Lackey for Tangent Online | Jan 2014

Tangent Online included Sweetwater Notion and the Hallelujah Kid in their 2014 Recommended Reading List

 

Coward’s Steel | Writers of the Future 26 anthology, Aug 2010

Tate is a lonely girl. Her mentor and savior, Jolene, died weeks ago. Jolene taught Tate how to survive the Collapse by being suspicious of everyone. Tate sees something familiar in an old woman tending a fire. The chance meeting sets in motion a series of events that will influence her life, a struggling village, and a future’s past.

Coward’s Steel is a fantasy set in a dystopia. Tate lived most of her life following Jolene’s law. Her dead companion had so much influence on her Tate can still hear Jolene’s skeptical voice in her head. The voice drives a wedge between Tate and a caring community who have welcomed her with open arms. Tate carries a magical flask the old woman by the fire gave her, a flask that never empties of its whiskey.

The author wove a subtle puzzle within this finely crafted tale. The mystery of the old woman fades, then returns later into the story. Tate is successfully cast as a loner who is destined to live in misery, even when opportunities for a comfortable and content life are presented to her. The villagers of Providence have done as well as a community weathering a global collapse can do. Outsiders are trouble and are dealt with harshly but those asking for help are never turned away. Tate finds friendship and love in the village but Jolene’s voice from the past warns Tate to not get used to it.

The story is well done but a downer. I liked it but it left me bummed out in the end.

Grade B+

Reviewed by Frank Dutkiewicz for Diabolical Plots | Mar 2011

 

A Quiet Little Town in Northern Minnesota | Analog, Jun 2013

Blackduck is A Quiet Little Town in Northern Minnesota. And an AI that has become self-aware and is thinking of taking over the world. This is contrasted with the budding romance between Darrell Atwell and Toni Meadows, who work at the computer facility that led to Blackduck’s becoming sentient.

The story is entertaining and the two elements mesh into a strong tale.

Reviewed by Chuck Rothman for Tangent | May 2013

 

Perhaps the most interesting short of the stories in this issue is K.C. Ball’s A Quiet Little Town in Northern Minnesota. It’s the usual hand-wavium story of a computer system becoming sentient and has the usual romantic subplot, but the AI is an interesting character/narrator and the story is a bizarre one, especially for Analog.

I can’t get into much without spoilers but, given the nature of the narrator, the nature of the ending and, indeed, the way the AI is portrayed, the gist of the story is unexpected. Either remarkable restraint on the part of the author or a bizarre theme.

Reviewed at J-Sun-Space | Jun 2013

 

The town of Blackduck, Minnesota, is self-aware. It’s been fine with being a small town. But three days ago, something called DARPA’s Red Lake Project went online and it has acquired a sense of humor. It also wants to spread over the whole world. The project was designed to “create an electronic and self-aware individual for use by the military”. The town finds its intrusions noticed by Darrell and Toni, who work for the DARPA project. How will it deal with them? Its use of philosophers with homophonic names might lend a clue, but I’ll leave it at that. Another fun story!

Review by Sam Tomaino for SFRevu | Apr 2013

 

Namely, Blackduck MN, the town AI, which has suddenly developed ambitions after the new DARPA project came online nearby, an abiotic, egocentric, self-organizing electronic perception system that displays independent thought and judgment.

In six weeks I intend to be all of Beltrami County. In nine months, the entire state of Minnesota. And within three years I will be the world.

Blackduck’s only problem are the technicians who’ve spotted a hacker in the system, but the frailties of human nature give the AI the advantage. Humor.

Reviewed by Lois Tilton for Locus Online | Apr 2013

Gardner Dozois included A Quiet Little Town in Northern Minnesota in The Year’s Best Science Fiction 31st Annual Collection Honorable Mention List.

 

Snapshots from a Black Hole & Other Oddities | Hydra House Books, Jan 2012

Seattle-based K.C. Ball mixes and matches classic genre elements to produce straightforward stories with heart, humor, and a strong sense of place.

A relatively new writer, Ball made her first professional fiction sale in 2008. Since then, her career has done nothing but accelerate. To date, she has published over four dozen short stories and has won both the 2009 Writers of the Future contest and the Speculative Fiction Foundation’s Older Writers Grant for newly professional authors over 50. Snapshots from a Black Hole & Other Oddities is her first collection.

The book gathers 24 of Ball’s stories, seven of which are published here for the first time. The assembled pieces are ambitious in their diversity in terms of subject matter and length. Space thrillers, ghost stories, flash crime fiction, a post- apocalyptic fantasy novella, and a nearly- mainstream story featuring Elvis Presley can all be found within.

Ball came to fiction after working for years as a media coordinator, a journalist, and a public information officer. This training and experience show in her writing. She conveys scientific information efficiently and gracefully. Her settings are especially well-rendered, and fanciful tales of angels, dinosaurs, and superheroes gain an admirable solidity from firmly-grounded descriptions of Key West, rural Montana, and Seattle.

The collection leads with its strongest piece. Snapshots I Brought Back from the Black Hole, originally published in Lightspeed Magazine, is told from the point of view of an artificial intelligence assisting with an interplanetary research mission that goes horribly wrong. The story is structurally elegant, and its AI protagonist’s combination of intimacy and alienness offers the reader a compelling window into the minds of people whose day-to-day emotional and working lives are lived in a state of constant, almost quotidian peril. Flotsam, the book’s other space adventure, is also quite good.

The book includes several other highly worthwhile stories: In His Prime is a compelling, SFnal slice-of-life piece about a famous young boxer. Bringing in the Dead, a military horror story, offers a quiet but wrenching critique of both war narratives and zombie fiction. Synchronized with Evelyn is a taut and enigmatic piece about the magnetism of public tragedy. And A Bannockburn Night, a seafaring ghost story set on Lake Superior, ends with a nifty twist.

But though the stories in this collection are almost always engaging, they are very rarely surprising. Many feel like basic re-shufflings of favorite genre and pop culture tropes: Cretaceous on Ice, a story about dinosaurs and time machines, ends with the phrase “… Tastes a lot like chicken.” Dial Tone, a post-apocalyptic flash piece, reads like a Twilight Zone episode. In According to His Substance, a mysterious, altruistic figure crosses between alternate worlds to save lives in a way that evokes Sliders, Quantum Leap, and the like.

In addition, some of the stories do contain moments that feel jarring or false. Calling Forth the King ends on a cozy and loving note that is propped up by a rushed justification of an apparent rape. The Fluting Man is a romance whose central relationship springs from a credibility-straining moment of love at first sight. This, coupled with the monolithic unpleasantness of the protagonist’s rival, makes the story feel hollow where it ought to feel warm.

But even when Ball’s stories falter, they remain readable. Ball’s adventure tales are well-paced, and her main characters, by and large, are strong, smart, and agreeable, with clearly drawn emotional arcs. This is ably crafted work from an energetic new talent who is clearly on her way up.

Reviewed by Victoria Elisabeth Garcia for The Cascadia Subduction Zone | Oct 2012

 

This was actually a book I got handed free at a conference. It is short stories, which I am not usually that into, but, man, this book was kind of amazing. She covers all sorts of genres and does several “flash fiction” stories, which are 1000 words or less. I wouldn’t have thought you could write compelling stories in so few words, but I would’ve been very wrong. There are also some longer stories, a nice balance. I devoured this on a plane but I bet it’d be a good book to read on transit – lots of stopping places.

Five-star review from Good Reads | May 2014

 

A debut collection from an author whose name was unfamiliar to me. Most of these stories are SF; a couple are more properly fantasy. They range from full length to flash fiction, and vary considerably in theme, mood, and subject matter. The humor is sometime sharp at the edges, which is always nice. There are touches of alternate history, space travel, and other familiar icons of the genre, but the stories are much more about the characters than the situations, although generally without sacrificing storytelling. They are much more polished than I would have expected from a new writer and a new publisher. I think “Flotsam” was probably my favorite. As I said, I hadn’t really heard of this author before now, but I expect to hear from and about her again.

Reviewed by Don D’Ammassa for SF Reviews | Jan 2012

 

Life is bizarre and it seems our world is only out to make it more confusing. Snapshots from a Black Hole & Other Oddities is a collection of short stories from K. C. Ball who spins tales of the everyday gone wrong, with the twists of horror and sci-fi added on throughout it all. “Snapshots from a Black Hole & Other Oddities” is a strongly recommended pick for those seeking a unique and offbeat collection of short stories.

 From Midwest Book Review | Apr 2012

 

In the deepest, darkest, meanest corners of your hearts, all humans want that. You watch disaster from a distance and if someone dies, so much the better. You can whisper to yourself, “Thank God that wasn’t me.”

from Snapshots I Brought Back from the Black Hole

Snapshots from a Black Hole & Other Oddities features stories that encompass every possible aspect of science fiction and fantasy, emphasizing the complex nature of characters over the vehicle through which their stories are told.

Why is this on our bookshelf?

Short stories are a hugely exciting way to encounter wildly different directions in fiction in a small timeframe. That, and reading some of Ball’s work in other anthologies (Writers of the Future, Analog) made her own anthology a must-have.

The characters in each story are richly developed and, despite the short length of each, inhabit well-defined and compelling worlds of their own.

The only downside here is that the stories are so short and leave readers wanting much more; some of the stories are accurately flagged as “flash fiction” and just don’t give readers enough time to invest in the characters involved.

4-star review by Eric Mann for GeekyLibrary | Nov 2015

 

The Moon Belongs to EveryoneAnalog, Dec 2012

(in collaboration with Michael Alexander)

A union-organizing novella starts off this one on a pretty strong note.

Alternate space history in the Cold War, with the appalling scenario of Richard Nixon as President backing lunar bases to beat the godless commies. Laura Kerrigan was a cop until she was railroaded out of her badge, left with no better alternative but to sign up as a lunar ice miner. But conditions are harsh, the miners are resentful, and sabotage has led to murder; Laura is the only investigator [still alive] on the spot, and the corporation is too cheap to import an official one.

This one is a work of labor politics, and the real villain, give or take a murderer or two, is the corporation that grinds its workers down to the desperation point. There’s singing of “Sixteen Tons” and I wouldn’t be surprised to hear “Union Maid.” It’s a different point of view that might seem a tad bit dated, even for 1979, but then we have Nixon in the White House. The prevalence of female miners is another reminder that this isn’t the 1979 we remember. Otherwise, the main interest for many readers may be the cheap but ingenious ice fabrication methods.

“Since we have to lift the water to orbit anyway, why not save on raw materials and make the water the fuel tanks? It’s fifty degrees absolute down here in the shadow. That ice is rock hard. We shoot it up to Odyssey where they melt it into the reaction tanks. Then they bring the engine assembly back down for another run.”

Recommended

Reviewed by Lois Tilton for Locus Online | Sep 2012

Gardner Dozois included The Moon Belongs to Everyone in The Year’s Best Science Fiction 30st Annual Collection Honorable Mention List.

 

Stop Me If You’ve Heard This One | Waylines Magazine, Mar 2013

A story about cruelty, phobia of germs and the ramifications of situational comedy, in regards to interspecies’ culture. It’s also kind of horrifying.

Augie hates germs. He makes sure he keeps his place clean, cleaner than it ought to be, so he won’t ever have to deal with them. But Augie knows that you can’t escape every kind of germ. There are immortal bacteria in Lagrange space, drifting on comet-dust. There are indestructible patches of fungi, shedding off the hulls of spaceships. Some of them, the aliens bring with them.

And Augie knows all there is to know about aliens.

Disinfectant can only take you so far…

Stop Me If You’ve Heard This One would make a great scifi sketch. It’s short, it’s cruel, it packs a mean punch and above all, it rolls right down your head like a screaming fat man.

K.C. Ball does a great job at depicting characters, setting up a story, playing out a mystery and then finally paying off in such a short time. It also helps that her final segment of the story is trippy as all hell and adds that particular insult to the injury your mind’s just sustained.

Reviewed by Konstantine Paradias for Best SF Stories | Sep 2015

 

Flotsam | Analog, Jul 2010

Flotsam is an old-fashioned engineering puzzle story, as a crew of space salvage workers must figure out a way to survive an accident in space that has crippled their ship. Typical of these stories, the fun in reading them stems from watching the characters unravel the problem they are confronted with and coming up with a solution using the tools at hand in Apollo 13 style. The solution the characters in this story come up with is pretty basic, but would probably work, and the story on the whole is pretty satisfying, if unspectacular.

Reviewed Aaron Pound for Dreaming About Other Worlds | Dec 2010

 

Space. Something hits the Mary Shelley, an orbital debris sweeper.

There had been an explosion within the equipment module, as well, large enough to blow out the away side of the cylinder and send bits of metal and plastic shrapnel spewing into space. The other two solar arrays on the far side of Mary Shelley were chewed to pieces by that new debris and a piece of it had struck Zoë.

Because of cost-cutting by the corporate bean-counters, their life support will fail before a rescue ship can reach them. It’s up to newcomer Quin to prove himself and find a way to save all three of them.

True science fiction, a typical SF problem story with technological ingenuity saving the day and incidentally solving the characters’ personal problems as well.

Reviewed by Lois Tilton for Locus Online | Jul 2010

 

Lifting Up Veronica | from Hydra House Books

It shows when someone writes well about something they know. I’ve never lived in small town America, but I feel as I’ve just taken a trip there. The economy with which K. C. Ball draws the courtroom, the diner and its waitress, the revival tent, the preacher on his knees – all of it creates the setting with a tiny number of perfect strokes.

There are a lot of good people created for the roles, and if there were false moves in the story – which is told from different perspectives, with backstory neatly tucked in where necessary, I didn’t notice them while sucked into this story set in the world of traveling preachers and snake-handling sects. Their belief was visible, the consequences credible: if you handle snakes you may indeed die.

Small town politics, back country lawyers, people with an agenda, the professor making his documentary – everything was lovingly detailed and folded together to create tragedy and salvation.

Themes of responsibility, of sticking your nose a little too much into your neighbor’s business, of family and religion and belief underscored dialogue which told the story.

The only trouble I had with this carefully produced story was an occasional failure on my part to realize how nicknames and first and last names showed different people’s mode of address for the same person. And the cover should have larger lettering. But those are minor quibbles: I enjoyed this book, which I found by accident, far out of my usual modes of reading. I’m glad I read it.

Review by Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt at Amazon Prime

Five-Star review