Music From a Strange Planet


Fiction - Short Story/Novela
200 Pages
Reviewed on 10/06/2022
Buy on Amazon

This author participates in the Readers' Favorite Free Book Program, which is open to all readers and is completely free. The author will provide you with a free copy of their book in exchange for an honest review. You and the author will discuss what sites you will post your review to and what kind of copy of the book you would like to receive (eBook, PDF, Word, paperback, etc.). To begin, click the purple email icon to send this author a private email.

This author participates in the Readers' Favorite Book Donation Program, which was created to help nonprofit and charitable organizations (schools, libraries, convalescent homes, soldier donation programs, etc.) by providing them with free books and to help authors garner more exposure for their work. This author is willing to donate free copies of their book in exchange for reviews (if circumstances allow) and the knowledge that their book is being read and enjoyed. To begin, click the purple email icon to send this author a private email. Be sure to tell the author who you are, what organization you are with, how many books you need, how they will be used, and the number of reviews, if any, you would be able to provide.

Author Biography

For a long time I've been a devotee of the short story form. From Chekhov to Atwood and Saunders, I love the compression and concision it demands. This book started with one character and one intriguing opening sentence and as more varied and eventually beloved characters demanded entry in my brain, the writing transformed into its own fictional world and became a collection. That initial inspiration is now the first story in Music from a Strange Planet. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it.


Barbara Black is an award-winning poet, short fiction and flash fiction writer and librettist. Her debut short story collection Music from a Strange Planet (Caitlin Press) was released to critical acclaim in 2021. Her writing has been published in national and international literary journals and anthologies including The Cincinnati Review, Geist, The Hong Kong Review, Prairie Fire, and Bath Flash Fiction Volumes Five and Six. Achievements include: Fiction Finalist in the 2020 National Magazine Awards; Winner of the 2017 Writers’ Union of Canada Short Prose Competition; Double Longlisted for the Commonwealth Short Story Prize; Winner of the Federation of BC Writers Literary Contest (Flash Fiction) 2021. She lives in Victoria, BC, where she tends her too-big garden, collages, and rides her Triumph motorcycle.

    Book Review

Reviewed by K.C. Finn for Readers' Favorite

Music From a Strange Planet: Stories by Barbara Black is a work of fiction and a short story anthology in a variety of subgenres. It is best suited to the adult reading audience or mature YA readers. In this varied and enjoyable collection, the author puts forth twenty-four stories that delve into the most absurd parts of the human mind. From philosophical takes on the nature of love to dream-like meetings, kidnaps, bio-engineering, fears, and triumphs, the work delivers a series of fascinating snapshots that test humanity’s capacity to accept the strange into their lives.

Short stories are such a wonderful escape from reality without the commitment required by a huge tome, and this concise and highly enjoyable collection by Barbara Black is sure to be one that readers will love delving into again and again. One of the standout features for me is the quality of the writing itself, which flows lyrically and feels like poetry to read. The metaphors perfectly capture slices of the atmosphere and mood of each tale without the need for lengthy descriptions or backstories, and readers can easily fall into a cinematic, immersive-feeling story immediately and start to enjoy the characters and their emotional and psychological progression. This makes for instant connections and resonant memories of the different tales. I particularly connected with “Dried Fish Woman, Herbivore Man”, “Be My Beloved” and “End of the Line”, but for vastly different reasons. Each story offers thinking points and talking points that would be brilliant for a book club discussion, and I would highly recommend Music from a Strange Planet for short story fans everywhere.

Tom Sandborn, Vancouver Sun

BOOK REVIEW: Like Kafka on crack, Barbara Black tells stories of shimmering beauty
Victoria writer’s debut story collection is a remarkable celebration of the power of narrative.

Author: Tom Sandborn
Publishing date: Aug 20, 2021 • August 20, 2021 • 2 minute read •

Victoria writer Barbara Black, in Music from a Strange Planet: Stories, tells tales that seem drawn directly from the world of dreams and hallucination while fully fleshed out with observed or imagined detail.
“Tell me a story” and “that reminds me of a good story” may be the foundational statements in human existence.
We tell each other stories to reveal who we are, or to artfully obscure our unbearable truths. Either way, our narratives are the building blocks of our lives. This is true whether we consider the getting-to-know-you stories we tell new lovers, the political speeches we give or listen to, our self-serving excuses for bad behaviour, national and personal origin stories, the bedtime stories we tell our children or the often ill-considered micro fictions we tweet or Instagram.

Published short stories can often capture and render the shapeshifting, world-making power of narrative in a uniquely evocative way. Music From A Strange Planet, a debut story collection from award-winning Victoria writer, musician, singer and editor Barbara Black, is a remarkable celebration of the power of narrative that will both entertain and trouble the attentive reader.

The world of Black’s short stories is a charged, dreamlike landscape inhabited by insects, caribou and porcupines, dreamers, seers, predators and prey, both human and otherwise. (In setting the scene in one story, Black writes one of the most haunting and lovely lines in her book: “There was a slant to the light that made everything angular, like a scream that had hung in the air for a moment and had never been heard.”)

On this dreamscape Black gives us a dizzying variety of characters and stories, ranging from a little girl whose pet insect cricket gives her healing powers, to a woman who notes wryly after an unfortunate exchange with a possibly cheating husband, “She had never been so quick with a knife,” to a woman seeking implausible love on the cobbled streets of Prague. She also gives us a hilarious send-up of the world of high and conceptual art in the wonderfully funny, “The Watcher and the Watched.”

In lapidary prose that manages to be both spare and richly allusive, Black tells tales that seem drawn directly from the world of dreams and hallucination while fully fleshed out with observed or imagined detail. Think Kafka on crack. Think a luminous, shimmering visual paired with otherworldly and oddly menacing music. Think the emergence of a voice that will be important in Canadian fiction for a long time. Think what you like. Just don’t miss this exciting and impressive debut.
Highly recommended.

Tom Sandborn lives and writes in Vancouver.

Kyeren Regehr


Author: 3 books
April 22, 2022

A delicious book of bizarre and wonderful stories that I read for several nights into the wee hours until my eyes teared from tiredness. I did not want to stop! And now I want more.

Barbara Black has a truly rare and gifted imagination, and the ability to gorgeously render it into tales that continued to surprise and delight me on every single page. There is nothing else like this astonishing collection of short fiction, although her extraordinary range of characters and circumstances, the nuanced and gorgeously crafted language, and the continual wow-moments did put me in mind of the very excellent, John Gould. Still, it's a stand alone book, and one you NEED to own if you're a lover of short's a six star read. Like me, you'll be wishing there was a Music From A Strange Planet book II.

NOTE: And that's her artwork on the front cover--what a multi-talented woman!

Caroline Woodward


Music from a Strange Planet by Barbara Black

Review by Caroline Woodward

A masked woman is caught in the headlights. Her streaked red hair is flying, her caribou ears and antlers are alert and her mottled wispy coat seems to catch her in the act of transforming from human to animal. A clock on the wall suggests a Cinderella-like deadline is imminent.

The cover art on Music From a Strange Planet, Barbara Black’s debut collection of twenty-four short stories—a collage she created herself—abounds with imagery and clues that recall the brilliant epigraph by Anton Chekhov: Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.

Some of these stories have been nominated for National Magazine Awards, the Journey Prize, the Commonwealth Short Story Prize and won the Writers’ Union of Canada Short Prose Competition. Clearly, Barbara Black is a writer to read and furthermore, the back cover is replete with kudos from three established masters of the short fiction form: John Gould, Cathleen With and M.A.C. Farrant.

Much like we marvel at the ability of musicians to create something fresh and new with notes and rhythms and sounds, I admire writers who harness a soaring imagination with linguistic dexterity. Black does this while seamlessly meshing her intellectual curiosity with a resonant emotional plumb line. What a treat it is to read her inventive, sometimes sad, and often funny stories.

A “regular good guy” ends up in a coma and escapes to the wondrous insect world of his Grade 7 science project. A retired acrobat encounters a retired dentist, both lonely insomniacs. One little girl rejects all that is fluffy, pink and pretty and drags her perfectionist mother and playful papa into seeing another world of colours, textures and behaviours.

Insects inhabit many of these stories, a fascinating fusion of science and imagination bringing to mind Franz Kafka’s classic Metamorphosis. In Black’s story, a man named Bert turns into a bug and eagerly flies off to his liberation from a body trapped in a coma, thinking: “What did it matter? Only the law of dreams applied.”

The seared memories of childhood are especially poignant in stories like Hot July Day where a Grade 5 bully and her accomplice fail to repress the resilience of an undersized, long-suffering classmate. Then we are whisked away to the Bulkley/Nechako region of northwest B.C. where a solitary taxidermist forms a protective bond with a porcupine he calls Lydia. The trees in his valley are succumbing to a pine beetle infestation and the threat of fire in mid-summer is high.

Belly-Deep in White Clover is a soulful story about life and death in the wilderness which was first published in Prairie Fire and then long-listed for the 2018 Commonwealth Short Story Prize. It demonstrates yet again Black’s range of subject and setting, and her mastery of tone, or to use the musical equivalent, pitch, which is never flat or sharp, but bang on.

Perfectly attuned to both the wild and the domestic is the story, Ghosts on Pale Stalks where nature on the West Coast is evoked in all its damp and fecund abundance. A single middle-aged woman is carrying an urn, at the urging of her somewhat exasperated friends, through the rainforest and to the ocean’s edge. Easier by far for others to tell us to “just let go” than it is to discard the physical and emotional burdens we’ve carried for decades. Or, before finally giving up on advice from Oprah and sifting through whatever insights tarot cards seem to offer, by taking decisive action to save our own sanity.

There is seemingly no limit to the inventive breadth and depth of the worlds Black conjures, with writing precisely embedded in each setting. The title story exemplifies her mastery of structure and dialogue and what I call the alchemy of creating fiction. In Music from a Strange Planet we meet Lucky Bee, who experiences prescient abilities for impending good news and bad, as well as the kind of synaesthesia that merges colour with sound. For example, magenta becomes F major while viridian is heard as B minor. Lucky Bee’s companion is a cricket.

Prepare to be transported to cities, to other countries, to a crumbling present and then off to a Centre for Biogenetics on an unnamed planet in the future. Other worlds unfold like wings in this marvellous book and beguile us. Reader, prepare to be enchanted.

Caroline Woodward is the author of nine books in five genres for adults and children. She lives and writes from somewhere on the road in a mighty BigFoot motorhome.

BCBW 2021

Sandra Nicholl

Sandra Nicholls's Reviews
Music from a Strange Planet

Rate this book 5 of 5 stars
Music from a Strange Planet
by Barbara Black (Goodreads Author)

May 30, 2022

it was amazing
Read 2 times. Last read May 30, 2022.

Barbara Black’s new book of short stories, Music from a Strange Planet, is one of the most refreshingly different books I’ve read in quite a while. Aptly named, these stories seem to grow from a strange kind of imagination, and yet they are all firmly rooted in a profound understanding of human nature. This combination makes for a fascinating journey, and I found myself re-reading a number of them to see how she did it, as well as for the pleasure of the writing itself, the sheer joy of her sentences.

The very first story in the collection is a good example of the wondrous, delicate, other-worlds she creates. It starts off simply, as Bert climbs the ladder to the roof and while eavesdropping on a conversation between his wife and another neighbour he falls off. As he lies paralysed in a hospital bed, we begin to move inside his head, as he seems to inhabit another consciousness, that of an insect. We watch as his wife comes to visit, and we feel the strange beauty of his metamorphosis. The ending is heartbreaking, and so beautifully written I was stunned the first time I read it.

Insects feature throughout these stories and are often involved in the revelations of individual stories, as in Darkling Beetle and Magicicada. Barbara also has a knack for illuminating formless, unsettling moments, as in Ripiddu Nivicatu, named for a dish which replicates a snow-covered mountain of volcanic ash. The tensions in a relationship are so subtly explored here, yet you emerge from reading it changed.

In the wrong hands, the strange landscapes of these stories could overpower their humanity, but with a devastating emotional intelligence and an assured writing style, Barbara Black never allows this to happen. I know I will come back to these stories again and again, as each time they offer up something new. My only quibble is that some of them seem too short…and I wanted more.