Tales From the Aether

The Best Short Stories of 2020

Fiction - Visionary
184 Pages
Reviewed on 06/14/2021
Buy on Amazon

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Author Biography

If you ever laughed at a dude slipping on a banana peel, even if you rushed to help lift him up - you may be a dark humor aficionado. It turns out the people who most understood and enjoyed dark humor like Edward Gorey or Tim Burton were also the most intelligent, educated, least troubled, and least aggressive. Apparently if you’re smart and in a manageable emotional state, you’re ready for a dark joke. The people least likely to be black-humor fans were the average folks, with medium values for intelligence, education, stability, and aggressiveness. All of which may suggest another reason why people who enjoy dark humor are snickering all the time: We’re better than everyone else. (Just joking.)

With sardonic wit and complete irreverence, Matthew Woodruff is one of America’s pre-eminent humor writers. The great skill with which he slices through cultural euphemisms and political correctness proves that Woodruff is a master of dark humor and satire and one of the most observant writers addressing the human condition today.

It is said that Matthew was born with a book in one hand and a pen in the other (his poor mother has never forgiven him but hey, at least it wasn't a typewriter...). A native New Yorker, Matthew is now on staff at the University of Florida. Matthew's vision of the world around us - seen in his dark humor and dark fiction works - is unique and not to be missed.

    Book Review

Reviewed by Lesley Jones for Readers' Favorite

Tales from the Aether by Matthew Woodruff, a collection of 14 bizarre and thought-provoking short stories, will make you question your conditioned reality. What if the world is not how you have always perceived it to be? Imagine waking up in a strange, darkened room. You have no idea how you arrived there but now you are imprisoned with no means of escape, then you hear an unfamiliar voice. A girl faces the worse kind of betrayal and takes drastic action against those who have wronged her. A woman enters the afterlife and discovers it was not what she expected it to be. Or a grieving mother who encounters a mysterious stranger holding a Valentine’s Day gift with a horrifying surprise inside. The stories pose such questions as what happens to our souls when our lives have ended; do destiny and fate exist? Are our lives mapped out or do we have the ability to control our futures? If you could go back in time, what decisions would you make differently, and would one different decision cause a chain of events that would dramatically change the course of your life? Is there a higher power watching our every move and what will happen if we try to change the rules of the game of life?

Tales from the Aether by Matthew Woodruff is another fantastic collection of short stories which take everyday situations such as relationships, human emotions, and fears and transform them into obscure and compelling tales. From a grieving mother about to receive a shocking surprise from beyond the grave, a tale of horrifying revenge, to a journey into the after-life. Every story has a fantastic twist and a powerful sting in its tail. The characters were imaginative and realistic. The stories relayed the powerful emotions man faces throughout his life; uncertainty, fear, shock, anger, and greed. My particular favorites were Lenny the Dijinn, which highlights the importance to be careful what you wish for. This quote by Lenny was extremely profound, “Not until we are lost, do we begin to understand ourselves.” Plus the dark but incredibly humorous My After Life with its brilliant ending and Destiny’s End. Expect the unexpected with every turn of the page, from mermaids to the enslavement of dwarves and cats eating human body parts. This collection is not for the faint-hearted but will make you think outside the box and spark your curiosity and awareness.

Michelle Stanley

Tales From the Aether: The Best Short Stories of 2020 is written by Matthew Woodruff. In Amy’s Valentine, Maria’s excitement of operating her bed and breakfast vanishes after losing her daughter, until a charming stranger checks in. The Alban Eiler is about two young girls from different eras who are connected by life-saving choices. I hope you never get stranded in Baker Lake, Nunavut like Irene did in The Shadow People. Choose your three wishes wisely when you meet three-star rated Lenny the Djinn. Meghan has the option of selecting one of the paths shown to her about her future. Which path will she choose in Destiny’s End?

Tales from the Aether is a collection of provocative, dark stories by Matthew Woodruff. I like the unique selection since some are dark humor, while others are varying shades of eerie dark that left me sad or moody. When I reflect on the characters and the outcome of their destinies when the afterworld connects with them, I can’t help feeling sympathy for most of them. Matthew Woodruff’s writing shows how far-ranging his imagination can run through his amazing writing. Each story is so different in content and very original. The cover illustration is just as mystical as these short stories that will grab your interest as they did mine. When the afterlife pays you a visit, you’ll never be the same again. That is if you survive. You’ll probably wonder about your future after reading Tales From the Aether: The Best Short Stories of 2020.

Astrid Iustulin

There is something fascinating about short prose. If an author manages to tell a story in a few pages, he demonstrates that he has both the talent to condense the facts and the ability to entertain the reader effectively. This is what Matthew C. Woodruff has done in his collection titled Tales from the Aether. An original collection that combines tales with a disturbing ending (like Amy's Valentine) and funny stories (Lenny the Djinn), Tales from the Aether comprises 12 stories plus 2 bonus stories. If you are looking for a book in which the variety of situations is intriguing and told with great skill, this is a collection that you will love.

What I liked most about Tales From the Aether is that the stories do not look like anything I have ever read before. Matthew C. Woodruff has a knack for telling them in a way that sometimes arouses concern (I am thinking in particular of The Dark New Year and Destiny’s End). Moreover, they are remarkable for their subtle humor and, while this is not their main trait, it certainly gives them an original flavor that stands out, especially in My After-Life. Although I cannot dwell on each story as much as they deserve, I'd like to emphasize how each has a well-defined character and presents interesting personalities for whom fate often reserves unpleasant surprises. Overall, I am thrilled with Tales From the Aether and hope to read more short prose by Woodruff soon.

K.C. Finn

Tales from the Aether: The Best Short Stories of 2020 is a work of fiction in the anthology, science fiction and darkly reflective writing sub genres, and was penned by author Matthew Woodruff. The work is intended for the general adult reading audience, and contains dark horror elements, death, the afterlife and some genuinely unnerving and brilliant sci-fi concepts. Taking readers through fourteen very different stories which challenge the mind, the senses, and sometimes the reader’s own nerves, what results is a stunning journey that takes ordinary occurrences and relatable emotions and blows them up into spectacular speculative proportions. From time travel to chosen one tropes, life after death and more, there’s sure to be something for every reader in this award-winning collection.

Author Matthew Woodruff has crafted a superbly varied work of fiction which never lets up on quality despite its breadth and variance, and it has plenty of thrills, spills and surprises to offer readers. One of the features which I found particularly impressive about this piece was how much the stories stuck in my mind long after the reading experience was done, with highly visual descriptions painting images in my head, and themes and questions resurfacing in such a reflective manner. Some personal favourites of mine from the collection were the darkly brilliant ‘Boxed In By Fate’ and the later gem ‘Saving Sally’, which I thought was such a standout for how it twists ideas compared to existing tales in this genre. Overall, I would highly recommend Tales from the Aether to fans of poignant and psychologically effective fiction, well penned characters with great dialogue, and for dark short story readers everywhere.

Rabia Tanveer

Tales from the Aether: The Best Short Stories of 2020 by Matthew Woodruff is a collection of 14 short stories that give readers a glimpse into the imaginative yet realistic worlds of his characters. Each story focuses on human emotion, and the author expresses the highs and lows of the chosen emotion through his characters. The collection contains stories of two mothers from different decades, a view into the afterlife, struggling after losing a loved one, and everything in between. Each story brings something special to the table and makes this collection unique.

A perfect companion for traveling, a reader will never get bored when they have a copy of Tales from the Aether with them. Each story is complete on its own, and isn’t that what short stories are supposed to be like? Each of them is like a slice of life from all the characters, and I loved that! My favorite story is Amy’s Valentine. There is something so soothing and emotionally fulfilling about this story. Maria is sensitive and what happens to her is twisted. However, it is Jacob from the Color of the Soul who grabbed my attention and hooked me to the story. He has a unique ability, and that made his story very interesting for me. The narrative style changes from story to story, and that is beautiful. The imagery of each story is great, the descriptions are phenomenal, and the pace matches the needs of each tale. There is nothing that I would like to change about this fantastic collection by Matthew Woodruff.