Saturday, February 28, 2015

Short fiction reviews! Favorites from winter 2015


I’ve been wanting to start posting regularly about short fiction. I’m way behind in my reading (what else is new?), but since Christmas I’ve still found pieces that thrilled me, surprised me, made me fall in love. Most of the stories I list here were published in January, and some even earlier… but as I said, I get behind. And I’ve been thinking of a tweet I saw: that if you love a writer’s work, one of the best things you can do is share your love of it in a review. Sometimes I read a story that blows me away, but it seems to get no attention in the SFF community-- not a single tweet or review or mention. So consider this my mentions.


Family and Love


The Absence of Words” by Swapna Kishore in Mythic Delirium

Writer Ken Liu, among others, has spoken of how fantasy literature can act to “literalize metaphors.” Kishore’s story is a perfect example of this: the barriers of communication between mothers and daughters become, in her story, a physical barrier of engulfing silence, swallowing not just words but all sound. The metaphor is deftly realized, truly eerie. And the interactions between the three women in this story—a grandmother, a mother, and a daughter—are sharp-edged and complicated. There is pain between these women, a family legacy of anger. And love unspoken. Kishore’s writing is painful and evocative, and she does not settle for easy resolutions. I loved this story, and I wish it would get the attention it deserves.

He Came from a Place of Openness and Truth” by Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam in Lightspeed

And ohhhhh, this one blew me away. Boy meets boy cute in a haunted house. Except that one of the boys is more than he appears. . . This is funny and sweet and sad and poignant. The voice of the narrator makes the piece. Stufflebeam just seems to nail it: the casual snark of a teenage boy, a voice infused with lightness and humor and adolescent confusion and emotional self-defensiveness. The narrator is discovering romantic love for the first time, and discovering that that love comes in the form of love for another boy. There’s a crazy alien scenario, and a poignant scene where he tries to come out about his gay relationship to unsympathetic parents. The end is wistful, and it’s not clear how our pair of lovers will fare… but that’s the point of growing up, the story seems to suggest. At the end, the narrator thinks “…how it’s never like you think it’ll be, this life stuff, which is something new I’m learning all the time.


Stories in Terraform


Terraform is a new venture publishing short science fiction (2000 words and under) with a focus on near-future sci-fi  "honing in on the tech, science, and future culture topics driving the zeitgeist." “

I have really liked a lot of what I’ve seen on this site. The tight focus reminds me of science fiction’s singular superpower: that it can address contemporary social issues in a way that no other genre can. My favorite pieces so far do exactly that.

 “Four Days of Christmas” by Tim Maughn

Inspired by the author’s trip to the markets and factories of Yiwu, China. It’s the year 2024, and an Internet-connected Santa Claus toy is coming off the conveyor belt in a Chinese factory. This short piece traces the journey of that toy from China to the shelves of a Target store in New York City to its eventual fate 83 years later. Global supply chains, global competition, the enduring life of plastic junk… This was just fascinating.

 “One Day, I will Die on Mars” by Paul Ford

And this was awesome. The Uber-ization of the world. There are three distinct narrative voices in this very short story, yet it all works: an asshole calling Uber for a delivery of cat food to his home; the voice of Uber itself, now a vast artificial intelligence overseeing all Uber deliveries, car rides and jobs; and the voice of an Uber worker trying to deliver that damn bag of cat food through a flooded New York City. This piece is scary-sharp. That poor Uber worker, who thinks he/she is actually going to make it, that they’re a freaking entrepreneur going places within the structure of the Uber corporation, that they will someday make it to Mars. Is this where the world is going? Or are we already there?

Dark Stories with Indelible Imagery


Scarecrow” by Alyssa Wong in Tor

Another love story between teenage boys. But far, far darker than Stufflebeam’s story above. It’s the remarkable imagery that makes this piece—the swirl of crow feathers, a ghost’s revenge, the nightmare that grips a group of teenagers in the wake of disaster. Love suppressed and turned to something dreadful.

The Mussel Eater” by Octavia Cade at The Book Smugglers

This story appeared in the fall of last year, but I only stumbled upon it last week. Beautiful mermaid/selkie/sea maiden creatures just waiting to be tamed by human men? Um, right. This is a dark take on that old myth. Menace pulses from the first line. This is creepy, creepy, horrific and tantalizing and gorgeously written.