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Short Fiction in January

One of the more pleasant consequences of being on the Speculative Fiction: Year in Review panel at Arisia (aside from a great conversation) was being motivated to read as many short fiction pieces as possible before the panel. That turned out to be so much fun (who would have thunk it) that I’ve tried to keep up with it. Part of this is self-serving. I’m going to try out for the panel again next year and I’d like to have notes ahead of time instead of scrambling two months in advance. But part of it stems merely from my desire to be entertained by the great speculative fiction out there right now.

So to that end I thought I’d keep a running public journal of what’s caught my eye on a month-to-month basis. For January I’ve got four stories I’d like to talk up.

Compound Sketch by Morgan Crooks (2015)

The Sound of Useless wings by Cecil Castellucci appeared in last month and man, I do enjoy a writer able to bring a completely alien perspective into fiction. This is one of the more deft examples of adopting an extraterrestrial’s perception and priorities into fiction of that I’ve read recently. Our protagonist is a member of a race called the Hort, which are sort of giant locusts or flies that periodically swarm off of their world when things get too crowded. Our hero is different from the usual Hort in that he wants to explore the larger universe, revels in the chance to experience life in a different way. I think what really works for me here is Castellucci’s use of the absolute minimum of neologisms. Although what a Hort means by such things as heart is different from how we might use that word, the use of common English phrases for the alien makes everything more approachable and deliciously weird. Apparently this work is a prequel for a novel Tin Star which I’m unfamiliar with but will definitely add to my reading list.

Returned by Kat Howard, appearing in Nightmare also provided an interesting case-study in using commonplace words to build an otherworldly atmosphere. An interesting take on the Orpheus myth, Returned gives us a female protagonist not exactly over-joyed to be brought back from the dank underworld. In fact the entire story describes the process of resurrection as falling back into a dysfunctional relationship. All of this is very nicely handled but its the language that kept my interest here. Howard is able to summon a vivid gothic atmosphere in her story while still keeping the prose spare and relatively unadorned. Beautiful and disturbing.

Stay by gn ball, appears on the Daily Science Fiction website. This one is very short but surprisingly powerful. The story quickly sketches a scenario - what if technology existed that could allow humans access to the thoughts of their pets, a dog in this case. This has brought a great deal of pain into a relationship at once very simple but heartbreakingly pure. Where Pixar’s Up mined this material for gentle good-natured laughs - gn ball describes the simple hell wrapped into a single word. Again maybe as a dog owner I’m a sucker for this sort of thing but I was genuinely struck by this flash piece.

Men of Unborrowed Vision by Jeremiah Tolbert, published in Lightspeed. A protagonist, already working to promote social change and progress, discovers a perfidious plot by powers governmental, corporate, or both to take over the world. The protagonist Mara has a love interest, access to technology just a few weeks distant from tomorrow, and a cyber attitude that won’t quit for days and days. The plot of the story finds some really interesting speculative possibilities in the near-now, something I wish more authors would try their hand at. The best comparison I can offer is Corey Doctorow, but one mixed with the biopunk sensibilities of Peter Watts. I also appreciate the earnest attempt to describe the horrific  in Ayn Rand’s “philosophy."

I’ve already written up my impressions of The Martian and Station Eleven. Currently I’m working my way through Ancillary Justice which has been the focus of a well-deserved tidal wave of praise and adulation. When I’m done I expect I’ll have a few positive words to add to the flood.
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