January was a busy month for me, to put it mildly. I attended Arisia 2017 and sat on a terrific panel about short fiction. I received word of two story acceptances (one listed in a previous post and the other forthcoming). There were also all of the distractions of a world veering somewhere between the "Dead Zone" by Stephen King and a cyberpunk dystopia by William Gibson.
And, of course, I read a whole bunch of awesome short stories, including a few I can recommend below.
- Wooden Boxes Lined With the Tongues of Doves by Claire Humphrey. (Beneath Ceaseless Skies). When considering stories that revolve around magic, I really respond to writers that can somehow conjure what that magic is and how it works within the tight confines of a short story. To me, magic should feel like magic. In other words, waving wands and intoning spells doesn't really cut it. When magic is done in fiction, the result should feel inevitable. Pull a trigger and a bullet flies. I prize magical inevitability. This story's treatment of magic definitely surpasses that mark. A magician takes an apprentice and makes him a servant to his will, clipping from him all of the things that would free him. This reader left the story with a sense of great loss and terrible awe.
- "The Twelve Rules of Etiquette at Miss Firebird’s School for Girls" by Gwendolyn Kiste (Mithila Review) Kiste's stories are always a treat - crafted with care and intensity, taking playful swipes at their own concepts. This fun flash piece begins as a list of instructions for students at a very special school for the magically inclined. The story dissolves its own structure by the closing paragraph, ending on a creepy but hopeful note.
- Loneliness is in the Blood by Cadwell Turnbull ( Nightmare) My favorite "Nightmare" stories use the trappings of horror and the macabre to tell their own unique tales. Here a vampiric spirit known in the Caribbean as a soucouyant shares moments of its life. The loneliness refers to its own tragic fate, a creature driven to siphon the warmth and life of its victims all the while drifting farther and farther from any connection with the world not purely transactional.
- Redcap by Carrie Vaughn (Nightmare) I first read about Redcaps from a giant and grisly book of fairies. Part of the Unseelie Court, Redcaps are notorious for attacking lost travelers, killing them, and dying their eponymous hats with their victim's blood. So from the title and set up of a little shepherd girl wandering afield, I thought I knew where this story was heading. What makes the story worthwhile is how all of these familiar details add up to a very different story by the end.
- The Whole Crew Hates Me by Adam-Troy Castro. (Lightspeed) A crewman aboard a ship on a deep space mission awakens to the reality that his responsibility is to be hated and abused by every other crew member. Somehow this simple set up unwinds perfectly over the next 3500 words, never slowing down or losing focus. The scenario is dark but somehow presented with the right note of fatalistic comedy.