Reviews: New & Noteworthy Short Fiction Jan-Feb 2016


By Gillian Daniels

flash-fiction-250wA Box Full of Winter” by Hannah Dela Cruz (Published: December 1, 2016) Flash Fiction Online

A story of daydreams as a balm to a terrible reality.

Robert Redford visits the narrator as a perpetually young phantasm after she watches his documentary. He proceeds to keep her company on a quiet, snowy day when the news is bleak with mass shootings and police brutality. You know, the usual horrors that we are forced to pretend are normal and can do nothing about. Those horrors.

The narrator just needs someone to be there for her as she does the crossword, eats breakfast, and tries not to lapse into despair. He comforts her the way dreams do, by being impossible and impossibly kind.

Crawling back into daydreams — G-rated, “making food together and singing” sort of fantasies despite the sexiness of young Robert Redford. I recommend Googling some photos, just saying — rather than doing something is a retreat. This story is a breath of air, a place to just feel and be rather than do. But it’s also a valuable step in a process to pick up and go forward. Dela Cruz’s title acknowledges that all the insulating, Robert Redford daydreams in the world are only worth a box of water.

They are such good daydreams, though. The prose are warm, gentle, comforting. Easy to escape inside. I am enormously impressed with their artfulness and subtly.

hidden-youth-250w“Throwaway Children” by Jessi Cole Jackson (Published: 2016), Hidden Youth: Speculative Fiction from the Margins of History, eds. Mikki Kendall & Chesya Burke, Crossed Genres Publications

Found families, orphans, and magic are elements that often make up my favorite stories of belonging. I believe in the hidden power of the disenfranchised, finding strength when the world one had known has been ripped away.

This warm, charming story features a warm, charming protagonist, Marcella, warm not least of all because she can control fire. Others in this 1860 setting also have command of things like water and lightning, specifically a group of orphans on a train across the United States hoping to be adopted. Marcella is one of them.

Though a teenager whose larger body seems to keep many from thinking of her as innocent, Marcella desperately wants a family. Sweetly, hopelessly wants one. This story recounts how she gets just that, delivering it with optimism and hope.

Other stories in the anthology play with making the best of one’s struggles, like K.T. Katzmann’s “The Bread-Thing in the Basket” about a Polish cop bullying a Jewish boy or “Trenches” by Sioban Kryzwicki about a trans girl in World War I. It is a lovely anthology and I recommend giving it a try.

uncanny250wOur Talons Can Crush Galaxies” by Brooke Bolander (Published: November 2016) Uncanny Magazine

A harpy and her friends get vengeance in a beautifully vicious rebuke against the perpetual victimhood of women in violent media. Absolutely a wonderful read, maybe even required reading.

The main character is bitter, powerful, and unafraid of “meddling with mortals” the way so many eternal entities seem to be in fiction. No, this is not a story of working within constraints, this is a story about pushing for freedom when the narratives that contain you no longer work.

See, real life does not have the sense of justice stories do. It is far less predictable, more frustrating. That’s why the stories we tell about it are so important. We need less stories where the logic is, “women die at the hands of psychopaths” and more stories where women fight back and are resilient, brave, amazing.

The prose are hot, like an angry ball of magma, but thoughtful. A bullet list interrupts the story like a literal line of bullets fired from the author’s gun.

Fight back, Bolander’s story says. No, the main character doesn’t have control in the moment of her murder, but after? After, she makes the story her own.

forge-250wThings That Happened While We Waited for Our Magical Grandmother to DieNos. 14, 7, 26 and 19” by Kuzhali Manickavel (Published: November 7, 2016) The Forge Literary Magazine

There is a strange, liminal space created as a relative lays dying, so it makes sense we would get a liminal fantasy story about the experience.

Kumar and the narrator are the grandchildren of Mythili. Mysterious instances begin occurring as they occupy her house, including the appearance of an invisible caretaker from Canada and a screaming spider infestation.

I absolutely classify this story as creepy rather than straight up horror. As the narrator and her brother come to terms with their grandmother’s death, they seem also to be coming to terms with their own mortality and the possibility of dementia, however it manifests itself.

The monster of the story is not the grandmother — largely “off-screen” as she laughs and becomes increasingly confused — but those who tell this story, those who are watching their connections gutter and disappear with her.

I also have an elderly relative who is dying. There’s nothing I can do. She knows me, though, and she knows the stories we tell each other. This piece makes me glad we have a good relationship, that I don’t have to worry about spider infestations or being afraid.

thedark250wAnd In Our Daughters, We Find a Voiceby Cassandra Khaw (Published: November 2016) The Dark

A violent and wholly feral retelling of the Little Mermaid. Or, at least, a mermaid story. The piece itself stops to address the nature of its own adaptation in between giving us a main character — a monster, a woman scorned — who is forced to undergo awful punishments by a prince. This time, she is not torturing herself for love — at least not for love of him, anyway.

Full of body horror, sharp teeth, and cannibalism, this story is bleak and dark-hearted. Just straight up, monster-from-the-ocean, human-is-in-over-his-head terror. It’s great and it’s cathartic.

Khaw knows how to ramp up the alien nature of her mermaids, showing that they’re more fish than human, more unforgiving than ethereal. They are deadly, they are hunters, and the prince of the story is trying desperately to tame one as his bride.

But the mermaids of the story are also brutalized and treated the same way humans do fish. Reading those passages is sad and crushing, but the mermaid’s path to resistance is cold, resilient fury. I’ve never felt so happy to actively root against humanity.

Gillian Daniels is a writer of prose, poetry, and criticism. After attending the Clarion Science Writing Workshop in 2011, her poems and fiction have been published in Apex Magazine, Strange Horizons, Electric Velocipede, Flash Fiction Online, and Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine among others. Her reviews are available at The New England Theatre Geek blog and other venues. She is a transplant from Northeast Ohio and is highly suspicious of her home in the New World, i.e. Boston.

Comments are closed