Reviews: New & Noteworthy Short Genre Fiction: January 2015

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by Gillian Daniels

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“Never Eat Crow” by Goldie Goldbloom (Published: December 2014) Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet #31

Soile works as a cleaning lady for a small, Finnish community.  She’s also a thief.  She doesn’t go in for trinkets, but large items like family portraits and mattresses.  Due to the general inattention of the inhabitants on the island where she lives, she gets away with it repeatedly and without consequence. Then Soile has a nice meet-cute with a young, charming woman, Lena, and they hit it off right away.

Goldbloom’s prose is misleading and her tone is light.  Here is a story that starts in one direction and ends up in a place thick with grit and cold.  Soile and Lena’s twee romance takes a new turn as the reader is treated to ways that one may survive the winter while homeless and unprotected from the elements.  Soile’s dog, Hamlet, makes an appearance and the tale that unfolds is as bleak as the seasons the characters are trying to live through.  I read this as an exploration of the part of winter we don’t talk about, the ways in which people have learned to cope and what they will do to stay strong.

clarkesworld-dec-2014-300wNo Vera There by Dominica Phetteplace (Published: December 2014) Clarkesworld

In one of the gentler, quirkier stories I found in this dark month, an incomplete clone is given a battery of online personality quizzes scraped from the social media of 2014.  The scientists studying this Vera “download” have no obligation to explain to her why she must take the non-sensical Buzzfeed-like tests and they’re certainly not going to tell her what value a password to a Bejeweled account has in this future of rogue hackers and rebel uprisings.  Vera #201 just has to identify what kind of bread or Tarot card she would be.

This story isn’t satisfying because of its plot, which seems to fall by the wayside halfway through, but in how the main character establishes herself.  Vera #201 is told she’s a blank slate, malformed and mentally young.  Her sisters are all unique, even if they are two hundred or so copies of the same woman.  What begins as a set-up for a joke about inane, contemporary interests becomes a thoughtful meditation on identity.  It’s also the best explanation I’ve found for why “What [noun] are you?” quiz results keep popping up in my Facebook feed.

bear-260w2Exit, Pursued by a Bear by Greer Gilman (Published: September 2014) Small Beer Press

Admittedly, Ben Jonson, the 17th century English playwright and contemporary of Shakespeare, isn’t the first candidate I have in mind when I think “reluctant noir detective,” but here, like Gilman’s prose, all seems to come naturally and beautifully together.

The sequel to Greer Gilman’s exquisitely written novella, “Cry Murder! in a Small Voice,” has Ben entangled once more in the dealings of the Unseen Court.  The fairies and their lords and ladies just can’t seem to stay away from England.  Unfortunately, he has his own country’s royal family to deal with, too, specifically a masque he has to have performed for heir Henry Stuart and his brother, the little-loved Charles. The play is muddled by both Ben’s ill-will toward Inigo Jones, a master of special effects, and the live polar bears that have been added to the show.

The prose Gilman wraps her characters in is rich with references and imagery specific to the period. There’s magic in how she layers each word, building hedge mazes of language. Some readers may approach her work with caution, terrified of getting lost, but the risk posed by her Joycian prose is worth it. Gilman’s indiscriminately animates playwright Christopher Marlowe, dead,but alive to do Queen Titania’s bidding in Faerie, and bears, referred to as Jug and Toby by the bearward with affection. Her scenes skip from the scatological to the ethereal, never losing the confident voice with which she seduces her reader.

kenneth-300wKenneth: A User’s Manual by Sam Miller (Published: December 1, 2014) Strange Horizons

There are androids and sexbots in fiction that learn to love.  Kenneth isn’t one of them.  Written in the style of a technical guide and a grim recall notice, Sam Miller’s illustrated hypertext fiction is a brutal exploration of what happened to hook-up culture in the gay community several decades ago.  The product sold here is “Kenneth Barrow,” an aggressive heartbreaker of a fabricant man from ManMadeMan Industries.  Meant to encapsulate the casual, romantic encounters of the early-’80’s, he’s anonymous but captivating and, we’re told, very arrogant.

As the user manual goes on, however, it’s revealed “Kenneth is a fossil, last exemplar of a vanished species.  There are no Kenneth sightings after 1984.”  The story shifts to a lament, melancholy and heartfelt.  The early 21st century lives with the ghosts of the first outbreak of AIDS, whether remembered or unacknowledged.  Of course this isn’t a story about Kenneth learning to love.  His model is no longer around to do so.

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I Can See Right Through You by Kelly Link (Published: December 2014) McSweeny’s Internet Tendency

In 1991, Will Gald and Meggie starred in a vampire romance film.  They vaulted into fame about the same time they fell in love.  Now, decades later, Will (or, as he’s referred to throughout the story, the demon lover) is a middle-aged actor with a recent, embarrassing sex tape that has just leaked to the media.  Meggie hosts a ghost hunting reality show.

Kelly Link’s “Valley of the Girls” (Suberranean, 2011) also dealt with people trying to sort their messy lives out under the watchful eye of the public.  While that piece dealt with teenagers, Will is very much used to the attention his acting career has brought him but is disturbed to see the nature of his fame change.  Meggie takes a different tact with her career and tries to take control of her various ghosts.  She dwells, takes inspiration, and hunts them through the Florida swamps with a camera crew.

As with a number of Kelly Link stories, innocuous details create a textured, off-kilter world. A character, Ray, tells a joke about four men and a cat. Meggie and her TV crew decide the best way to investigate a vanished nudist colony is to film without clothes.  Will is given a lecture about baby skunks in the wild and how they “try like hell to spray. But until they hit adolescence all they can do is quiver their tails and stamp their feet.”  All these small pieces add up to a story that continuously dodges expectations.  I don’t know where I go when I read Kelly Link, but it’s a fine place to be.

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.

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