Reviews: New & Noteworthy Short Genre Fiction: January-February 2016

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by Gillian Daniels

strange-horizons“Telling the Bees” by T. Kingfisher (Published: December 21, 2015) Strange Horizons

This is an expertly cut jewel, no word out of place. We see a girl who just keeps on dying every day. There’s no real fix for it but distracting herself with beekeeping. It reads like a creepy and alluring diary entry from another world:

“When her heart had shuddered back to life and she had clawed her way back from the lands beneath, she sat up and drew a long sucking breath into the silent caverns of her lungs. Her first breath was always very loud in the little cottage, but there was no one there to hear it. “

~~~

No cure is in sight for our main character, just the promise of the underworld at some point during the night and life in the morning. No one she meets seems able to understand how to help. The best way through her problems are the solace she finds in her bees.

fantasy-300w“Kaiju maximus®: “So Various, So Beautiful, So New”” by Kai Ashante Wilson (Published: December 2015) Fantasy Magazine: Queers Destroy Fantasy!

Here, we examine a twisted nuclear family, their collective desires bent in service to the winged, mutated, hero matriarch who defends their world against kaiju. This is a future Earth largely lost to an apocalyptic age. All we know is ruled by the unpredictable desires of enormous monsters. She’s a hero designed for one rigorous mission after another. This piece, however, is mainly domestic and from the perspective of her husband. He’s loving, perfectly willing to follow her with their children in tow, and surviving in an increasingly hostile environment.

The language is largely visual and visceral. It left me chilled. If you have fears that run the gamut of climate change to nuclear catastrophe, this piece lays out an uncompromisingly bleak future of global catastrophe. Still, there is some sense of hope. At least we see a parent who still loves his children and at least there’s an artificial intelligence we’ve created here to save the day. Let the rest of society be variously devoured and lost because there’s a hero in our midst to stand for what’s left.

motheship-300w

~~~

“Panic Twice, Spin” by Malon Edwards (Published: December 18, 2015) Mothership Zeta

Mahina plays a videogame that looks a lot like Dance Dance Revolution in her rich parents’ play room. Meanwhile, her brother notices it’s punched a hole in reality. What follows are numerous low-key references to Michael Jackson and the blue fairy.

This story is a genre chameleon, effortlessly shifting from near future sci-fi to interdimensional fantasy. Along with fedora-wearing pop stars, there are references to manga and androids. It’s a strange, funny, and really, really cool concoction. It’s also unambiguously joyous about its inspirations.

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if-online-logo“A Primer on Separation” by Debbie Urbanski (Published: November 2015) Interfictions

A wandering exploration of motherhood, child abandonment, and the idea that being maternal is natural and effortless. The common thread in this eclectically structured story is one of a mother who has been forced to grow distant from her child. Our narrator writes out her advice and sends it to her daughter in an attempt to reconnect. Her list of suggestions, which are variously horrifying, transform into a story of longing. It seems our narrator has also begun to write stories:

“There is a certain intimacy to the act of writing which I love, like someone is sharing a string of secrets with me, like someone is whispering them right into my brain. It has been a long time since someone shared a secret. Every story I write happens to be about the same thing. Motherhood and loss. I wonder why.”

This piece is separated into three parts. It transitions through a Hansel and Gretel fairy tale, a military space opera, and a magazine quiz. It’s a darkly good fable that twists several styles together for exquisite results.

Daily Science Fiction“In the Timeline Where the Moscow Metro Opened in 1934” by S.L. Harris (Published: November 10, 2015) Daily Science Fiction

This gently-realized story has a timeline-hopping, reality-slipping narrator. In every variation of reality, every time he jumps, he continues to find his lover. Some changes to the timelines he visits are small. Others are as large as “bronze working never taking off,” stranding them “together in a little lean-to, the night wrapped around like a python the size of the world. […] I sit beside the dying fire and watch you scraping skins, and my heart is filled almost to overflowing.” This story is an ambitious undertaking and Harris makes it work.

I read the main character as somebody coming to terms with one, singular if varied relationship. The perfect image he has of their bliss, the titular Moscow Metro timeline, is temporary. His partner, however, is not.

feminine-future-300w“The Painter of Dead Women” by Edna W. Underwood (Originally published in A Book of Dear Dead Women, 1911, Publisher: Little, Brown; re-published: 2015) The Feminine Future: Early Science Fiction by Women Writers, Editor: Mike Ashley, Dover Thrift Editions

This column is usually devoted to fiction that’s been published within the past couple months. In my defense, editor Mike Ashley’s recent anthology, The Feminine Future, did come out in 2015. It just collects fiction published in the 19th and early 20th centuries. I wanted to give it a special shout-out here, however, due to the gaps it bridges. Science fiction, despite such landmark female authors as Mary Shelley, Margaret Atwood, and Ursula LeGuin, has long been seen as a genre by and for men. This is particularly strange as female authors have been here all along.

Take, for example, “The Painter of Dead Women.” Despite being over one hundred years old, this short story is fast-paced and thoroughly suspenseful. Our narrator is an athletic, American woman in Naples who has recently married an Italian gentleman. She finds herself under the sway of an insistent hypnotist. This host has creepy artistic inclinations and has entertained female guests before.

The hypnotist has acquired a drug created centuries ago by Ibn Ezra. He explains, “This poison causes a delicious, pleasureful death, and at the same time arrests physical decay.” As the title implies, his private gallery rivals Bluebeard’s. Her escape from these horrifying circumstances is clever and brave. It’s a charming story in an unexpected collection.

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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