Reviews: New & Noteworthy Short Genre Fiction Nov-Dec 2015

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by Gillian Daniels

strange-horizons“Hundred Eye” by Yukimi Ogawa (Published: September 28, 2015), Strange Horizons

I love creepy, body horror fiction, fairy tales, and stories of outcasts finding each other. “Hundred Eye” has all three. The heroine, of course, is a woman with eyes that have, with no apparent physical cause, sprouted all over her arms. This turn of events is never explained deeply. Rather than contemplate her condition, she begins to wander, becoming a master thief with her long, all-seeing limbs. Being ostracized hardens her heart until she meets another who loves her unconditionally. It’s a love story of a kind, but it unfolds in an unexpected way.

Ogawa is a brilliant storyteller. This piece is similar to the others by her that I’ve enjoyed in that it’s rooted in a meandering daydream but unfolds logically and thoughtfully. Much like the main character of “Hundred Eye”, this story doesn’t quite have a home in a specific place. It makes a home for itself.

Along with the unquestioned appearance of eyes, there is a tree with fruit that has human faces. Again, its presence isn’t something we should question. It just is, an image that’s complete and sure of itself. The main character of this story struggles to find the same sure footing, her skills as a thief suddenly a hindrance rather than a blessing when she begins to long for connection. Maybe the tree does have a reason, an encounter that’s as weird and sweet as the tale itself.

fireside-300w“The Closest Thing to Animals” by Sofia Samatar (Published: September 2015), Fireside Fiction

I have developed a terrible affection for Samatar’s style and I know exactly why. Her prose effortlessly changes from light and airy to sharp and painful. Here, the main character is a young woman who emigrated from Somalia as a girl. Now she lives in a quarantined metropolis, though that (and the threat of the deadly lanugo ailment under which they all live) isn’t quite the center of the story. Instead, this is a portrait of the narrator discovering an artist. Hodan Mahmoud, who at first appears to be a homeless woman going through trash, is revealed to be a visual artist with talent and unique vision. The narrator is utterly fascinated by this woman’s distance from others in the world. They have similar backgrounds, but while the main character obsesses over Cindy Vea, a close friend who now refuses to contact her, Hodan seems to lead a drifting life.

The story hits a lot of wonderful, personal notes that I wish would be explored more in short fiction. Throughout, the narrator is forced to contextualize and then re-contextualize her friendships and connections in her community. Like Hodan, she is alone, but not in such a purposeful way. Perhaps due to the nature of the quarantine, or perhaps due to the geography of the place where she’s been trapped, the world she’s in is small. As is usual with forced intimacy, the social milieu is that much more treacherous to navigate when there’s fewer people to encounter. But this is not a comedy of errors where one’s reputation can be soiled forever due to improper actions. No, this is just a young woman growing up, sorting out who she is, what her priorities are, and who are her true friends.

nightmare-300w“Hungry Daughters of Starving Mothers” by Alyssa Wong (Published: October 2015), Nightmare Magazine: Queers Destroy Horror! Special Issue

Here, hungry horror is effortlessly spliced with elegance. Descriptions of twisting, ugly anthropomorphic thoughts aren’t tied to one’s brain. No, they linger in hair, along wrists, and scuttle like beetles during dinner conversation. Jenny, a breed of telepathic vampire, feeds on them. Some thoughts are more delicious and more nourishing than others.

One of the best things about this story is how organic it feels, seamlessly integrating technology, contemporary dating, and fantastic monsters. This feels like a lived-in world. Jenny’s story starts in the right place — a creepy date with a sociopathic, smug Ivy League graduate — and ends in the very best, most tender place. Still, this is a layered piece, one where the history of a creepy society peeks out from the edges. This is a focused exercise, however, concentrating on Jenny’s familial troubles, her use of the notorious dating app Tindr to find her prey, and her crush on her apparently-perfect, unassuming friend, Aiko.

This is a girl with gruesome habits wrapped up inside a myth, but she’s too distracted with the mundane to realize the full splendor of being something more than human. If this were a different story, she would be a crime-fighting anti-hero or a villain enthralled with her own powers, but as it stands, she’s just trying to save herself. Like “The Closest Thing to Animals”, this is another young woman finding her way, but here, she must grapple not with just who she is but what that means.

chip-300w“When Two Swordsmen Meet” by Ellen Kushner (Rosarium Publishing; 2015) Stories for Chip: A Tribute to Samuel R. Delaney, edited by Nisi Shawl and Bill Campbell

A short piece, with the edge of prose poetry that’s cut into thirds. If you thought I was above sword puns, you have been woefully mislead. This piece won me over with its winking charm, surrounded as it is by stories devoted to one of science fiction’s most enduring figures.

It’s just as it says on the tin. Sword-wielding people encounter each other. Perhaps they’re from Kushner’s Riverside world, explored in her novels Swordspoint, The Fall of Kings, and The Privilege of the Sword. Perhaps not. Here, what matters is the excitement of the fight (perhaps with a sort of erotic charge), clever people outwitting each other, and the discovery of kindred spirits. My usual disappointment with sword fighting in fiction, both in literature and on screen, is that it’s dismissed too quickly or it’s not as clever as it thinks it is. This is not the case here.

The essays and fictional work I’ve read in Stories for Chip so far has been varied and worthy of discussion, but this particular piece hit me in the right mood and the right time. It’s a treat in a collection that isn’t short on sugar.

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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