Sunday, April 21, 2013

365 Project: Stories read as of 21/4/2013

Stories read include Cat Rambo, Bob Newbell, Conor Powers-Smith, Alexis A. Hunter, E. Lily Yu, Patricia Stewart, Aaron DaMommio, and Karin Tidbeck's entire "Jagannath" collection.

"Soft" by Cat Rambo, Daily Science Fiction, March 28th, 2013
Cat Rambo is one of my favourite short speculative fiction authors on the scene at the moment. Here she demonstrates on how to do a flash piece well. She doesn't beat around the bush and thumps you good and hard with the theme - "just how human are humans, when we're treated like we treat animals?". Short, swift, and deliciously nasty.

"Freaks of Nature" by Bob Newbell, 365 Tomorrows, April 5, 2013
This story has a good idea, but the delivery is clunky. It's burdened by an "as you know, Bob...", and overly anthropomorphizing a true alien species. It's difficult to create an alien that doesn't channel human characteristics, and this story fails in that aspect, especially by immediately gendering the alien then backtracking on that gendering (male=default setting). It also danced the edge between comic and serious, deciding to go neither way. Pity, was a good concept.

"For Your Information" by Conor Powers-Smith, Nature, April 4, 2013
A nice twist makes this story. However, the twist does rely on some pretty big stereotypes and myths about nature-vs-nurture personality traits (especially one historical figure in particular, which isn't entirely accurate). Quick, fun, and a good use of a mixture of near future science and social media.

"Memory File #006" by Alexis A. Hunter, Kasma SF, April 2013
This story flows well, and has a good emotional pay off, but does rely on some old tropes, especially the fear of the post-human. This is one of those SF stories that says more about our disconnect from our current society than what we can do with our future one. I did like the exploration of the fear of our bodies, but I don't think it went far enough to discuss the historical precedence behind this (eg: sizeism, body policing, arbitrary beauty norms, medical industrial complex).

"Loss, With Chalk Diagrams" by E. Lily Yu, Night Shade Online, March 10, 2013
Massive feels. My favourite story from this week's choices. Yu studies a society that has discovered a way to eliminate trauma from the human existence, but it comes with a price. Yu employs a lot of nuance, weaving discussions of depression, loss, and PTSD around the characters, and the double edged sword of whether we would be better or worse humans without such tragedy. Absolutely top notch.

"Solidarity" by Patricia Stewart, 365 Tomorrows, April 8, 2013
A cute quickie, which for it's length takes too much time setting the scene with an info dump. It also suffers from the first two paragraphs not being typeset properly to indicate the style of introduction (a memoir entry). The action kicks in half way and the snappy dialogue saves it.

"Daughter of Mettle" by Aaron DaMommio, Daily Science Fiction, April 11, 2013
Now this is how you do a punchy flash. Short and satisfying, Da Mommio has created a superhero time travel paradox story which gets better upon re-reading. An intense breathless finish of the best kind that leaves the reader hanging.

Short Story Collection: "Jagannath" by Karin Tidbeck, Cheeky Frawg, November 2012
I purchased "Jagannath" on the strength of Tidbeck's Strange Horizon story "I have placed my sickness upon you", which is a running contender for my story of the year so far.

While I was travelling the last ten days, I didn't have the diversity of short fiction reading usually available to me, but I loaded short story collections onto my e-reader with the intention of dipping into various themes. My intentions went out the window once I started reading Tidbeck's Tiptree Honour Listed book, and I stayed hooked during what down time I had for my hyper-stimulated brain. I have Tidbeck's words imprinted on me in the strangest of ways: I spent a lot of time in Disneyland queues, mainly Star Tours, reading her stories by other-worldly light and sound. Here I was surrounded by noisy, happy people as I ate up weird stories of fairies, loneliness and outback Sweden.

Tidbeck's stories told or written in English have a frosty edge, a quality she describes coming from English being her second language, and many words and translations having different meanings. Her descriptives are sharp and simple, like the snow, mountains, and short summers she so often uses as devices. This simpleness, this hard edge, is familiar and comforting to me, coming from a small country dislocated by time and distance from the rest of the world.

There is much to love about Tidbeck's blend of Swedish folk tales and culture, the weird, and her stories that play with the borders between science fiction and fantasy. I devoured the stories one after another, unable to pull away from their strangeness and swiftness. Even though the stories don't share characters, some of them share a similar world or theme, and overall there are the ice delicate words and sense of emptiness (lost family, lost civilization, or lost amongst nature). She handles depression, suicide, abuse, and female relationships with a deft, firm touch.

In short, I absolutely adore this collection and I look forward to more from Tidbeck.

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