This week's stories are by James Patrick Kelly, Daniel Jose Older, E. Catherine Tobler, Julie C. Day, and Marissa Lingen.
"Soulcatcher" by James Patrick Kelly, Clarkesworld, May 2013
A story that is a master class in structure and world building. Kelly delivers a lot in a few thousand words, the most intriguing details found in the descriptions of antiques and objet d'art. The story has a complicated ending, which is far more satisfying than pat emotion. The reader knows there is far more of the story to come, even though the protagonist thinks she's solved her problem. A satisfying female protagonist, strong in many facets, but equally well characterized through her flaws.
"Skin Like Porcelain Death" by Daniel Jose Older, Tor.com, May 21, 2013
Warning: Creepy creepy dead-eyed dolls. This story plays into the monstrous woman/sexuality trope (as well as the monstrosity/de-humanizing of childhood/childcare via the dolls), but does it with finesse and redemption. I enjoyed the ending because it left it open enough to be creepy, while other female characters find redemption. There's a neat internal world as well, with spirits and undead living (?) side by side with the mortal world. Older has a lot going on here to make the story world very rich - a multi-cultural New York, immersive language, teenage angst that doesn't infantalize, a healthy discussion of teenage sexuality, ghosts with culture, bureaucracy, and language of their own, and a bevy of richly drawn characters.
"Grandmother of Ghosts" by E. Catherine Tobler, Electric Velocipede, April 29, 2013
Tobler tells a simple, sweet tale that brings together various imagery and mythology of purgatory, ways between, and the after life. What are most evocative here are the sights, smells, and sounds - our ghost herder knows their environment intricately and brings out the comfort of their strange home by revelling in the intimate details. You feel their discomfit when those details are disturbed. There is a weirdness and familiarity here that speaks to me of the train station episode from "Sapphire and Steel".
"Paradigm Shift" by Julie C. Day, Electric Velocipede, May 13, 2013
Day mixes steampunk, sexbot, and cyborg in a short needling number about the sexualization of child pageants. While the cyborg exterior is invoked to represent the supposedly hairless, smooth eternal child, the steampunk interior is used to represent the imperfect, breakable interior. The protagonist flips the paradigm, putting the pistons and gears on the outside, removing breasts and lips in an attempt to render themself genderless, revelling in a anti-beauty that is far more prescient than teenage rebellion can encompass and also steps into genderqueer discussion.
"The Troll (A Tale Told Collectively)" by Marissa Lingen, Daily Science Fiction, May 14, 2013
The more Scandinavian fantasy/weird I read, the more I fall in love with it. There's a sense of empty space, disconnection, mountains, and dystopia that is quite familiar to the New Zealand style of speculative fiction, but still has an eerie sensibility all its own.
Here, Lingen tells a tumbling, chaotic story that is familiar to many a dinner table - a family myth, but with a nasty twist at the end. The rising sense of panic was beautifully handled in spare language, and characterization was handled with swift strokes. The unspoken panic from the great-grandmother was the most telling characterization, informing much of socialization within the family and her strength and culpability in a few short sentences.
The chaotic over talking and confusion over keeping the family members sorted added to the pleasurable "noise" of the story - one could almost hear the conversation becoming louder and more strenuous.