Stories read this week are by Sabrina Vourvoulias, Micaela Morrissette, Melissa Mead, Sam Barnhart, and Sarah Monette/Elizabeth Bear.
"Collateral Memory" by Sabrina Vourvoulias, Strange Horizons, June10, 2013
In the first complex piece of the week, Vourvoulias (who I have shared Crossed Genre ToCs with) hits some very hard emotional notes. This is not an easy read, mixing race, class, terrorism, and physical abuse with an especially hard to read end. What exactly are you willing to sacrifice in service to your country? The story plays with a complex set of characters, and while there is only time for the barest sketch of some, they all live and breath beyond names and faces in the type of news story they might appear in. Well crafted and intense.
"Porn and Revolution in the Peaceable Kingdom" by Micaela Morrissette, Tor.com, June 12, 2013
This is a long and difficult read. The Weird is a sheen. Dig beyond the jokes--and they are really really good jokes--and there's some really unsettling themes of human dominance against other species. Sure, it's a turn-table flip, but it's a narrative that works. Not only is Morrissette pushing us to question our relationships with animals for companionship and food, she also takes a loving swipe at capitalism with the "WalMart" sleepwalkers heralded as gods.
Dig even deeper, and the story picks at female sexual agency. While it was obvious where the sexual tension in the story was building to, the scene near the end is a disturbing note - I'm not a fan of rape as a metaphor, but here Morrissette skates towards "punching up" with her satire. The protagonist's "pet" human is framed as sexually promiscuous and too stupid to make her own decisions, so she must be leashed, much the way women are framed in our society.
The final dominant theme is evolution - and within evolution there is hope.
"Three Wishes" by Melissa Mead, Daily Science Fiction, June 5, 2013
A fun little mash up of various fairy tales and trickster stories with a nice twist ending that steps away from the usual tropes for a moral of a new age - that a couple can make things work even after a shaky start and they're not bound by fairytale tropes!
"The Trial of Bernadette Fabrique" by Sam Barnhart, Silver Blade, May 2013
This is a short, fun one, playing with Cthulhu mythos and the Monstrous Feminine. I enjoyed the juxtaposition of the earnest storytelling with the absolute mad monster attack. Even though the piece is quite short, it manages to make a perky little observation on the Hysterical Woman trope of Victorian times.
"Mongoose" by Sarah Monette and Elizabeth Bear, Clarkesworld, June 2013
Absolutely fantastic world building. I'm a fan of Bear's Jacob's Ladder series, and she creates an authentic claustrophobia to ship and station living. Here, the story makes observations about the consequences of folded space travel - make a tear in the space time fabric, and nasty little critters will seep through the dimensions. It's very tasty, very fun space opera, getting into the Dirty Jobs of space travel - pest extermination. I really liked how many of the critters are created with alternative communication abilities, and the ability to exist in vacuum environments - added good plausibility to aliens given human monstrous (Alice in Wonderland) traits. Big thumbs up, especially for the squick factor of the finale.