Stories read this week include M. Bennardo, Kiini Ibura Salaam, Shay Darrach, Lucia Starkey, and E. Lily Yu.
"Water Finds Its Level" by M. Bennardo, Lightspeed, May 2013
"The Penitent" by M. Bennardo, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, May 30, 2013
Bennardo is everywhere at the moment, and that's a good thing. His work deserves sunlight. The last story I read of his, "The Herons of Mer de l'Ouest", didn't work so much for me (because I'm not so much of an alt-history fan, especially pertaining to frontier fiction), but his talent is evident in everything. Both these stories I read hit good spots for me.
"Water" is a simple but elegant piece. I'm sure most genre writers have tackled parallel universes at some stage (I know I have!), and this story certainly plays with some creepy, slightly body horror connotations. The creepiness is kept well off stage, but that heightens the squeamishness. The story also delivers a nicely rounded female protagonist, and moves along swiftly and smoothly. Not an overly challenging piece, but satisfying.
"The Penitent" is a nicely complex story. It's difficult to write about losing one's sanity without heading into ableist trope territory, but this one manages well, especially with an open ending I really appreciated. With the protag only identified by a number, I couldn't help but think of Les Miserables, and this informed my first reading somewhat - I saw some of Valjean's strength, courage, and terror in him. There's a clever mystery - is this madness, death, or some strange other-worldly occurrence? Such a mystery could easily make it read as literary fiction as well as genre, so well done there.
"The Taming" by Kiini Ibura Salaam, InterFictions Online, May 2013
Ever since I saw Salaam had won the Tiptree this year I've been wanting to read her work. Her bio describes her writing as "rooted in eroticism, speculative events, women’s perspectives, and artistic freedom", and this story certainly fits the bill. Told in short, punchy language that brings to life the fear and behaviour of the animal in the tale, I like that the reader never finds out what type of animal it is. This, and relocation of the animals, lends a speculative nature to the story. Is it a dog? Wild cat? Wolf? Perhaps it's an alien animal? The confusion of the transportation - the long dark corridors - could be zoo or space ship. That there is human interference, especially in their procreation, means there is some conservation motif at hand. Sparsely beautiful, evocative, and effective.
"Baggage Check" by Shay Darrach, Crossed Genres Magazine Issue 6 "She", June 2013
"How the Jellyfish Got Its Spine Back" by Lucia Starkey, Crossed Genres Magazine Issue 6 "She", June 2013
I share a ToC this month in the latest Crossed Genres Magazine with "Menial" editor Shay Darrach and newcomer Lucia Starkey. The theme of the issue is "She" - what makes a woman.
Darrach's piece is a gorgeous piece of prose, almost poetry like. I'd actually love to hear it read out loud. Maybe it's because the theme is so close to my heart that I see something of my language and style in the piece. The story concept is simple enough - a woman shedding the baggage of a previous life. The fantasy in it is that in this world one can do it over and over, with no consequences. The freedom of the concept certainly struck something deep in me. Very whimsical and wistful.
Starkey plays with personal pronouns in "Jellyfish", and CG is one of the few genre venues who will let writers do this. Starkey's pronoun use is on the experimental side, and I'm not sure it works. It can be difficult to create a pronoun or even use one that's available - not everyone agrees on usage. I'm trying to put my finger on why it felt clunky - it may even serve well to show how tightly policed binary pronouns are in the English language. The tale itself is very pretty. I enjoyed the concept of a woman being the sum of her parts. The imagery of her first born, a male, escaping into and thriving in the world as simply parts was especially relevant - though we may have control over our own gender, it's not up to us to attempt to control the gender of our offspring.
"The Urashima Effect" by E. Lily Yu, Clarkesworld, June 2013
Yu writes spare, beautiful stories, and this one is no exception. She utilizes a fairy tale within a science fiction story, making a lovely link between the past and the future. This link is also thematically explored through the use of time dilation, mortality, and discussions about generations and their links to culture. On a parallel, the story also examines age and wisdom, and how wisdom does not just belong to the elderly. Succinct and heartfelt.