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As people were really positive about the last installment of Short Business being a bit bigger I thought I'd keep things up size wise this month. Below the cut I review thirteen stories, and lucky for you I had quite a few thoughts about most of them.



"More Tomorrow" by Premee Mohammed (via Maria Haskins)

If you love Jodi Taylor's The Chronicles of St. Mary's series, which is about a university that discovered time travel and now undertakes, often disastrous, research missions, you're sure to enjoy "More Tomorrow". Written as a series of journal entries, the story follows an unnamed paleontologist trying to survive an unfortunate time travel malfunction. Stranded in pre-history, and awaiting the return of their partner Hap, the narrator brings gallows humour to the experience of trying to stay alive. The narrator has a sarcastic touch, and determined spirit which keeps this tale of extreme misfortune from being a huge downer. And this fun, sprightly side to the story makes the impact of the rather melancholy ending land with a bit of a heart-punch. Sometimes dinosaurs are not the worst thing that can happen to a person.

"The Boy and the Bell" by Heidi Heilig

In Heidi Heilig's creepy tale, Will hears a small bell ringing in the graveyard he's just about to rob, and decides to save the life of Maxwell Thaddeus Hawthorne who appears to have been buried alive. Unfortunately, Maxwell is both a bigot, who insists on calling Will a woman despite him being a trans-boy, and a vampire. Fortunately, Will is able to defeat Maxwell, and try to use his body as a ticket into the university where Will desperately wants to study as a doctor.

"The Boy and the Bell" was written to celebrate the publication of Dread Nation by Justina Ireland; an alternate-history horror novel set during the American Civil War which centres the experience of black characters. In a similar vein, Heilig's tale focuses on a transgender character, whose stories are often missing from historical fiction, and demonstrates that transgender characters can be part of science fiction adventure stories (and live). The story is full of traditional horror creep factor from the 'almost petulant' sound the small bell makes to the moment when Maxwell 'crawls towards him like a spider'. It also packs in a surprising amount of character detail, and background detail, which makes Will come alive as a personality, and engages the reader even though they meet him from a very short period of time. Is it too much to hope that this story might spin off into further historical adventures?

"Light, Like A Candle Flame" by Iona Sharma

Thanks to [twitter.com profile] forestofglory I once again find myself emotionally compromised by feelings about a spaceship.

On the face of it, "Light, Like A Candle Flame" doesn't sound like the kind of story that will break your heart slow, considering that the plot centres on the need for a workable waste management solution. It's a story about the practical necessities involved in moving to a new planet, and about the community's desire to avoid initiating a pattern of environmental destruction. The settlers of this new community are trying to live responsibly, and to build environmental sustainability into everything they do. If that sounds a bit earnest then rest assured that Iona Sharma employs a light,deft hand, and a sense of comic timing which helps to turn the serious quest into a sympathetic everyday farce filled with bureaucratic niggles. Think Tom Holt's office-inspired fantasy stories.

At the centre of this story is Sara, and her partner Light, Like A Candle Flame. Sara, Magistra Descendant to the Assembly of Terravine, is caught up in the debate about the sewage plans. Light is a physical manifestation of a generation ship's consciousness, and is often a kind ear to Sara's weary thought process. Light is linked into the story's wider discussions about sustainability because she continues to exist as a ship in the sky which can be harvested to reduce pressure on the new planet. And the sections of the story that deal directly with the sewage plant are inter-cut with sections about Light, which allow the reader to learn small details about the past, the journey to the new planet, and how Light functions as a split entity. I really find Light to be the heart of this story even as I can appreciate how the main innovation, and point of discussion, of "Light, Like A Candle Flame" comes from its environmental approach to space travel and settling.

Light's relationship with Sara is incredibly touching, and real in its small-scale tenderness and familiarity. So, be warned the of this story ending hurts, and many of the small set-pieces in between will make you have emotions. However, the final paragraphs also offer up the knowledge that Sara and Light still have time together, and that Sara can find the joy in the present and the anticipation of a future. For real, when did feelings about spaceships become such a big part of my sci-fi life?

"Three Cats At the End of the World" by Aimee Ogden (via Heather Rose Jones)

"Three Cats At the End of the World" is a weird little piece of flash fiction about a witch who lives in a cottage 'at the beginning and the end of the world' with three cats who are manifestations of the past, present, and future. The story gives each cat metaphorical characteristics that represent each time period, for example:

The past is a ragged old tom who never strays far from home, forever wanting to lie on the witch’s lap or drape her shoulders. Too easy to forget his nearness until he twists about her ankles and trips her up. The past is warm and comforting, and forever in the way.


All the cats are examples of 'nature red in tooth and claw', and the combination of the cat as a domestic symbol trying to 'lie on the witches lap', and the cat as a minor horror licking 'clean the wound with the gore of her kittens still clinging to her chops' really brings to life the quiet violence of time. It's a piece I like more and more each time I go back to it. It feels almost like a modern fable, but I'm not sure it's intended to be a warning story (although intention is such a misty thing to analyse) rather a pure SFF imagination. Anyway, intriguing and there are cats being cats so a good bet for readers who want moar cats in SFF.

"Have This Wish I Wish Tonight" by Katherine Kendig

A lovely little snippet featuring a romantic encounter between a constellation made flesh and an unnamed narrator. The narrator finds the fleeting encounter magical. However, when Orion asks them to tell him about the first time they saw him in the sky, the narrator can't let themself be totally open. They think 'A moment like that would disappear in his distances, too small to see.' It's only when Orion leaves that the narrator realises their inability to share has stolen something of worth from Orion. The story offers the possibility of a second chance at connection though as Orion has left his belt on the narrator's floor, and they are left hoping he will return. It's a bittersweet story, full of wonder. I highly recommend it to anyone who enjoyed "Elemental Love" by Rachel Swirsky.

"A Good Egg" by Shawn Proctor

"A Good Egg" is my favourite of the three pieces of Podcastle flash fiction that I read in April. This story really got me with its bait and switch, so just to let you know there are a lot of spoilers in the review below. Any readers who are part of the LGBTQ community may want to read the spoilers before going in, but everyone is different.

*spoilers start here*

Ok, so who knew someone would be able to humanise Humpty Dumpty, or that they would be able to ring so much emotion, and darkness out of that humanisation? I am honestly in awe of this story because fairy tale retellings have been done hard by now, and yet Shawn Proctor has conjured something that feels entirely new. And he has done it with great economy of prose.

In this story, it is eventually revealed that Humpty, or Hugh as he's known, is the ex-lover of a king who has just married in order to do his 'duty'. And now Hugh sits on top of the wall, bleakly discussing their relationship with the king down below. We all know how that nursery rhyme ends. I personally feel that because Hugh is still alive, although still atop the wall, at the end of the story Proctor has left the door open for ambiguity; especially as Hugh has such a defiant final line. This story allows the reader to believe that Humpty will not throw himself off the wall, despite his dark night of the soul. However, ambiguity works both ways, and there will be readers who wish for a more straightforward confirmation that this gay character definitely stays alive.

*spoilers end*

"My Pet Tiger" by Jessica Dylan Miele

I have to admit I didn't really get this story. Perhaps it goes just a little too far down the track of science fiction which features a minimal amount of science fiction for me? The framing device is interesting, and who doesn't want a loyal tiger that will devour your enemies for you, but I didn't totally connect with this story for some reason. I think it was just not my kind of thing rather than there being any kind of big problem with the story, so make sure to check it out in case it is more your deal.

"What To Do When It's Nothing But Static" by Cassandra Khaw

So, because I am easy Cassandra Khaw tweeting 'Kaiju. Aunties.' was enough to get me to read this story, and now I say unto you also this story has Kaiju. Aunties. "What To Do When It's Nothing But Static" follows a group of neurally networked older, female, Asian jaeger warriors who are "helping" the narrator, one of their mob, prepare for a blind date with an older man. I mean, this set-up alone should be enough to drag in half of the people I know.

"What To Do When It's Nothing But Static" starts off fun, wry, and informal; a light, everyday conversation between friends who know each other well. The story contains a very naturalistic dialogue style which won me over right away. This chatty, everyday style choice not only made me believe these women were real, it also convinced me that they had been friends and colleagues for a long part of their lives.

Despite starting out light as a breeze, Khaw's story quickly transitions into a poignant, quietly heartbreaking piece when the reader realises that the loss of one of the group, Bai Ling, is constantly in the background of everything this group does. The narrator, Ah Eng, in particular is still deeply affected by her death. As the story builds towards the date, organised by Ah Eng's daughter, both the humour and the touching emotion ramps up to build a lovely, lovely story about rebuilding after a tragedy. The fact that this emotional tale is clothed in the kick-ass feminist politics of writing a story where older, Asian women save the world over and over again only makes it sweeter.

"Graffiti Guardians" by A. T. Greenblat (via Merc Rustad)

I found these next four stories via Merc Rustad's recent short fiction roundup. See, this is why I value rec lists so much because you can pick up so many great stories all in one place. I could have hunted through tons of magazines, and not found four stories so suited to my own tastes so quickly.

Anyway, "Graffiti Guardians" - I would read scads more of this kind of urban fantasy. A young man goes out to try and protect the city from monsters with magic, despite the fact that he doesn't believe he is strong enough. T. A. Greenblat has created a great distinct world using very little background detail, and in much the same way easily sets up the central importance of the romantic relationship between Adwin and Diego despite the fact that the reader never even meets Diego. The theme that art is resistance, and the depiction of magical graffiti, reminded me a lot of reading Alaya Dawn Johnson's The Summer Prince. Also, who doesn't love stories about magical bear guardians? Put a bear in your story, and I am sold.

"50 Ways To Leave Your Fairy Lover" by Aimee Picchi

"50 Ways To Leave Your Fairy Lover" is a really fun piece of flash fiction, written as a letter of advice from a grandmother to her granddaughter. The grandmother charts her affair with a female fairy lover, and explains the most effective, quite funny, ways of getting rid of said lover. I liked the fact that the story placed this conversation in the modern world by referencing 'the Facebook post about fifty ways to leave your fairy lover.' I enjoyed the way the grandmother's preferred methods played with ideas about the obsessive nature of the fae, and that each break up method tells the reader a little bit more about Morgaine and Grandma Carol's relationship). And I liked that Carol explained that while she loved Mai's grandfather her relationship with Morgaine was still very important. That detail makes the ending of this story really heart-warming as the two women get to try again. Older women getting a second chance at a romance because immortal beings are immortal is pretty great. And the light age difference quip at the end was a cool, subversive note too.

"A Very Large Number of Moons" by Kai Stewart

As Merc said in their roundup, this is a very surreal story about someone who collects moons. Is their collection a set of photos, some form of impressions, or actual manifestations of the moon at a particular moment? Unclear.

Anyway, the narrator explains their collection, and its history, and I kind of accepted that this story was in first person despite the fact that there's doesn't seem to be another character for the narrator to talk to. It's the modern world - every story doesn't need a framing device to explain narrative choice now. However, then it turns out that the narrator was actually talking to a silent other person in the room. The addition of that person, and their story, which we only hear at a remove as the narrator repeats details about their story, is what elevates "A Very Large Number of Moons" from charming to a really thoughtful, emotional piece. So, come for the interesting bits of imagination about what makes moons different, and the odd, misty aspect of this story. Stay for the pathos of a sad story, lit by moonlight, and a complicated little bargain which enforces the true importance of this collection.

"Lava Cake For the Apocalypse" by Wendy Nikel

Yipee, another SFF baking story! If anyone out there is looking for their next SFF Kickstarter idea may I strenuously suggest an anthology of SFF baking stories. Anyway, as well as being a baking story "Lava Cake For the Apocalypse" is actually a great example of writing a story that uses a Maguffin to prompt a journey of discovery with larger meaning where the Maguffin ends up being both crucially important and not really the point at all. Baking stories - multi-faceted, see. I'll be over here waiting for my anthology.

Wendy Nikel's story is laid out in a recipe format, as two crew members fly around Earth collecting the ingredients for an old Earth recipe for chocolate lava cake. Each ingredient that they collect informs the reader about the state of the Earth, and also widdens the narrator's perspective of Earth; a world which clearly many others have written off. At the end the cake has become more than a cake; so much so that the fact that 'The cake fell in the middle and the edges are too crisp' is unimportant. It's been transformed by an epic quest for ingredients into a symbol of why the Earth needs saving. And yet, the act of an Admiral eating the cake could still save a world.

"The Good Mother's Home For Wayward Girls" by Izzy Wasserstein

"The Good Mother's Home For Wayward Girls" is one creepy story about control, and how we can end up actually seeking out control in our hunt for safety. It's a really clever story about how we reinforce our own prisons with fear and love, how 'wardens' use those emotions against us, and how power structures work. I especially like the detail about the hierarchy the girls set up within their imprisonment because it felt so realistic, and like it could apply in any kind of setting where one set of people are controlled by another set; from a prison to a workplace.

The girls in this story have forgotten how they came to be in the home, and have also forgotten most of the outside world. When a new, rebellious girl called Bel arrives at the home she starts to push back against the tyrannical mothers who keep the girls 'safe' from the things outside the walls. She also starts to challenge the other girls by talking about the outside world, and instead of liberating them this makes many of them angry. The psychology of this piece is so good when it comes to explaining how people reject a drive for freedom (or optimism) from others. The girls no longer believe it's possible for them to be free and safe, and it hurts them too much to consider any other possibility in case even their hope is stolen from them.

By the end of the story none of the girls are safe, in fact they're being called upon to put themselves in danger. However, they may yet get free if they can rid themselves of the idea that 'safety' lies within the walls of the home. The story spins the chance at a dangerous freedom as a positive. After all, danger has already breached their safety in the form of a monster from outside the walls. And the home only ever offered an illusion of safety; the girls were imprisoned by oozing 'mothers' who regularly beat them. The ending is incredibly ambiguous, 'We think Bel is right, that she may be right. We will go with Bel. We think we will go with her.' And that just kills me because I want those girls to escape; especially Miranda who is in love with Bel but whose love actually pushes her to cling to the home in the hope it will keep Bel alive. The ending has me on a knife-edge of hope and despair, which is both terribly sad but also effective.

So, that's it for my April reads. Next month, I'm going to be concentrating on two print anthologies for Short Business - The Underwater Ballroom edited by Stephanie Burgis & Apocalypse Nyx by Kameron Hurley. So, I'll be reading fewer individual stories online. However, I'll need lots of recs when I go back to reading stories online in June so make sure to drop me any recommendations in the comments.

And as always, if you've got thoughts on any of the stories I reviewed this month please take to the comments & tell me what you thought.

So many short stories!

Date: 2018-05-01 01:48 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] theillustratedpage.wordpress.com
Oh, no! I've already got a ton of short stories to read, and now I've bookmarked most of these too.

But thanks for sharing! I'll get to them someday.

Date: 2018-05-01 10:09 pm (UTC)
aoftheis: (Default)
From: [personal profile] aoftheis
"Light, Like a Candle Flame" was one of the best stories I read this year! ♥ There's something so light and sparkling about it, even though it deals with such serious and stubbornly everyday material. And you're right, something in the voice does remind me of KJ Parker — so few authors master that light, humorous touch, & I love the ones that do.

Definitely excited to get to some of these other stories.

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