Beneath Ceaseless Skies #269, January 17, 2019
- “The Deepest Notes of the Harp and Drum” by Marissa Lingen (fantasy short story)
- “La Orpheline” by Jordan Taylor (fantasy short story)
Tor.com, January 16, 2019
- “Beyond the El” by John Chu (short story)
“El” inflicts Connor, an inert nothing of a “food crafter,” and his unbelievably repellent sister on us as he tries to recreate a recipe of his recently deceased mother’s and allows the domineering sister to abuse him yet again. This is billed as SF but other than something trivial about a handwaving server inexplicably cooking food in words 630-669 (which may simply be something I don’t understand) this is a painfully mainstream story which gave me the feeling of the famous nightmares involving running without making any progress as its nearly six thousand words of expository writing microscopically examines food such as “the decadent unctuousness of foie gras” and makes asides about Connor’s love interest, the singer Nick, and his “jazzy piece of atonality” with “Bernstein’s setting of the Ferlinghetti poem, ‘The Pennycandystore Beyond the El.'”
Despite being in a different magazine, “Deepest Notes” shares a theme of sibling troubles with “El.” The two female outlaws make me think of a sort of Thelma and Louise in a medieval forest but Jane’s killed her sister and Molly’s killed a bunch of folks before they meet each other and fall in love–also they’re not looking for “a blaze of glory.” The magic element is the fact that instruments made of animal bones can sing of the things that bother them and, when you’ve fed your sister to the pigs and someone makes instruments out of pig bones, it makes a body nervous. This isn’t a satisfying tale to me (the moral calculus eludes me), but it’s concisely told and some may appreciate it.
Carrying on the themes within the same magazine, “Orpheline” also deals with female enemies and allies and with music, in this case repeating the familiar BCS refrain of being an operatic tale set in 18th century France. The intrusively metafictional narrative (and its musical and thematic motifs) reminded me of “Variations on a Theme from Turandot” by Ada Hoffmann (Strange Horizons, May 14, 2018) and also of the many, many selkie tales of late, even though this uses a catwoman. A “girl” has been deprived of her catskin by a magician, so haunts an opera house as a menial and spars with the malicious Head Soprano but, when the magician’s mistress accompanies him to a performance and she offers the girl a deal which may make them both happy at the expense of the other two characters, the wheels of grrrl power and liberation begin to turn. The narrative style may appeal to some but didn’t sit right with me, seeming to intermittently shift focus as well as degree of intrusion, and the ending was too abrupt and easy but the tale was otherwise effective.