Review: Flash Fiction Online, August 2018

Flash Fiction Online, August 2018

Original Fiction:

  • none

In reviewing another magazine’s recent issue of shared-world stories, I mentioned that I don’t usually review such stories but felt funny about skipping an entire issue, so reviewed it. Well, I don’t review reprints and I’m just going to have to feel funny about skipping this all-reprint issue. I’m posting this much, though, to let people know that it exists. People thinking of submitting to the zine, especially, might want to pay attention as these are presumably examples of what it most looks for.


Review: Flash Fiction Online, July 2018

Flash Fiction Online, July 2018

Original Fiction:

  • “‘-Good.'” by Sunyi Dean (science fiction short story)
  • “Untimely Frost, Unlikely Bloom” by Hayley Stone (fantasy short story)
  • “Gathering” by Jonathan Louis Duckworth (fantasy short story)

‘-Good.’” and “Untimely Frost, Unlikely Bloom” are two more in the flood of FFO‘s present tense stories about death. In the first, a spineless woman who says “I don’t know” to everything and whose husband fills in the answers for her, is being asked to be the surrogate mother of that husband’s clone now that he’s dying. What will she say to that? In the second, a fairy tale woman involuntarily kills everything she comes into contact with, including guys she invites to sleep with her. What will become of the child she gives birth to? It’s hard to care about any of the characters in either of the stories, or their situations. “Gathering” is actually in past tense and is about death on a much grander scale. It’s a surreal dreamlike (or nightmare-like) piece about birds trying to build a destructive device and an artist whose work becomes real in weird ways coinciding in an unfortunate way. It didn’t click for me but was the most interesting tale of the issue.

Review: Flash Fiction Online, June 2018

Flash Fiction Online, June 2018

Original Fiction:

  • “The Strawberry Queen of Irapuato” by Sarah Beaudette (science fantasy short story)
  • “Place Your Bets” by David Whitaker (science fiction short story)

GMO. What could go wrong? In “Strawberry Queen,” another present tense tale, Irina’s locked up with several other people who have mutated in various ways. They’re a pretty passive bunch but she actively wishes to escape. It feels more like a not-so-superhero story than science fiction and the milieu, mood, and/or premise is reminiscent of other tales from at least “The Discarded” (1959) to “The Glow-in-the-Dark Girls” (2018).

Stable empires are no good when you’re a high-risk capitalist and wish to stir up wars and economic turmoil so you can “Place Your Bets.” A financial consultant or the like travels to visit with such a man and, while disinterestedly accompanying him on a hunt, reflects on things. It might be too much to say this may have whiffs of Hemingway and Kipling but it crossed my mind. The theme was pretty overtly and simply presented, though.

Review: Flash Fiction Online, May 2018

Flash Fiction Online, May 2018

Original Fiction:

  • “Reliving My Grandmother’s Youth” by Charlotte Huggins
  • “‘A World Without’ or ‘From a Brief History of the Sjöberg Portal'” by Tomiko Breland

Of the four stories in this issue, one is marked “mainstream” and another is revealed to be a reprint at the end, leaving two to be covered.

Reliving” deals with a child of a disrespected minority who, on turning thirteen, must sing at a public gathering which honors the group’s culture and history. This particular child is timid and feels it’s all old-fashioned anyway. How the actual ceremony goes and what that means forms the climax to the tale. Oh, and the ceremony is a Sabbat for the minority group who are witches with familiars, so this is a fantasy.

In “Portals,” a man reflects on how his mother died when he was a child and the effects it had on his father. Later, the man goes through a couple of changes (including finding his own love) which also change his attitude towards his parents each time. Oh, and people have been going through the one-way portal that appeared in Sweden and spawned a world-wide religion before the narrator was born, so this is fantasy, too. (Speaking not just of “portals,” but of specific aspects of them, this is very similar to other stories like the more convincing “The Shining Hills” by Susan Palwick in Lightspeed #87, August 2017.)

These are executed well enough and have enjoyable aspects. As the “by the way” of the second indicates, it does a much better job of wrapping the fantasy coating over the thematic pill. The fantasy elements of stories rarely have only a surface significance so there’s arguably no problem here. But this is the reverse: they have little or no surface significance at all, even for flash. (There are witches in the first but no witchery; portals in the second but no “portaling” protagonists.) As I don’t usually care for “SF” stories which are purely poetic metaphor and don’t demonstrate any real interest in the universe or physics but only in quotidian human concerns, so I’m not usually thrilled by “fantasies” with little interest in even fabulous what-ifs.

This is related to, but deeper than, “calling a rabbit a smeerp” (the first has an actual rabbit as a “familiar”) or the “just-like fallacy.”

Review: Flash Fiction Online, April 2018


Flash Fiction Online, April 2018

Original Fiction:

  • “Canada Girl vs. The Thing Inside Pluto” by Lina Rather
  • “The Moon on a Breakfast Plate” by M.E. Owen
  • “Things I Realized on Finding an Alien in the Passenger Seat of My Car” by Aaron DaMommio

This month’s Flash Fiction Online brings us a second consecutive all-speculative-fiction issue. This one has three original short-shorts and a reprint, all of which are science fiction about aliens. In “Canada Girl vs. The Thing Inside Pluto,” Aimee played Canada Girl and is now too old to even play Canada Girl’s mom in the reboot. The thing that ate Pluto (and Venus) wants to eat. And, having seen our television broadcasts, it also wants more Canada Girl. Aimee sees an opportunity. I’ve seen this basic story too many times. In “The Moon on a Breakfast Plate,” an alien who is masquerading as a human in order to ease first contact is surprised when the small daughter of her assignment asks for “the moon on a breakfast plate.” This has almost everything needed to be great but is a little too blunt and lacking the specifically elliptical-but-clear ending to give it a large charge of the emotional feeling implicit in its general concept. I wanted to like it, though, and sort of do. Finally, in “Things I Realized on Finding an Alien in the Passenger Seat of My Car,” a guy’s driving back from Vegas on the way to a job interview but has an alien in the passenger seat and they’re both wearing rings. Turns out aliens are a known and barely normal thing in this world but the idea he’s married an alien is messing with him. Then the “cute lady cop” arrives and things get even funnier. Or they should. The problem is that this is another listory. It almost works even so, and might have been difficult to pull off as a straight story, but maybe taking something of the approach that “The Black Clover Equation” (Zach Shephard, April 2017 Flash Fiction Online) did would have worked better.

While no specific item in this issue entirely worked for me, the issue as a whole was pretty enjoyable (and, of course, short—just over 2800 words) and, if it sounds interesting, would be worth a look to see if any of it suited you more than me.

Review: Flash Fiction Online, March 2018

Flash Fiction Online, March 2018

Original Fiction:

  • “Eyes of Wood, Heart of Stone” by Rebecca Birch (fantasy short story)
  • “Duck, Duck, Duck” by Samantha Murray (science fiction short story)
  • “Dragon Meat” by Helen French (fantasy short story)
  • “The Ghost In Angelica’s Room” by Maria Haskins (fantasy short story)

Beelzebub 7:7: bitch and ye shall receive. Last month I complained about a lack of speculative stories to review from FFO lately so this issue produces four of four to review, though none are pure-quill, center-core SF or F and some barely touch the edges.

A boy appears before the Faerie Queen and asks to receive “Eyes of Wood, Heart of Stone” so that the abuse his mother receives won’t bother him. Then his mother arrives and the two women come to an understanding.

This isn’t mainstream because of its blatant fantasy elements but can’t be enjoyed as fantasy because those elements are a thin and obvious veneer on a mainstream situation. It seems inauthentic in another way in that I have to wonder what kind of kid goes to the Faerie Queen and doesn’t say “Keep my mom from being hurt!” There’s also an asymmetry between the cost of what the Queen had to do and the apparent lack of cost for the mother. Finally, while there’s a question of “What’s gonna happen?” there’s no real drama about it and the end is underwhelming. I did like the line that followed the Queen asking if the mother would challenge her for the boy: “[The mother] looks down at the boy, and determination slides over her face like a knight’s visor.”

In “Duck, Duck, Duck,” some kids are turning into contagious aliens, so kids are playing “Duck, Duck, Alien.” This has the same “clearly (not) genre” problem and even more of the “lack of drama/underwhelming end” problems as “Wood.”

A girl’s dragon has died and, since “Dragon Meat” is valuable, the butcher shows up and makes a deal for the remains. The girl didn’t really get along with her dragon and has some conflicts. One could argue this suffers from the same problems as the others but this has a more vigorous tone, feels stranger, and is more interesting.

The Ghost In Angelica’s Room” is one where I hate to summarize it because it would trample on the unfolding of the story. Briefly: a girl is dealing with the death of her father and her relation with her problematic mother.

This is one that sort of inverts the other stories of this issue. The only fantastic element is her father’s ghost. This can be taken seriously as mainstream fiction if the ghost is rationalized as psychological, with the ghost serving as an emotionally enhancing element, or as fantasy if you choose not to rationalize it, with the ghost serving as a fantastic complement rather than a veneer. Also, this isn’t plot-driven but the emotions in this one are convincing, so take one mental places even if the succession of actual events in the story doesn’t drive the story in an action-oriented way. There’s something about the ending that doesn’t thrill me—maybe it’s too talky or becomes too intellectualized at the end of such a felt tale—but the main thrust is good. Overall, I don’t know that it’ll suit everybody, but I recommend giving it a try.

Review: Flash Fiction Online, February 2018

Flash Fiction Online, February 2018

Original Fiction:

  • “The Hole Where Andy Used to Be” by Sean Vivier (“fantasy” short story)

In the past three or four issues there have been holes where FFO‘s speculative fiction used to be. Three of this issue’s four pieces are “Literary” and even this one is labeled “Fantasy, Literary.” The last term is the more apt one as this is not fantasy but a figurative conceit. It’s only about five hundred words but, since it never makes an advance over the first sentence, it seems long. A husband and father has probably died or possibly been divorced (which should be clearer) and he leaves an actual hole in his loved ones’ lives which is difficult to “fill.” However clever and true this may be, it needs more to be a story.