- “Words I’ve Redefined Since Your Dinosaurs Invaded My Lunar Lair” by Stewart C Baker (science fantasy short story)
- “I Will You Back to Time and Space” by Dafydd McKimm (science fantasy short story)
Both of this issue’s original speculative tales are readable but not much more than that. “Words” was listed as science fiction but is a superhero/supervillain tale in which the good guy’s bioengineered dinosaurs invade the bad girl’s lair just like it says in the title and a series of words like ‘justice” and “victory” form the narrative structural gimmick which enlightens us about the nature of good and evil… or egalitarianism and elitism, whatever. This doesn’t bring anything more to the table than the numerous other tales which have trod the same ground. Similarly, “Will” was listed as fantasy but is semi-contemporary and makes quantum noises about the gorilla companions each human (except the narrator’s daughter) acquires as it talks about the power of parental drives and is not as convincing as other similar tales.
- “Slaked Lime, Iron Knife” by Aparna Nandakumar (fantasy short story)
- “Ghost of the Pepper” by M.K. Hutchins (fantasy short story)
A priest is walking through the dark night of the soul (or a forest, whatever) being trailed by a sort of succubus (yakshi), and debating between “Slaked Lime, Iron Knife.” If he gives her the former, she can feed on him; if the latter, he can have power over her. (There’s also a third option of chucking magic stones at her to kill her.) I’m not sure what this is going for as the narrative seems sympathetic to her and none of the options are good. “Ghost of the Pepper” takes the odd notion of dead peoples’ misery and pain being manifested in peppers and eased by people digesting them as a roundabout way of delivering a theme that already has its own ultra-flash platitude (which is a spoiler, so see the comments for it). Unlike eating the pepper, reading both stories is painless but they lack that certain, well, flash, that I look for in flash.
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.
- “‘-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.
- “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.
- “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.”
- “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.