Review: Flash Fiction Online, March 2018

Flash Fiction Online, March 2018

“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

“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.

Review: Flash Fiction Online, January 2018

Flash Fiction Online, January 2018

“The Solid Years of My Life” by Holly Collingwood (science fiction short story)
“Mother’s Rules for a Burned Girl” by Rebecca Mix (fantasy short story)

Ice and fire. Aside from a reprint and a mainstream story, this month’s Flash Fiction Online includes a story about an experiment in cryo going wrong which will leave all but the newest SF readers, uh, bored stiff, and a story about playing with dragons and getting burned, but not in the way Mother tells you. This latter is the more interesting of the two because, despite a familiar topic of repression and a conventional structure, it deploys its imagery unusually and holds firm to its flame.

Review: Flash Fiction Online, December 2017

Flash Fiction Online, December 2017

Cover of Flash Fiction Online, December 2017

This is a quickie. For whatever reason, two stories in this issue are billed as “literary” while one is the usual reprint, leaving only one to review. That is

“The First Stop Is Always the Last” by John Wiswell (fantasy short story)

This is a Groundhog’s Day with a woman who drives a bus and a woman coming from a very important funeral. The movie is, among other things, about a guy pursuing a girl and becoming a better person in the process while this is about a girl dealing with loss, worrying about her new job, and pursuing a girl almost incidentally. Adequately executed but the movie’s much better.

Rec: “Claire Weinraub’s Top Five Sea Monster Stories (For Allie)” by Evan Berkow

Claire Weinraub’s Top Five Sea Monster Stories (For Allie)” by Evan Berkow, Flash Fiction Online, October 2017, short story

This story comes with the caveat that, despite its “fantasy” billing and the fact that it is steeped in speculative sensibility and wishful thinking, it is not fantasy. Further, it is one of many examples of the “beloved dies wrapped in metaphor” microgenre of which there are two examples in this single issue. But this is very much the better one (though the other wasn’t bad) and was emotionally effective. The narrator describes the beloved’s favorite stories of sea “monsters” and these are connected to a declining arc in the beloved’s condition, before coming together in a beautiful and fitting image in the final section. I almost wish the image had been the final element of the story without the verbal articulation that actually does close the story. Leaving that possible blemish and its genre aside, this is an excellent short-short.

Rec: “A Siren Song for Two” by Steven Fischer

A Siren Song for Two” by Steven Fischer, Flash Fiction Online, October 2017, science fiction short story

This is the first of two recommendations from the odd (and oddly effective) Valloween issue of Flash Fiction Online in which darkness and relationships are combined.

Some workers are off on a planet of ice where the melting and refreezing of the ice causes a vibratory effect like a siren song which causes people to wander off and die in the unforgiving climate. When a woman succumbs to the lure, her beloved goes out after her.

This works on a metaphorical level more than a literal one but it evokes a vivid environment with effective emotional desires – the sonic singing iceworld is striking and the feelings that the woman has for the sounds, and that the protagonist has for the woman, are plausible enough and powerful. I honestly can’t decide whether to recommend this or just give it an honorable mention and I usually err on the side of strictness but I just feel like pointing this one out.

Rec: “The Black Clover Equation” by Zach Shephard

The Black Clover Equation” by Zach Shephard, Flash Fiction Online April 2017, fantasy short story

This short-short takes a scientific (and hilarious) approach to lucky charms and their counterparts. (Given that approach and another element, it’s almost as much SF as fantasy.) The terse, dispassionate notes are appropriate for what they’re supposed to be but also create an almost Steven Wright delivery which makes it even funnier and the outrageous extension of the tale takes it to the finish line. (Although I think my favorite specific bit was the relatively modest black spray paint/combo effort.) Humor is in the funny bone of the beholder but I strongly recommend this.