Of the four stories in this issue, only “The Truffles of Mars” is billed as being speculative.
This issue has three stories billed as “Literary” while the only thing billed as “Science Fiction” (“Across the Hard-Packed Sand” by Holly Schofield) is a reprint.
- “Trinkets” by Joe Parker
- “Ivy” by Melissa Goodrich
Both this month’s original speculative pieces from FFO are fantasy flash. “Trinkets” is a good tale of a person receiving strange presents and coming to a realization but is very similar on a literal level to, for example, “The Button Box” (Jamie Lackey, December 16, 2017 Grievous Angel), “Pockets” (Amal El-Mohtar, Jan/Feb 2015 Uncanny), and other “portal gift” stories. While I think this puts its theme nicely, this darker story lacks the expansiveness of “Pockets” and the compression of “Button.” “Ivy” is a story about a neighborhood with a house with a girl all covered in ivy and those who are for and against the ivy (such as the aunt in the white house) and what happens to them. For a moment, the narrative voice sparks (“But the aunt. The aunt! So pointy, she seemed.”) but the story didn’t ultimately appeal to me, being a bit… severe.
- “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.