“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.