- “How to Swallow the Moon” by Isabel Yap (fantasy novelette)
- “The Rose MacGregor Drinking and Admiration Society” by T. Kingfisher (fantasy short story)
- “The Thing About Ghost Stories” by Naomi Kritzer (fantasy novelette)
- “My Name is Cybernetic Model XR389F, and I am Beautiful” by Monica Valentinelli (science fictional short story)
- “Monologue by an unnamed mage, recorded at the brink of the end” by Cassandra Khaw (fantasy short story)
“XR389F” is about a maid resisting the sexual harassment a boss is inciting his subordinate to commit. That the maid and subordinate are ineptly portrayed as cyborgs (robots with flesh, here, rather than humans with mechanisms) does nothing to make this science fiction but it doesn’t work as mainstream fiction, either.
Moving to the fantasies, “Monologue” is just what the long title of the flash piece says: an apostrophe to a beloved at the apocalypse. It will appeal to those who want single sentences to contain “tessellated,” “lambency,” and “blackgold kintsugi” and for them to be followed by sentences which contain “fucking door.”
Most of “Moon” is a romance about two women mooning over each other, trapped in oppressive roles by society, but eventually moves to a somewhat rote, but effective, action sequence. Derived from Filipino culture and myth, a bakunawa (gigantic sea monster) ate moons until the last moon was saved by satisfying it with a female sacrifice. While there hasn’t been a sacrifice for a long time, Anyag is raised as a binukot in case the monster comes back, which is to say that she’s kept in almost complete isolation except for her indentured tutor/guardian, “you.” (Yes, this is in second-person present tense for no discernible reason and your name is Amira.) You’re afraid to confess your feelings for Anyag to her but matters come to a head when it’s time for Anyag to get married and a suitor with pointy teeth and nails arrives.
“Rose” isn’t a whole lotta story, being slight and undramatic, but this sort of “double flash” piece is nicely structured and amusing and, as AC/DC would say, Rosie is a whole lotta woman. Now that she’s moved on, the various fae and other creatures she’s enjoyed pine for her.
Finally, we come to the third notable story about familial death I’ve read in as many issues. “Ghost Stories” is one of those which is difficult to write about because I don’t want to spoil anything at all, even though readers will be able to anticipate much as they make their way through the story. A folklorist who collects and writes about ghost stories has recently lost her mother to Alzheimer’s. Now able to get back out in the field and solicit ghost stories from people, she learns more than she expected. The first-person protagonist is extremely believable as a person, caregiver, and folklorist in that she’s not a sainted martyr but had her bad days and does talk about her vocation in a sometimes wonky way but doesn’t overdo it. The pain, difficulty, and mixed emotions about her mother’s last years are effectively portrayed and touch the reader, avoiding bathos or mawkishness. Even the story’s “meta”-ness (of the story teller collecting, discussing, and telling stories) doesn’t come across as a cutesy “literary” effect but arises in a natural way and creates a deeper resonance. And the ending is superb. About the only thing I could quibble about is that, while I found the narrator and all she talked about fascinating and all of it was valuable, I don’t know that it was all essential. This really is a short story in terms of outline and conceptual thrust but just crosses the word count threshold of a novelette and anyone not as fascinated might find it a little too long. Still, this gets a strong recommendation from me.