Rec: “Sun, Moon, Dust” by Ursula Vernon

Sun, Moon, Dust” by Ursula Vernon, Uncanny May/June 2017, fantasy short story

Allpa’s dying grandmother leaves him a magic sword. When unsheathed, Sun, Moon, and Dust materialize from it and they’re all supposed to go be heroic warriors together. But Allpa is a simple, dutiful, potato farmer. The tale deals with his unenthusiastic participation in training and his varied relationships with the ill-tempered and bloodthirsty Dust, the somewhat remote Sun, and the sympathetic Moon.

This rural encomium, while thematically in Vernon’s comfort zone, is conceptually more of a BCS-style secondary-world pure-fantasy tale than the Vernon I’ve read which tends to be fairly connected to this world regardless of its fantasy elements. It’s also not her strongest, perhaps because of this. But her strongest is extremely strong and this is still pretty good. I particularly like her similes and turns of phrase, as in the scene where Moon is expressing his feelings about his own long-forsaken lands and Allpa reacts:

“You can stay here,” he said. The offer was purely instinctive, as if Moon was bleeding and he had lifted his hands to staunch the flow.

There is also humor such as when Dust is wanting to kill Allpa and be done with him, else they’ll have to wait in the sword for the next owner to unsheathe them:

“And look at him, the wretch, you know he’ll live to be ninety!”

Rec: “The Dark Birds” by Ursula Vernon

“The Dark Birds” by Ursula Vernon, January 2017 Apex Magazine, fantasy novelette

Baby tells the story of her family, in which there are always three daughters (Ruth, Susan, and Baby) no matter how many are born (and there are many). The parents are ogres and the children have almost no contact with anyone else, though Ruth does hand down stories of Lily, who came from the great beyond. One day, the mother has another child and Baby thinks she must become Susan but later finds that the baby has died. The current Susan investigates and matters quickly come to a head.

I’m not very conversant with fantasy so can’t be sure, but I suspect this may be a tale modeled on a standard fairy tale or something like that. Perhaps not. And I’m sure it can be read many ways though it seems to me it could be a fantastic retelling of how many women might see growing up in (or near) a small, presumably Southern town. Be that as it may or may not, I like Baby’s narrative voice and how it deftly shows her character and Susan’s, especially. It’s just good storytelling which, perhaps naturally for the presumably dyslexic Baby, feels very rooted in the oral storytelling tradition. Also, while it may not resonate for everyone and only does in a proximate but strong way for me, the depiction of the two-book house (Bible and almanac) and the oranges for Christmas provide extra bits of particular concreteness.