April is very almost over and it’s beyond time for my collection of micro-reviews of all the short fiction I read in March. It was a month of some really stellar fiction, even including—rarely, for cowardly little me—a couple of genuine horror stories!
Click on any story in the table of contents to jump right to it; or just read on below the cut. The star (★) next to a story indicates it’s one of my favourites.
- To Comfort the Headless Child by Matthew F. Amati
- Das Steingeschöpf by G. V. Anderson
- ★ The Resurrectionists by Alec Austin
- It Happened To Me: My Doppleganger Stole My Credit Card Info, and then My Life by Nino Cipri
- It Happened To Me: I Melded My Consciousness With the Giant Alien Mushroom Floating Above Chicago by Nino Cipri
- Dos and Don’ts by Paul DesCombaz
- ★ Seasons of Glass and Iron by Amal El-Mohtar
- The Litany of Earth by Ruthanna Emrys
- The White Fox and the Red by E.J. Swift
- ★ Fade to White by Catherynne M. Valente
To Comfort the Headless Child by Matthew F. Amati
If you’re looking for profoundly odd, oddly funny fiction, this flash piece is for you. The voice of this story is archaic but combined with the self-conscious use of capitalised tropes it becomes its own thing, almost a fable of horrifying modernity—that also lights up with flashes of bright black humour that makes, for me, the alienating horror worthwhile.
Das Steingeschöpf by G. V. Anderson
I heard a bit of buzz about this when it was published, and I see why now I’ve read it. This mournful, matter-of-fact story about an alternate Europe where carved statues, steingeschöpfes, are actually alive is fucking heartbreaking. Set in inter-war 20th century Germany, our main character, Herr Hertzel, is a queer Jewish man. He is already well-versed in hardship and discrimination; but the reader, with our long view, can only be too aware of what is coming: the Third Reich, only just around the corner.
There’s so much in this story I don’t have words or time enough to explore. This story aches with the weight of a world tilted against the main character, not only in the world around him but in the very statue he is tasked with restoring. Moving beyond it, dealing with it as best he can, the magic of the statue draws out his history. As he restores the statue, we see how he has spent his life carving out what little space for himself he can. In this sense, his restoration of the statue is his biggest victory—he uses his marginalised life to carve himself into a larger history, that of great art in Europe.
This story is a long hymn of grief. Crowded around by unspeakable history, it is a small, beautiful space.
★ The Resurrectionists by Alec Austin
I loved this truly unique setting from Alec Austin: a war-torn western rife with fey magic. Mate, I am into this.
Marya is a half-fey necromancer, and Kade is her undead servant. They happen across a ghost town in the desert. But it’s not as deserted as it first seems.
There is so much incidental detail in this story! From resurrected corpses shipped to the front for soldiers to Kade’s necropotence engine that keeps him alive, there’s so much I hungered to know more about. I could read novel upon novel set in this world. Plus, I’m intrigued by Kade and Marya’s relationship. I want to know their history. I want to know their future, too, damn it. Basically, I just want more.
It Happened To Me: My Doppleganger Stole My Credit Card Info, and then My Life by Nino Cipri
The first of Nino Cipri’s It Happened To Me series at Fireside Fiction, this is the story of an imaginary friend and where she went when she stopped being around any more. I was cautious, at first, because I’m not the biggest fan of oppositional plots, especially with stolen identities, but I didn’t need to worry, as this story doesn’t go down the obvious path of conflict. Instead, the main character and her doppelganger have a sisterly relationship. I also loved the little touches of weird creeping in between the ordinary details—job, girlfriend, takeaway food—that made this fascinating.
It Happened To Me: I Melded My Consciousness With the Giant Alien Mushroom Floating Above Chicago by Nino Cipri
And this is the second in Nino Cipri’s It Happened To Me series, for which the title kind of says it all. One day, a giant alien mushroom appears in the sky over Chicago. Mostly unfazed, Chicagoans go about their lives. But some find their lives changed—subtly at first, but then indisputably. As with Cipri’s first story, this one doesn’t take the obvious position of giant mushroom consciousness equals bad, everyday human consciousness equals good, for which I love it. There is depth and feeling in these little shots of beautiful weirdness. Honestly, go read this series, or you’re missing out.
Dos and Don’ts by Paul DesCombaz
A short little horror piece, formatted as a list of dos and don’ts, which, while I’m not entirely sure of the purpose of the list format, is certainly note-perfect creepy.
★ Seasons of Glass and Iron by Amal El-Mohtar
Maybe one day I will read a story by Amal El-Mohtar that I don’t absolutely go to pieces over.
That day is not today.
A woman is walking until she has worn down seven pairs of iron shoes. A woman is sitting on a glass throne atop a glass hill, with a golden apple. These are old fairy tales, explicitly cruel, and El-Mohtar draws out that cruelty and makes it, and the way the women deal with it, her theme.
And it is utterly wonderful. In the end it is the queer love between them that emancipates them from the cruelties of men and a world set up to torture them. Go, read this—it is balm for your soul.
The Litany of Earth by Ruthanna Emrys
I read ‘The Litany of Earth’ right after I finished Emrys’ novel Winter Tide, the first in her Innsmouth Legacy series, because I’d discovered that this novelette was where Aphra Marsh’s story began. For me it was the piece I’d been missing: the beginning of Aphra’s story, her life after the camp in the Nevada desert that almost killed her and her brother, and did kill her family. ‘The Litany of Earth’ is the introduction to Emrys’ alternate America and her brilliant exposition on Lovecraft’s bones and for that alone I’d recommend it, but it’s also just good. Emrys depicts Aphra’s raw fear, her trauma, so movingly; the havoc even a mostly well-meaning outsider can wreak on a marginalised person’s life; how the reclamation of broken, misappropriated heritage, is a complex thing.
The White Fox and the Red by E.J. Swift
In ‘The White Fox and the Red’ a woman lives alone in the cold northern tundra. The encroachment of capitalist machinery and climate change has cost her her old life, along with her beloved dog team. Now she has only the bickering ghosts of a pair of foxes to keep her company.
The symbolism of the white fox, standing for the past, and the red, for the cruel, invasive present, is a clever one. And though there is no hope to be found in this story, the woman’s decision to use what little autonomy she has left to end on her own terms is thought-provoking. Grief is all through this stark little story. It is an elegy for what is lost, and what we are losing.
★ Fade to White by Catherynne M. Valente
Compared to my usual, this is an old story, published in August 2012. Set in an alternate America following nuclear war with Soviet Russia and flipping between the prose perspectives of a pair of teenagers, and advertising copy for various products written in perfect ’50s pastiche, ‘Fade to White’ is that gripping blend of horrifying and fascinating you want in your dystopian fiction. Because of the focus on controlled reproduction, I got strong Handmaid’s Tale vibes off this story. Also because of that, this might squick some people—but Fade to White focuses more on the social rituals around reproduction rather than on sex itself. The story constrasts the pre-war society (i.e. actual historical society) we know with the oppressive post-war one, and it’s the similarities rather than the differences that make it disturbing.