I’m going to take the more optimistic view of those available to me, and say that as I’m actually publishing this before the second half of September, it’s early for once!
(The less optimistic version is that I was actually so late getting my junk together last month that I’ve had to amalgamate July and August into one post, so with a month off I could hardly fail to get this in on time. But as bad things go for 2016 this barely twitches the needle. They just killed Bake Off, for chrissakes.)
To take the mind off worldly cares, here’s my monthly (cough) collection of micro-reviews for all the short fiction, new and old, I’ve read since the last one. 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 was one of my especial favourites.
- Cinder-Elver by Mary Alexandra Agner
- ★ Iron Aria by A. Merc Rustad
- Left Foot, Right by Nalo Hopkinson
- ★ The Night Bazaar for Women Becoming Reptiles by Rachael K. Jones
- A Heap of Broken Images by Sunny Moraine
- Porphyria: Dazzle Con Debut by Priya Sridhar
- The Things by Peter Watts
Cinder-Elver by Mary Alexandra Agner
At just 650 words, this story is a delightful little beast, full of vivid colour and action. It took me way too long to get that this story takes Cinderella’s tale as its jumping off point (I’m not very quick), depicting a fierce, wild girl with something more to do than attend balls.
In a world and a genre that loves its fairy tale adaptations perhaps a little too much, this quick shot is still exciting and interesting.
★ Iron Aria by A. Merc Rustad
A boy lives at the foot of a sick mountain, and the head of a valley where his mother and sister died; and he can speak with metal.
I loved this high fantasy story about a trans and neurodivergent boy carving out space for himself in a large and indifferent world. Rustad captures the nuances of a home that’s claustrophobic, that’s smothering, but that’s still and always will be where you’re from.
Beyond that, it’s a perfect adventure story. I could have stood to have read much more of this.
Left Foot, Right by Nalo Hopkinson
In Trinidad, a girl goes into a shop to buy some shoes. They’re the same shoes she bought last week. And the week before.
This is a story about the complicated emotion that is grief—how monstrous and strange a thing it can be.
Nalo Hopkinson is on form here—the tension here is finely balanced, the narrative unfolding steadily, slowly revealing. This felt to me—at least in audio—like a horror story. In a way, I suppose it is. But there’s life on the other side of the horror.
I apologise for being cryptic, but to give anything away would spoil the atmosphere of this story. It’s just good, okay? Okay.
★ The Night Bazaar for Women Becoming Reptiles by Rachael K. Jones
How can I sing the praises of this story? This is—I think—the first Rachael K. Jones story I’ve read. It’s the story of Hester, a woman living in an isolated desert city who illegally sells asp eggs at the forbidden Night Bazaar.
Oasis is a trap city—wanderers find their way there but then can never leave. The women of Oasis eat the eggs of snakes and lizards to become snakes and lizards, escaping Oasis and their human lives to slither away out into the desert.
But despite eating every new egg she can get her hands on, despite yearning for freedom, Hester has yet to transform.
The societal structure in this story is fascinating, and I could have stood to have read even more. A wider context, historical and social, is neatly sketched in the background.
This is a story about the way that society traps women of all kinds; and also about, I think, helping one another, intentionally or not.
A Heap of Broken Images by Sunny Moraine
This story was originally published in We See a Different Frontier, an anthology of postcolonial speculative fiction—but I read it as a reprint in Clarkesworld.
I can hardly begin to describe this multilayered story of a historical massacre perpetrated by humans upon an alien species.
Our protagonist Shairoven is a member of a sect dedicated to hospitality, and spends their days guiding human visitors around historic places full of the bones of their people. Through Shairoven’s eyes, we see their city as a backdrop to slaughter, full of the ghosts of atrocities that can’t be forgotten.
How to live amongst these ghosts, how to think of them, and how to treat the descendents of their murderers, is the meat of this story.
Porphyria: Dazzle Con Debut by Priya Sridhar
Very much the lightest story I read these past two months, Porphyria: Dazzle Con Debut is the first I’ve heard of Priya Sridhar. I enjoyed this sweet, simple little story about nerds who are also superheroes (who are also totally into each other). Cute as hell, but I was kind of waiting for something more all the way through.
The Things by Peter Watts
I read this story in conjunction with last month’s Sam J. Miller story, Things With Beards. Watts’ The Things was published in 2010 and nominated for a host of awards that and the following year. I like to think of The Things as brilliant The Thing fanfiction—a transformative work flipping the lens on the film from the human perspective to that of the alien creature itself.
The Things is a deep, involving story of humanity’s alienation from itself and thus its fear and brutality. The narrator is the most unreliable, of course—it’s a freaking man-eating impostor alien, but it’s also our main character, but also…
I have to confess ambivalence about this story, and also give a content warning. Towards the very end there are two mentions of rape as metaphor. I don’t know how to feel about this. On the one hand, it’s a gut punch to remind the reader that this alien is really alien, not the good guy of the story, just in case we’d got sympathetic along the way. On the other, it’s a gut punch because it’s a damn rape metaphor.
The Things isn’t going to be for everyone. Nevertheless, it’s a quality story, and one that’s lingered in my brain since reading.