I am so far behind in my Last Short Story reading. Of course, my fellow LSSites knew this was going to happen and warned me accordingly. But still, I secretly believed that they were all just a pile of whingers and that I’d have no problems keeping up with the online mags and the Big Three. In fact, I’d be so up to date that I’d be able to chuck in the odd anthology as well. All I can say is that (a) I will never, ever contradict the wise words of my LSS buddies again – coz they know their shit – and (b) I admire the work of Lois Tilton, Rich Horton and Gardner Dozois who seem to be able to read and review most short fiction published throughout the year.
So what did I think? Well I’m glad you asked…
… I had no idea that Ann Leckie’s GigaNotoSaurus site existed until I came across the site while reading Lois Tilton’s Locus short fiction reviews for early January. She’d thought highly of Jeremiah Tolbert’s Work, With Occassional Molemen and I have to say that the title – aside from reminding me of Jonathan Lethem’s brilliant Gun, With Occasional Music – mentions Molemen so it had to be worth reading.
Tolbert’s wonderful story uses the trappings of 50’s B-movie cliches – mole men, Venusians and Martians – but does it without ever taking the piss. That doesn’t mean the story is all po-faced and serious – in fact there were moments that were laugh out loud funny – it’s just that Tolbert takes his world seriously. And he uses these 50’s icons to tell a story about a young man, Mel, whose looking to somehow break away from the clutches of his mafia-like family run by the intimidating figure of The Old Man. Compared to the rest of his family, Mel is quite smart, and when a group of Mole Men break into his basement, eating his food and beer, Mel find himself with a genuine chance of finding freedom.
I making a point of not spoiling this original and sad and funny and oh so clever story. Do yourself a favour and read it.
Clarkesworld is slowly proving to be my favourite online venue. February’s issue sees the publication of Rachel Swirsky’s wonderful short piece, Diving After The Moon. This fable-like story, which mixes together science fiction with magic realism, is about Norbu who becomes a taikonaut so he can travel to the moon. However, once arriving things go wrong and contact is lost with Norbu and the other taikonauts. Norbu’s mother, Jamyang, who refuses to believe her son has died on the moon looks to the magic of her own culture and myths to save her son.
Some people will be annoyed by this strange mixture of hard SF and mysticism (especially when you discover how Jamyang intends to save her son), but for me it worked. For one, the mother and son relationship at the heart of this story carries you through the narrative, making you wish that the impossible was possible. But more then that, Swirsky’s wonderful writing – both fable-like (when dealing with Jamyang) and matter of fact (when dealing with Norbu) – ensures that the story doesn’t wobble or fall when the monkeys appear.
I was less impressed with Three Oranges by D. Elizabeth Warden. But I think this has more to do with me then the author’s ability to tell a story. Set during Stalin’s regime a NKVD agent is ordered to convince Prokofiev to return to Russia.
Mixed in with this is the fairytale of the Three Oranges. Now, I had no knowledge before reading the story about the original folktake or Prokofiev’s opera based on the folktale. And Warden’s piece doesn’t make it any easier for ignorant readers like me. It assumes you’re clued in. As a result, the piece went completely over my head.
Again, I take some of the blame here. And if anything the story did motivate to me to go an read the original fable.
Finally, we have Lightspeed, which this month publishes two stories – one by Cat Rambo and the second by my new favourite writer Ken Liu. As Gardner Dozois would say, Cat Rambo’s piece, Long Enough and Just So Long, is probably not an award candidate. That doesn’t mean it isn’t a strong piece. Rambo tells the story of Kayne and Pippi who live on Luna and who meet a retired sexbot. It’s an interesting peice, dealing with disability and sexual politics, with a soupcon of Heinlien to boot.
Ken Lui’s short piece, Simulacrum, is another great piece from this fantastic writer (where have you been in my life Ken!). Paul Larimore has become exceedingly rich inventing a new technology that’s basically a portable holodeck allowing the user to create life-like images of real people that the user can interact with – within limits. When Paul’s daughter, Anna, walks in on her father having sex with a group of female simulacra, a rift between the two is created that’s never really healed.
Like Rachel Swirsky’s story, Simulacra is about a parent / child relationship. But unlike Swirksy’s piece, this one deals with the betrayal and pain that can be caused through mis-communication and an inability for a child to forgive their parent. The beauty of the story is how Ken never asks us to pick sides, rather he uses Paul and Anna’s own words to explain why they feel what they do. And this adds a level of complexity that makes the story feel all that more real. Another powerful piece by Ken Liu.