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Haralambi Markov

Fiction and Excerpts [1]
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Fiction and Excerpts [1]

Innumerable Voices: The Short Fiction of Yukimi Ogawa

Innumerable Voices is a monthly column profiling short fiction writers and exploring speculative fiction themes in their many permutations. The column will discuss stellar genre work from both fresh and established writers who don’t have short fiction collections or novel-length works, but who actively contribute to anthologies and magazines. Links to magazines and anthologies for each story are available as footnotes. Chances are I’ll discuss the stories at length and mild spoilers will be revealed.

Since this week began with All Hallows’ Eve—the night on which ghouls and spirits pierce the veil to enter our realm—I cast my thoughts towards Yukimi Ogawa’s body of work, which grounds itself in Japanese folklore and engages the preternatural as a concept in an altogether different manner. Western stories about spirits, beasts, and guardians of forests and rivers—the ones I’d grown up reading and watching at the very least—are stories of segregation. The otherworldly has been driven off to its own realm, allowed to return only at specific times, as if there had been a decisive battle that we’d won long ago. Any subsequent visitation of the preternatural into our world is seen as violent and predatory, as impotent vengeance. A single-entity insurgence.

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Fairy Tales Gorgeously Reimagined: The Starlit Wood

In her exceptional study on fairy tales, From the Beast to the Blonde, Marina Warner, in a single sentence, sums up the true worth of fairy tales: “for they are stories with staying power, as their antiquity shows, because the meanings they generate are themselves magical shape-shifters, dancing to the needs of their audience.”

With this succinct and elegant explanation as to why fairy tales entice our continued fascination, I’ve found my entry into The Starlit Wood—an ambitious anthology collecting eighteen fairy tale retellings drawn from various traditions.

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Innumerable Voices: The Short Fiction of Charlotte Ashley

Innumerable Voices is a monthly column profiling short fiction writers and exploring speculative fiction themes in their many permutations. The column will discuss stellar genre work from both fresh and established writers who don’t have short fiction collections or novel-length works, but who actively contribute to anthologies and magazines.Links to magazines and anthologies for each story are available as footnotes. Chances are I’ll discuss the stories at length and mild spoilers will be revealed.

Historically, literature has been the truest playground where any vision can burn brightly in the mind of readers, no matter how complex, fantastical in its nature, and grand of scale. And yet motion pictures and theatre are better suited to capture the velocity of close combat as well as the kinetic energy and dynamic choreography intrinsic to dueling. It’s not impossible for fiction to match these achievements—but in the hands of a lesser writer, duels (or any form of physical altercation) can drone on, hollow and tedious to read, detracting rather than contributing to overall enjoyment. Charlotte Ashley is among the few writers I’ve read who tells a compelling story through her characters’ physicality; quick, precise, and elegant. For Ashley, duels, clashes and physical survival in various manifestations are the heart of the story, which inform the inner lives of her characters and their worlds.

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Innumerable Voices: The Short Fiction of A. Merc Rustad

Innumerable Voices is a monthly column profiling short fiction writers and exploring speculative fiction themes in their many permutations. The column will discuss stellar genre work from both fresh and established writers who don’t have short fiction collections or novel-length works, but who actively contribute to anthologies and magazines.Links to magazines and anthologies for each story are available as footnotes. Chances are I’ll discuss the stories at length and mild spoilers will be revealed.

In reading A. Merc Rustad’s catalog in preparation for writing this profile, I found myself reflecting on how I came to read speculative fiction and which characteristics fostered a full and unconditional adoration of the genre—one that has only found strength in subsequent years. Few other authors have proffered the exact conditions to revisit my initial, sublime surrender to SFF’s immeasurable potential and richness in possibility, which should already inform you about the powerful effect Rustad’s writing exerts.

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At the Edge: Short Fiction from Australia and New Zealand

At the Edge, edited by Dan Rabarts and Lee Murray and released by Paper Road Press, has a specific, two-pronged task at hand: to give the spotlight to writers from New Zealand and Australia and to thrill readers with stories of dark science fiction and horror. The anthology takes its titular concept and runs with it to “the edge of civilisation, the fringe of reason and the border of reality”, according to the anthology’s official Kickstarter page.

I’ve had this anthology on my radar, since I’m not as familiar with the SF/F and speculative writing scenes in Australia and New Zealand as I’d like to be. Having finished At the Edge, I find myself unsure as to how to formulate my thoughts. The intent here is clearly to give readers a crazy, wild ride through the local literary ecosystem. What happens along the way is that the theme stretches greatly to accommodate stories that either don’t tonally fit with what you’d expect from the description (like Octavia Cade’s “Responsibility”) or flirt with the speculative while remaining coy (Shell Child’s “Narco”). At the same time, Cade’s light story, which revolves around a chicken, made for one of the most memorable moments in At the Edge.

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Innumerable Voices: The Short Fiction of JY Yang

Innumerable Voices is a monthly column profiling short fiction writers and exploring speculative fiction themes in their many permutations. The column will discuss stellar genre work from both fresh and established writers who don’t have short fiction collections or novel-length works, but who actively contribute to anthologies and magazines.Links to magazines and anthologies for each story are available as footnotes. Chances are I’ll discuss the stories at length and mild spoilers will be revealed.

If there’s one thing to unite all sister genres of the speculative—each vast and unknowable in the entirety of its domain—it’s the human body. Flesh and blood, bone and muscle. The simplest of ingredients, containing all the power to decipher the world and an undying preoccupation with storytellers. In growing up and growing old, we learn that our bodies are mutable things, if only by the smallest of degrees. We fear the day we fail to recognize our bodies; exert careful control over appearance and performance; dread the possibility our bodies might betray us, as they often do in small or large ways. For all we’ve achieved, bodies remain the final frontier.

JY Yang recognizes the potential in the human body as a vessel for storytelling and with a background in genetics, biochemistry, and molecular biology, sets forth to seek her own truths.

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Clockwork Canada: Exploring the Ticking Heart of the North

I first discovered steampunk as an aesthetic, a creative outlet for artists and cosplayers to go and redraw the lines of history: open the skies to adventure on steamships and blimps. Make the world over in polished copper, gold, and bronze. Fill the silence with ticking mechanisms and turning cogs. Since then I’ve been immersing myself in steampunk’s fiction extension and having recently read Nora Jemisin’s “The Effluent Engine”, Shveta Thakrar’s “Not the Moon, but the Stars”, and Aliette de Bodard’s “Prayers of Forges and Furnaces”, what strikes me is that all the tales go for the societal jugular. They’re far more concerned with the bones and flesh of society in relation to steam technology than the technology in itself.

Steam technology doesn’t only lead to upstanding, impeccably-dressed gentlemen and ladies, switching one romantic set for another and undertaking good-spirited hijinks. It weaves itself into the fabric of daily lives, changes the tides of history, and serves as fuel for great acts of defiance. This is not news for those intimately acquainted with the scene—but for me, steampunk remains a great process of discovery and I’m happy to say Clockwork Canada, a new anthology edited by Dominik Parisien, continues my education in the great potential steampunk has to address and educate.

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Potent, Flexible Language: The Assimilated Cuban’s Guide to Quantum Santeria

The Assimilated Cuban’s Guide to Quantum Santeria comes out of nowhere, blindsides you with its witty play on language, and steers you into a realm of delightful science fiction which blurs present and future with fingers steady on the pulse of modern culture as it is now. Carlos Hernandez, in this one collection, has managed to convince me he belongs in my heart as a favorite. He has shown me how to boldly contort structure in short fiction without taking any hostages and in the instances he succeeds, the payoff is significant and rewarding, leaving the reader a beast contented after a feast.

Hernandez performs the ultimate vanishing act with his endings, which force you to reexamine both the story you just read and your own expectations, but what really stands out is his writing: a potent, flexible force, which can easily strike an emotional chord, as we read in “Homeostasis”—

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Innumerable Voices: The Short Fiction of Shveta Thakrar

Innumerable Voices is a monthly column profiling short fiction writers and exploring speculative fiction themes in their many permutations. The column will discuss stellar genre work from both fresh and established writers who don’t have short fiction collections or novel-length works, but who actively contribute to anthologies and magazines.

Short fiction is where experimentation and innovation happens in genre, and it’s served as a stepping stone for many a beloved writer’s career. At the same time, it’s easy for good work and strong viewpoints to fall through the cracks and not receive the recognition they deserve. This column will signal boost these voices and guide you through the rabbit hole to discover some new favorite writers…

As this serves as the introduction to the Innumerable Voices column, I’ll hover a bit in the beginning to lay down the rules by which I’m playing. Short fiction writers without collected works are often a one-piece experience in the context of a magazine or anthology where their story/novelette/novella converses with the rest. It’s not enough of a foundation to formulate a distinct opinion about a writer and their fiction. This column will provide an overview of an author’s existing body of work as if it’s published as a collection, to give you a better understanding of each month’s featured author. Links to magazines and anthologies for each story are available as footnotes. Chances are I’ll discuss the stories at length, and mild spoilers will be revealed.

[As a child, I experienced a special communion whenever I sat to watch short animations based on the Grimm’s Fairy Tales or read One Thousand and One Nights.]

Repulsion and Revelation: The Humanity of Monsters

Monsters are everywhere. We’ve populated cultures with them, sharp-toothed, taloned, primal and all-terrifying. Hunger given mouths. Fear given nature. We invent them now, still. Sew the scales and fur in skin not unlike ours and surrender ourselves when they catch us exhilarated and aghast. We collect monsters our entire lives. Some we keep; others set loose. We readily identify the monstrous in each other and deny others their humanity when we see fit. Distance is the only contingency to convince ourselves we’re anything else but monstrous.

Michael Matheson sets out to examine not only the human in monstrous nature and monstrous in human nature along with their multitude intersections, but also interrogate and challenge the definitions of both as permutable societal constructs in The Humanity of Monsters. He describes the anthology’s focus as being about “the liminality of state”, which captures the ambiguous spirit exhibited in the collected stories. The monstrous reaches towards the human and vice versa in a beautiful half-transmutation.

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