Welcome back to the Short Fiction Spotlight, a space for conversation about recent and not-so-recent short stories. With our fresh new format, we’ll be discussing a larger handful of stories this week. Since it’s been a while since our last look at then, this time around I thought a good focus would be recent work at Daily Science Fiction—five days’ worth of pieces from various authors whose work I hadn’t seen before.
Those stories are: “Everything’s Unlikely” by James Van Pelt, “The Vortex” by Aniket Sanyal, “A Domestic Lepidopterist” by Natalia Theodoridou, “Best Served” by L.C. Hu, and “Tall Tales about Today My Great-great-granddaughter Will Tell” by Sean Williams. All five are relatively short, either flash fiction or hovering close to it, as is much of what DSF publishes—their daily schedule necessitates a lot of content, after all, most of it at brief lengths. These pieces ran from March 9th to the 13th.
“Everything’s Unlikely” by James Van Pelt is a cute-approaching-twee little riff on the odds of falling in love. The protagonist ends up with the girl of his dreams because he hits all the green lights on a stretch of road after she hit all the red, so they end up in the right place at the right time. While I don’t actually say this often, I think this piece would have benefited from being shorter still; as it is, it almost belabors what could have been a nice light confluence between the odds of his job as a telemarketer, the odds of a coin flip, and the odds of falling for the right person. A little more of a deft touch would have made for a stronger affective moment at the close, but it still does okay.
Which puts it rather at odds with the next story, “The Vortex” by Aniket Sanyal. This one is a more prose-poem sort of piece, opaque about its purpose and the central referents (“you” and “the vortex”). The titular vortex seems to be an item or collapse in the mind of the protagonist/“you,” who goes on through the day without knowing (and then eventually knowing) it will take her life. There are also the trappings of SF in that the world of the story seems to be space-faring, but those are primarily just trappings—the piece itself is about the deadly relation between the vortex and the “cortex” of the person in question. Except we don’t quite get a clear or cohesive sense of the point of all that and why it should matter to us. This one needs a little more information, or a little more clarity at least, to be effective.
“A Domestic Lepidopterist” by Natalia Theodoridou is one of the better of the week’s stories at DSF—using the flash format most effectively to give a brief but effective punch of an idea. At the beginning the lepidopterist takes a moth from a woman’s heart that has made her forget the vision of her son; in this world, insects can damage the self they infest. The piece then leaves us with the knowledge that the lepidopterist herself seems to be missing something, perhaps a child too, and her house is covered in dead insect wings. It’s got a strange resonance of loss and forgetting, one that I thinks works well in the small space it occupies with its interesting concept of insect infestations that can steal away memories/knowledge. The implication that the city’s growing full of abandoned children who can’t be remembered by their parents is a pretty dark one, too, once you realize it.
“Best Served” by L.C. Hu packs more traditional plot into its space: a woman is cooking mermaid steaks for the bookie her brother owes money to, except the soul of the mermaid in the steak lets her know her brother’s been killed already. She feeds the steaks to the bookie anyway, and he dies. As you might judge from the (too obvious) title, it’s a little ditty about revenge and just-desserts: the guy’s evil and so he gets what’s coming to him. Unfortunately, we don’t much of a sense of depth from the protagonist either—the players seem to be chess pieces that someone’s hand is moving rather than organic creatures themselves. I’d have appreciated a little more sense of suspense or development for the protagonist, at least.
The story from Monday the 9th, “Tall Tales about Today My Great-great-granddaughter Will Tell” by Sean Williams, is an all right offering—though also, perhaps, too brief and a little obvious in its execution. It’s a reflection from the great-great-grandaughter in question about the world we live in today, with global warming and pollution and the dying off of vast swaths of life in the aftermath. Ultimately, that just makes it a fairly direct commentary on the problems with Western capitalism at this moment—the only issue being that they’re all fairly obvious and agreeable points. Pollution is bad, global warming is exceptionally bad, etc. The great-great-granddaughter hints that the world has grown much better thanks to their machines, but that’s where the piece ends, so we don’t get much of a sense of contrast or even solution to the current problems. That might have made this piece more unique.
As per my usual response to Daily Science Fiction, I thought these snippets were fine though not spectacular or necessarily fresh. These five mid-March stories are par for the course: not bad but not particularly good, just all right. These are better thought of as brief distraction stories that will fill a few spare moments; they’re not so much in-depth or provocative work. It’s still an interesting source of flash fiction, but I wish more of the stories were doing sharper stuff with the medium.
Lee Mandelo is a writer, critic, and editor whose primary fields of interest are speculative fiction and queer literature, especially when the two coincide. She can be found on Twitter or her website.