Welcome back to the Short Fiction Spotlight, a space for conversation about recent and not-so-recent short stories. We’ve covered some magazine issues and some collections recently, but that’s left out a lot of new publications—so, for the end of May, I thought a spring smorgasbord would be advisable. Round up various stories from a handful of different places and check ’em out, the usual.
And this time I thought we’d look at stories from a few magazines that we haven’t talked about before, as well as some regulars: “Good Girls” by Isabel Yap (Shimmer May ’15), “Monkey King, Faerie Queen” by Zen Cho (Kaleidotrope Spring ’15), “A Shot of Salt Water” by Lisa L. Hannett (The Dark May ’15), “In Libres” by Elizabeth Bear (Uncanny Issue #4), “Mrs. Griffin Prepares to Commit Suicide Tonight” by A Que, translated by John Chu (Clarkesworld May ’15), and “The Myth of Rain” by Seanan McGuire (Lightspeed May ’15).
“Good Girls” by Isabel Yap (available online June 2nd) is a story about a young woman who’s been sent to a “good girls” retreat due to her attempted suicide; while there, she meets a girl who is a manananggal—a monster from Filipino lore who eats fetuses and organs. The manananggal knows she can’t be a good girl, but she tries a bit for her new friend, for a little while. The friendship between girl and monster-girl is interesting, here, as is the underlying thread of narrative about the fragility of babies. The thing I liked best about this story is the sense of the world as primarily female—inhabited mostly by girls and women, where men are almost entirely absent except as support structures. It’s not over-stated or overdone; it’s just that this is the world both Kaye and Sara are living in, and it’s one without a lot of room for boys. It’s also an interestingly sympathetic take on a pretty disturbing monster.
“Monkey King, Faerie Queen” by Zen Cho is an amusing little interlude, a story of the Monkey King encountering the Fair Folk and rescuing a mortal woman and her baby from the faerie queen. It’s told in a rhetorically high-energy manner, colloquial more than poetic. It’s also not doing anything it doesn’t say in the title, but nonetheless, I found myself enjoying the idea of one-culture-meets-another fairytale construction. The end result is a bit like a mashup: two gods (or godlike figures) of myth coming together, and in the process the clever not-yet-Enlightened Monkey King gets up to mischief and is a hero simultaneously. Nothing surprising, but decently fun.
“A Shot of Salt Water” by Lisa L. Hannett is the most atmospheric of the bunch this time, though—appropriate to The Dark, in that it’s rather unnerving and bleak. The salt-rimed world of these people, the mermaids and their men, is hard and requires certain ugly truths be accepted; in this case, that a great number of the babies brought back from yearly voyages aren’t of the island’s own stock. Billy-Rid is an interesting man and character for that reason. It seems that he both can’t accept stranding a child on land that shouldn’t be and that he, on a more selfish level, also can’t deal with not having been the one to give his woman a child. I like that it isn’t just one or the other reason—there’s a complexity of motivation there that I doubt the man himself is really even fully aware of. Plus: good prose, good world, interesting emotional arc. (And the seahorse-man at the end is a neat image, too.)
Then there’s a fresh new Elizabeth Bear story in Uncanny Magazine‘s most recent issue, “In Libres” (available online June 2nd). It’s a magical library story that opens with a Borges quote, so—to be direct, if this is the sort of thing you like, you will like it. I liked it, because it manages to prod those soft spots I have for research in the stacks and the uncanny presence of university library collections just right. It’s not too mawkish, and it’s pleasantly silly and adventurous; it’s just enough to be engaging and lighthearted. And it certainly reads like a college-story, magical or not. It’s not the most serious offering of this issue of Uncanny, of course, but it is reasonably enjoyable—though it runs long for what it is.
“Mrs. Griffin Prepares to Commit Suicide Tonight” by A Que as translated by John Chu is another of Clarkesworld’s recent Chinese stories, and as a general note, I’m liking the outreach to include more work like this. It’s a fairly obvious piece—the domestic robot has the protagonist remember the people who loved her and have died, leading her up to the realization that it also loves her and hasn’t left her. The story is interestingly methodical, though, in its arrangement; each discarded suicide method is paired with a life-story, until the end, when she decides to simply have her dinner instead. I wonder about the robot’s sense of love, and I think the story could do more with that, but overall it was fine—not spectacularly original, but pleasantly readable.
Lastly, we have “The Myth of Rain” by Seanan McGuire, dealing with a Pyrrhic attempt to remove and save species from remaining livable territory in the Pacific Northwest post-serious-climate-change. The corporate interests and wealthy benefactors that ruined the world’s climate in the first place are now taking over some of the last good land, nature be damned. As is likely obvious, this is an idea-story of the traditional type—an indictment of our failures as a species and a look at what will likely happen because of them. It’s a little heavy-handed for my taste in the end, also in part because I’ve seen variants of this story a lot before, but I did like the actual central question of who conservation of this style is really for: the animals, or us?
So, six magazines and six pretty decent stories—and each of these issues also has several other unmentioned offerings, too. May was a strong month for original fiction in the press, I’d say.
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.