I’ve read more short fiction in the last week than I normally read in three months. That works out at three stories: I really don’t read a lot of short fiction. But these three came to me via the recommendations of friends, and they’re all deeply satisfying—albeit in very different ways.
Arkady Martine’s “When The Fall Is All That’s Left” (Apex, 6th October 2015) is a brief and poignant tragedy about a ship and her captain. It made me cry—in a cathartic fashion, but crying is rare for me, especially at short stories. The prose is precise and glittering, just right to carry the weight of emotion it bears:
When Iris smiled, Gabriele could see how blood had begun to seep from her gum line. Her entire mouth must taste of salt and iron. Iris swallowed rather than spit; globules of blood and saliva would only contaminate the pilot’s den, and Iris was space-born: Gabriele knew she knew better. “Well then,” Iris said. “Here’s to being free women for the rest of our lives.”
Gabriele spun enough light to render a visible image of herself: a transparent version of her body as Iris would remember it, tall and red-haired and narrow through the ribs and at the wrists. She appeared sitting, cross-legged on the console next to the manual controls only solid hands could operate, the star field gleaming through her. She raised a can of beer in Iris’s direction, a sloppy toast in a physical language she only half-recalled. “Here’s to the next twenty minutes, Captain.”
It is brilliant, and you should all read it right now.
Rose Lemberg’s “Geometries of Belonging” (Beneath Ceaseless Skies, 1st October 2015) is a prickly, complex sort of story. Its main character, Parét, is a healer of minds, a person with very low self-esteem of their own, who is also in a committed relationship with an important politician. Parét and their lover live a long way from the Coast, where all kinds of gender and relationship configurations are normal. Mainland mores are far more restrictive, and Parét ends up in a complicated pickle when the family of one of their lover’s political rivals wants them to “cure” a child—an autistic child—of the family into being a proper granddaughter, rather than the person they really are. The prose is blunt and powerful, the narrative compelling, and the worldbuilding both deep and lightly-sketched, lending an impression of a full world while only touching on what is immediately important.
“They hated me. I thought I was broken.” I often still think so, but this I do not say. It is a word, a word that says nothing. We’re all broken, all of us who’ve ever lived a life. Even Brentann, a man with money, station, power, ease, whose desires align with what is proper in Katra; yes, even Brentann. We’re all in need of healing. Me, my lord, the wounded soldiers who came to me begging. Brentann. Dedéi. My wife’s killer. The children. We all are vessels of our brokenness, we carry it inside us like water, careful not to spill. And what is wholeness if not brokenness encompassed in acceptance, the warmth of its power a shield against those who would hurt us?
It is a very enjoyable read, and I thoroughly recommend it.
Also thoroughly enjoyable, if perhaps only to academics, is Julia August’s “Soteriology and Stephen Greenwood,” from the Journal of Unlikely Academia at Unlikely Story, which presents a set of correspondence surrounding a page of the Codex Lucis, preserving a medieval prophecy about the end of the world.
FROM: Stephen Greenwood <[email protected]> 24/08/2014 5:18
TO: Cara Falco <[email protected]>
I do hope that Roman museum heist the other week wasn’t anything to do with you. Haha, just my little joke! Seriously, on a different topic, we did discuss this before, but you never quite got around to giving me a definite answer. I really do need to see that page again. I would really like to have it on a permanent basis. Would you conceivably consider selling it? All this foreign travel of yours must be quite expensive.
Please get back to me soon!
All the best,
Hilarious and entertaining. Well-recommended.
Liz Bourke feels terrible that this week’s column is so short. She would like to plead the press of other, more tediously pressing responsibilities. Her blog. Her Twitter.