Is one of your reading goals for 2017 to read more short fiction, but you’re stymied as to where to start? The Monthly Round has just what you need! This recurring feature from the group blog nerds of a feather, flock together has been running since 2014, each month offering up a “tasting flight” of speculative short story/novella/novelette recommendations. Like the content they recommend, these tastes are short and sweet—and they take the theme seriously, giving real thought to the “notes” and “pairings” (with real-life drinks) of each.
The blog recently posted the first Monthly Round of 2017, with contributor Charles Payseur remarking that “January is a month that often feels washed out for me, full of bitter colds, short days, and long nights. So I wanted my tasting flight to be just the opposite, stories full of colors and flavors, hungers and fires. These are stories that carry with them the heavy weight of winter, yes, with grief and imprisonment and loss, but they are stories that react to the winter by pulling together. By sharing warmth. By starting fires.”
But there are also some “shots for good measure,” highlights of stories with supernatural protagonists who don’t quite fit in to the world around them. Here’s a sample, on the house:
“A Series of Steaks” by Vina Jie-Min Prasad (Clarkesworld)
Notes: Sly with a rich coppery color like diluted blood. Open and bright with only a slightly bitterness that quickly gives way to a sweet and warm finish that’s lingers and lifts.
Pairs with: Red Ale
Review: This story features a young woman named Helena struggling to escape the mistakes and injustices of her past by working to raise money with forged beef. Not technically illegal, it’s not exactly smiled upon either, but printing fake beef pays the bills. When someone finds out about what she’s running from, though, and blackmails her into taking an assignment that’s more than she should be able to handle, it’s up to her and her assistant, Lily, to set things right and maybe even get some payback. First, I love the premise of this story, the idea of forging beef. Helena is a wry young woman just wanting to save up so she can make an honest living, but things just aren’t working out that way. It’s like she’s living under a cloud of terrible luck, which only seems to get worse when she’s forced to take on a very difficult and large order. And I just love how she gets herself out from under that cloud, how Lily, who at first seems completely clueless, has much more depth than anyone assumes, and how together they start to take control of their destinies. The prose manages an engaging voice and lasting humor throughout. It’s a story about a con as weird as forging beef but it keeps the stakes very real. Because underneath the fake meat there is this lingering acknowledgement that Helena is vulnerable because she isn’t rich, because she’s a woman, because she doesn’t have connections. And yet each of these things becomes its own kind of strength, allowing Helena to fight back and get the last laugh in glorious fashion.
We’re kidding, it’s all free. Check out the rest of the Monthly Round for January!
Clarkesworld cover art by Gabriel Björk Stiernström