This week, I want to talk about a handful of shorter fiction. It’s utterly impossible to keep up with all the short fiction in the SFF field—even less possible than keeping up with all of the novels—but I’ve come across a couple that deserve a wider readership…
“Beauty, Glory, Thrift,” by Alison Tam is an accomplished science fiction story. It’s a meditation on human connection, on memory, on loss, and on choice, told through the ideas of an insubstantial being called Thrift, who believes that she—and her sisters—are goddesses. Not very powerful goddesses, but goddesses, still. When a thief enters their sanctuary, Thrift wants to get away from her sisters. She persuades the thief to take her away—but the thief thinks that Thrift is a piece of software, and wants rid of her. Thrift, only able to experience the world through the thief’s senses, lonely for everything, doesn’t want that.
“Beauty, Glory, Thrift,” is the story of their relationship, and the story of how Thrift discovers what she really is—and the choices she, and her sisters, make thereafter. It’s compelling and deeply effecting, and very well done: I recommend it entirely.
While I’m recommending short things, I’m also going to commend to your attention three short stories by Foz Meadows in The Fantasist. They’re all queer in various ways, and concerned with issues of genderqueerness, gender fluidity, fitting (or not) into one’s body. Well, I really want to commend to you the first and last stories, for I feel that the middle one did not quite live up to its potential (even though it’s still fun).
The first, “Letters Sweet as Honey,” is told as an exchange of letters and newspaper articles. It’s a political story about exclusion, and a love story between a young woman whose consciousness resides in a swarm of bees, and an etiquette writer for a newspaper. It is sweet and touching and just a little bit pointed, and reminds me of fairy-tales in the best possible way.
The third story, “The Song of Savi,” is a story about gender and history, translation and interpretation, language and scholarship: it’s about a young woman at a university who’s one of only two specialists in an ancient language. She’s translating a recently-discovered manuscript of one of her country’s foundational history-myths, the only one known in its original language—and in the process she discovers that there’s more to the myth’s central figure than she ever thought. She has to decide, then, what her academic and personal integrity demands of her. I found it immensely satisfying—I’m a bit of a sucker for stories involving academics and research, after all.
Elizabeth Bear’s “The Heart’s Filthy Lesson” is another truly excellent story, originally published in the anthology Old Venus, and now available online at Lightspeed. Set on a habitable Venus, “The Heart’s Filthy Lesson” follows Dharthi, an academic in search of professional (and personal) vindication, through the dangerous Venusian rainforest. She’s looking for the remains of aboriginal Venusian civilisation—and trying to reconcile her feelings towards her lover and colleague Kraken. Dharthi has a serious case of professional jealousy and resentment going on, all issues stemming from her own ambition and insecurities. Will she survive? Will she overcome?
A vivid and entertaining story with heart and depth, “The Heart’s Filthy Lesson” also involves predatory Venusian swamp-tigers and truly gorgeous prose.
What have you guys been reading lately?
Top image: Cover of “Beauty, Glory, Thrift”; illustration by Melanie Cook.
Liz Bourke is a cranky queer person who reads books. She holds a Ph.D in Classics from Trinity College, Dublin. Her first book, Sleeping With Monsters, a collection of reviews and criticism, is available now from Aqueduct Press. Find her at her blog, where she’s been known to talk about even more books thanks to her Patreon supporters. Or find her at her Twitter. She supports the work of the Irish Refugee Council and the Abortion Rights Campaign.