***** Jackalope Wives by Ursula Vernon
A ‘selkie story’ set in the southwest. This story manages to do something rare: it takes a familiar folktale/myth, gives us a truly authentic-feeling rendition, and adds something truly new (and significant), and something unexpected. Beautiful, and sad.
**** Going Endo by Rich Larson
Challenging, but ultimately heartwarming story. Future space battles are being fought by humans who interface with aliens in an extremely intimate way. Many see the alien beings simply as interchangeable tools, but one tech has been developing special feelings for one unique individual.
*** Candy Girl by Chikodili Emelumadu
Weird piece that rides the line between funny and disturbing. While visiting Nigeria for her traditional wedding ceremony, a young woman is struck by a strange ailment. Can her best friend find her the help she needs? Folk beliefs and modernity are nicely meshed here, and there’s a well-done commentary on jealousy and possessiveness – but it wasn’t really my ‘thing.’
*** If You Were a Dinosaur, My Love by Rachel Swirsky
Previously read: “A poetic, short piece utilizing a thought-association format to gradually reveal a tragic scenario.
This was a Hugo-nominated piece (we read several short nominees in my book club this month), and it’s not the only one that I felt really didn’t belong under the speculative fiction umbrella. The only ‘speculative’ elements here are purely metaphorical.
I have to admit, upon beginning the story, I wasn’t really a big fan of the style. As it progressed, my opinion of it as a piece of writing rose, however.
It’s about grief, and crime, and the fallout that strikes victims of violence and those around them.”
**** Advertising at the End of the World by Keffy R.M. Kehrli
Bit of a Ray Bradbury feel to this one, I thought, in its melancholy oddness. Alone in a cabin after the apocalypse, a woman is plagued by advertising robots that zombie-like, imitate ones’ loved ones and insist on playing and replaying their outdated spiels.
*** The Performance Artist by Lettie Prell
Artist uses a new technology alleged to ‘download’ consciousness into a machine as part of a MoMA exhibition dealing with the intersection of flesh and technology. Is the performance brilliant and insightful art – or an exhibitionist suicide?
*** A Matter of Shapespace by Brian Trent
Anti-corporate-monopoly screed. A bit too heavy-handed with the allegory for me. However, the main idea is interesting: in the future, consciousness is cloud-based, and all physical matter is malleable and programmable. Obvious corollaries to this: who owns the ‘rights’ to your molecules, and what happens when the system glitches or is hacked? And of course, there’re power struggles…
*** Falling Leaves by Liz Argall
The post-apocalyptic setting here is almost an afterthought: the focus is on the fraught and complex friendship between two high school girls. One is a recently-arrived refugee, the other from a ‘landed’ family, but both are outsiders and dealing with their own emotional issues. The dynamics here ring very true.
**** Blood from Stone by Alethea Kontis
A retelling of (or, more accurately, a prequel to) the dark and bloody fairy tale, “Fitcher’s Bird.”
A young maidservant is secretly enamoured of her master – who spends all his time in sorcerous experiments. She’s ready & willing to do anything for him – and how far that ‘anything’ goes is more than a bit shocking.
*** Sexagesimal by Katharine E.K. Duckett
“Time is money” – quite literally, in this peculiar and sad vision of the afterlife. The dead live banal and ordinary lives of increasing solitude, as they trade away their memories for commodities. Two individuals are unusual in their cleaving to one another – but what are the reasons behind their attachment?
*** Multo by Samuel Marzioli
Nice horror/ghost story setup – but one of those inconclusive endings that are so popular these days. When a man receives an unexpected message from his childhood neighbor, stories – and events – he’d long forgotten are brought back to mind. He’d dismissed his youthful fears as imaginative fancies – but now the darkness comes rushing back.
Both the Filipino identity of the characters and the psychology of childhood are done very, very well.
*** Keep Talking by Marie Vibbert
On the one hand, I liked this piece’s message about different types of communication, and how different modes of thought can complement each other. On the other hand, I do think it fell into the trap of romanticizing mental illness.
A professional translator, a dance instructor and a young autistic woman, already in the midst of some family drama, all react differently to Earth’s first transmission from intelligent aliens.
*** Remembery Day by Sarah Pinsker
After a massively devastating war, a mechanism has been put in place so that traumatized veterans only remember their terrible experiences once a year, on a day set aside for a grand Memorial Day/Veterans’ Day ceremony. The corollaries of such a decision are nicely explored here, from the perspective of one veteran’s young daughter.
*** Blood on Beacon Hill by Russell Nichols
Weirdly tongue-in-cheek vampire tale. In a True-Blood-esque setting, one vampire, his fangs palatably filed down) is running for public office. However his wife wants to stop suppressing her true (unsavory) vampire nature, and their son, eternally stuck in the body of a 15-year-old, is entrapped, accused of the statutory rape of a human girl. Uses the reader’s assumptions about prejudice and racism in an interesting way, but I didn’t love it.
*** The Green Book by Amal El-Mohtar
By coincidence, I read this shortly after finishing Trudi Canavan’s ‘Thief’s Magic.’ Both stories feature a woman who has been turned into a book by magic, and who can communicate with the ‘reader’ of the book by forming words on the page. Both feature a ‘reader’ who “falls in love” with the book/woman and involves the desire to restore her to a human body. This iteration of the theme is much more “literary” in form, but both touch upon many of the same issues.
**** L’esprit de L’escalier by Peter M. Ball
Grief, on the ‘Endless Stairwell.’ This story works very well both at face value – and as a metaphor for the ‘downward spiral’ of depression that the death of an intimate can throw one into.
**** Still Life (A Sexagesimal Fairy Tale) by Ian Tregillis
Previously read in Strahan’s ‘Best SF&F of the Year, Vol 5’. Then, I said: ““Still Life (A Sexagesimal Fairy Tale)” by Ian Tregillis. In a land without time, a clockmaker messes with things in order to try to win the man she loves. Some nice ideas and imagery, but I was completely unconvinced that the character, as she was portrayed, would sacrifice herself for this guy.” However, I liked it enough that I wanted to re-read it, and this time found myself enjoying the atmosphere and concepts enough to make up for the pointless self-sacrifice.
***** Build a Dolly by Ken Liu
Oh god, that was horrifying and sad. If you harbor any suspicion that self-aware toys for small children might be a good use of technology, just throw that idea out the window right now.
This one shoots right up to the top of the creepy-doll-story subgenre.
*** Armless Maidens of the American West by Genevieve Valentine
Some years back, the wonderful Terri Windling did a themed anthology using the fairytale trope of the ‘armless maiden’ as a metaphor for child abuse. (https://www.goodreads.com/review/show…). This story seems like it could’ve been custom-written for that anthology. I liked that anthology very much – but thought, at times, that it was a bit too much, or too obvious with the messages and the metaphors. I felt the same way about this one.
**** Pocosin by Ursula Vernon
Previously read. ” A dying ‘possum god asks sanctuary at the cottage of a swamp witch. Reluctantly, the witch must speak to both god and the devil on the ancient deity’s behalf.
Vernon wonderfully captures the feeling of an authentic folktale here. it’s also a bit reminiscent of ‘Anansi Boys’ or ‘American Gods’ Neil Gaiman. ”
**** She Gave Her Heart, He Took Her Marrow by Sam Fleming
After a devastating, zombie-ish plague, a young, mentally ill woman seems to be the sole survivor in an affected zone. Abandoned by her lover, she survives by trading with a walled community. She’s alone, except for her dog – and a being who might be an alien… or a fae… or an imaginary companion… or something else altogether. One woman seems to want to rescue her from her solitary fate… but nothing might be exactly as it seems. Really well-done. And creepy.
Many thanks to Apex Books for the opportunity to read this collection. Not a dud in it!