Short Bread – December 2014

I’ve decided to do a regular roundup of short stories I’ve read and loved recently. They may not be fresh out the oven; they may not be gluten-free–but they will definitely have left me with something, an earthy taste, an indelible warmth or grain or moment.

This will also give me something to look back on for Nebula noms and end-of-year roundups in the future.

She Dances on Knives by Keffy R.M. Kehrli in Three-Lobed Burning Eye #26.

A gorgeous story told in an interwoven diptych–a small mermaid in the pitch-black of the ocean bottom, a bruised suburban relationship on land. The mermaid bits were swirling and inky, the small-town relationship striking in its realism. How is it that we drift so far from our lovers that we forget not just why we’ve loved, but also what excuses we’ve used to stop loving?

The Man Who Bridged the Mist (pdf link) by Kij Johnson, originally in Asimov’s Oct-Nov 2011

I’m near the end of Kij Johnson’s collection, At the Mouth of the River of Bees, and, by and large, it’s lived up to expectations so far. It gave me an excuse to re-read the exquisite and cringeworthy Spar, which is a massive personal favourite, and usually the first story I recommend to non-SFF readers when they show an interest in SFF short fiction. But this isn’t about ‘Spar’, it’s about my first read of ‘The Man Who Bridged the Mist’–Johnson’s Hugo and Nebula award-winning novella. This story. Man. I can’t say why I loved it so much. Was it the ever-present, bright, foamy, whorly presence of the mist, a capricious antagonist in the background of this vividly rendered world, sad and mysterious as the sound of wind in a canyon? Was it the humble, understated passion for both duty and masonry that bizarrely swept me off my urban feet? Or was it the strong women characters, both on-screen and off-? [Rasali Ferry is one of the best characters I’ve read this year.]

Another thing: this story had a strange, delicate, uncommon narrative shape. It progressed with the progress of seasons and bridge-building, set up more like a novel than a short story. It didn’t start urgently, and it didn’t have a central conflict, and it wasn’t busy trying to solve itself, but it was–hmm, beautiful. The word is beautiful.

I won’t forget this one in a long time.

How to Become a Robot in 12 Easy Steps by A. Merc Rustad in Scigentasy 4

I followed this link after seeing recommendations from a few different people on Twitter. And OK, I had other things to do, and did not have time to read a story right then and there. But I did read it. I couldn’t help it. A story made of lists, about the guises of love. A story about ROBOTS. Apparently I love stories about robots. But with the foil of the robot (!) stopping this from short-circuiting into something terribly, frighteningly dark, it could say things that were personal and true and important. That balance is hard to get right on paper, and Rustad pulls it off.