Short Bread – April 2015

Sorry about the hiatus!

I continued to crunch through short stories in the first quarter of 2015 (holy shit, time is flying!), but haven’t had a chance to put together a review post. I’m now keeping a spreadsheet* listing every short story I read, and that’s helping me structure my thinking around these reviews.

Anyway, onto the good stuff.

The Land Baby by Natalia Theodoridou in The Dark #4

I mentioned last time that The Dark frequently hands out free epub/mobi subscriptions because they are quite awesome like that. I’m still working through back issues, and wanted to mention Natalia Theodoridou’s sun-soaked, Mediterranean-spiced ‘The Land Baby’ in Issue 4. Theodoridou got a lot of (well-deserved) praise last year for her Clarkesworld piece ‘The Eleven Holy Numbers of the Mechanical Soul‘–‘The Land Baby’ is a totally different character, but one with a distant family resemblance. The sea and solitude figure heavily in both.

A strength of this story is its solemn character studies–little Maria, who’s lost her mother, and her father Alekos, who could be on the verge of losing more than his wife. Theodoridou controls the POV expertly, with scenes told in tight third person from a number of characters’ perspectives.

But even more than that, the setting evoked here is just so melancholic and sultry, saline and seaweedy and sun-baked. The setting makes it even easier to mainline the encroaching sorrow, leaving you staring at the last words.

All That We Carry, All That We Hold by Damien Angelica Walters in Fantastic Stories of the Imagination April 2015

I’m not much of a crier, but yeah, goddamit. Walters is an author whose stories I make an effort to read, but I’m more used to her horror and dark fantasy offerings. I’m really glad I read this one.

(I must admit, I was pulled in by the fantastic story art, ETA: by Jay O’Connell — see Robert’s comment below.) It’s a story about love and family and death–aren’t all the good ones?–but it’s set to a backdrop of space exploration.

Put that way, the story’s themes seem familiar and well-trodden. But Walters’ treatment elevates them. The pacing is dreamlike; the prose is stylish and serves to heighten the emotional impact of the main conflict (conflict is a weird word for it), so that when the story gets dark and heavy and stabby, it tears you all the way down with it.

Remember I said crying? Yeah, crying.

What the Highway Prefers by Cassandra Khaw in Lackington’s #5 (“Beldams”)

Weird fact: I’m a huge sucker for stories about roads. Not metaphorical roads. Actual roads made of gravel and tarmac and stuff. So this little piece by Cassandra Khaw in Lackington’s had me by the eyeballs from the first sentence.

The story is cloudy, mysterious–we have Aunt Fatimah, a warden of the highway, protecting its travelers from an insinuated and terrible fate. To do this she must complete a ritual that grates at her faith.

The plot was intriguing enough, but it wasn’t the reason I loved this so much (and I really did). Rather, I fell for the gritty, slashing, don’t-give-a-fuck poetry of the piece; the bricolage of the words, the unrestrained metaphor, the prism-in-an-oilslick colour of the writing.

I’m so glad Lackington’s picked this odd little story up: it’s a story shape we don’t see often in SFF markets, and one that I wholeheartedly enjoyed.

*there’s nothing a spreadsheet can’t solve.