Short Bread – May 2015


Three plot-driven pieces this month, although I’ve read and loved a lot of unusual story shapes since last month’s review, like a collection of ragtag storyteddies, stuffing half pulled out, piled on a windowsill. I’ll tweet some stuff I liked but haven’t reviewed.

The Kingdom of the Blind by Maureen McHugh in After the Apocalypse (reprinted in Lightspeed #18)

I work in technology, so this story poked all of my 1’s and 0’s. A genetic algorithm that’s (maybe?) developing a personality, a software system that people count on for important shit, which must never go awry (hint: it’s going awry), a main character who’s battling both Impostor Syndrome and challenging personalities in the software field.

This is the best story I will ever read about fixing bugs. I loved it so.

A word about this collection, but first, a disclaimer–Maureen McHugh will be teaching at Clarion this year, and I’m attending (!), so I’m obviously predisposed to be in slight awe. That said, After the Apocalypse isn’t just a tightly woven collection of character-rich, setting-saturated stories. It is a collection that gave me permission to write–air quotes–Slice of Life stories. I’ve always known in my heart that not every genre story needs a clean cloven resolution, just like I’ve always known that not every literary story floats towards an introspective non-ending. But After the Apocalypse gave this newfound legitimacy for me, because it was THAT awesome. It showed me how goddam good a Slice of Life story can be in the hands of a professional.

The Selkie by David K. Yeh in Lackington’s #6 (“Seas”)

We meet our selkie narrator in trouble, dashed into a North Sea bobbing with mines in the middle of WWII. He’s been entrusted with a serious quest, one that could end the war with the Nazis. From this point, David Yeh’s story alternates the selkie’s own backstory, flavoured with gritty Northern myth, and the unfolding plot, as he tries to rescue himself and his mission.

I’m generally unlikely to enjoy stories based in folklore or mythology. My education (both as reader and student) and upbringing didn’t give me strong footing in world folklores, so reading stories like these, I always feel like I’m only half in on a secret. But David Yeh writes with such a compelling voice, one that’s strategic and harassed and reeks of desperation. The plot does a nice fold in on itself at the end, replacing one unanswered question with another, better resolved one.

Anna Saves Them All by Seth Dickinson in Shimmer #21

Ah, yes. So I’m now 2 for 2 on reading Seth Dickinson stories that absolutely bowl me over. Morrigan in the Sunglare was probably my favourite story of 2014. And now this. I am almost afraid to read another of his stories lest it fail to live up to the sky-high expectations I’ve built.

HOW CAN YOU WRITE WAR AND VIOLENCE LIKE POETRY? Every few lines there’s a gut punch, a perfect sentence, an absurdist tug that refracts your entire being through the space between the lines.

Anna Saves Them All is about vaulting, big things: morality and evil and the absurdity and tragedy of existence. And it’s also about a medusa-necked alien and a person called Anna in a room together. That’s all I’ll say.