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Tag: short stories

Canadian SF/F Spotlight: “Hehua” by Millie Ho

Fireside Magazine has just released their latest story, “Hehua” by Millie Ho. Ho is a Torontonian who splits her time between Canada and Asia, and has had work published in Uncanny Magazine. The story is one of the last ones selected by Brian J. White, the magazine’s founder, before he stepped down from his role as editor and publisher.

“Hehua” is set in Toronto in the near future when genetic modification for the rich has become the norm – and those who aren’t rich pay the price, one way or another. The story’s trenchant commentary on class, race, employment, incarceration and entitlement mingle to create an intriguing murder mystery.

Plus, there’s at least one element of perverse optimism in the mix: one of the story’s major settings is New Finch Station – a subway station that doesn’t exist yet. A future in which Toronto finally gets its act together and invests in more mass transit? Now I know it’s fiction.

Here’s an excerpt.

Ba’s words rang in my ears whenever I thought about getting an Edit. Maybe he was right. Edits could rewire your entire adult brain, take away your road rage, turn you into a Jeopardy! champion overnight. But they were less reliable than the Wonder Kid procedure, which created designer babies for the one percent, the ones with a boatload of cash to burn on perfectly intelligent, athletic, and beautiful heirs, with choice of skin and eye colour laid out on a self-serve menu, all risk of disease trimmed off their genes before birth.

Edits were for desperate adults and often hit or miss. Sometimes, while walking through the Financial District, I’d see someone get out of an UberPod in a jerky, lopsided way when they were fine just days ago, or say hi to a familiar face at a Starbucks, only to see their glazed eyes slide right off of me, having forgotten all about me.

“The world is getting Edited,” I told Hehua once. We were sitting in the food court far from the Wonder Kid cliques, our seating arrangement an exact replica of our work space upstairs. An ad for an Edit that got rid of anxiety flashed on the TV, which made my teeth ache with temptation once again.

“Wo bu xi huan Edits, they’re so super fickle,” Hehua had said, blowing on her pidu noodles. She giggled when I told her it was actually pronounced “Superficial”.

“Don’t you want to fit in?” I said.

“You should just be you,” Hehua said, then dipped her head over her bowl and slurped loudly.

If you like it, read all of “Hehua” by Millie Ho online here.

Hugo Award Roundup: Short Story Nominees

The Hugo award deadline is right around the corner, so I’m running a series of posts about this year’s nominees in various categories. Today’s category is Best Short Story.

The City Born Great by N. K. Jemisin

The cover for “The City Born Great”. Illustration by Richie Pope.

Cities are full of life. In Jemisin’s story, if they grow large and powerful enough, they’ll become living beings themselves. But the birth of a city isn’t easy, and there are dark beings out there interested in devouring this new life. It’s up to the city’s midwife to usher them into the world safely and prevent the forces of evil from winning out. However, New York’s midwife, our unnamed narrator, is homeless, hungry, and skeptical. But it’s up to him to deliver this baby, sing its song, and fight the unnamed Enemy that wants to suck it dry.

One of Jemisin’s hallmarks is the use of protagonists that deliberately test the boundaries of readers’ sympathies. Essun from The Fifth Season is a great example. The narrator of “The City Born Great” – a flippant, pragmatic homeless person – is another. The climax, where New York actually comes alive, is great. But I think the story would have been stronger if the final scene were cut entirely. Otherwise, the ending was too tidy.

Read “The City Born Great” for free online.

A Fist of Permutations in Lightning and Wildflowers by Alyssa Wong

Two sisters grow up with the power to see the snaking, infinite paths of the future, and twist fate to their own ends. When one sister leaves for the city, she regrets the effect her choice has on the other left behind. But some things are inevitable, and when she tries to return to save her sister, her attempts always fall short.

Wong’s story is interesting and the prose is delicate, but it somehow feels unfinished, overall. The story kept hinting that the girls’ parents were meant to be looming and significant, overbearing, but in the end they’re non-entities. I never understood why either sister felt so constrained by living with them.

Read “A Fist of Permutations in Lightning and Wildflowers” for free online.

Our Talons Can Crush Galaxies by Brooke Bolander

I reviewed this story last November, and my opinion of it still stands. It’s perfect, snarly and angry.

Read “Our Talons Can Crush Galaxies” for free online.

Seasons of Glass and Iron by Amal El-Mohtar

Amira is a princess whose beauty encourages the advances of uncountable numbers of men, including her father. To keep herself and her kingdom safe, she willingly sits in exile on a throne atop a glass mountain, awaiting the one man who can climb it and prove being worthy of her hand. Tabitha is a woman who loved and married a shapeshifting bear-man. However, after his abuse raises her mother’s suspicions, she does an act that breaks his trust in her. She must walk the countryside, carry his bear-skin and wear through seven pairs of iron shoes as penance before she can return.

But when Amira and Tabitha meet – Tabitha climbs the glass mountain in the hope that such a magical surface will wear through the soles of her shoes even faster – neither of them believe that the other deserves such harsh treatment. It’s not Amira’s fault that men always lust after her, Tabitha says; nor does Amira believe it’s Tabitha’s fault that her husband beat her. So the two forge a life together on their own.

I love the quality of El-Mohtar’s prose, and “Seasons of Glass and Iron” is a fine example of how delicate and crystalline and sweet her writing can be. But on a thematic level, while I recognize it’s a response to a number of misogynistic tropes found in traditional fairytales, the story left me lukewarm. It feels like the theme of “it’s not a woman’s fault if a man is a controlling asshole” is really hammered in. It’s a fine message in and of itself, but it’s not that subtle.

Read “Seasons of Glass and Iron” for free online.

That Game We Played During the War by Carrie Vaughn

The cover for “That Game We Played During the War”. Illustration by John Jude Palencar.

Major Valk Larn is a war hero; like all people of Gaant, he’s a telepath. Calla Belan is a field nurse; like all people of Enith, she isn’t. Gaant and Enith have been fighting over the same piece of land for years. However, despite the Gaantish advantage of telepathy, the Enithi have managed to fight them to a standstill and negotiate a peace treaty. Now that the peace is holding, Valk and Calla are free to rekindle their unusual friendship over a game of chess.

As soon as I read “That Game We Played During the War”, I knew that it was special, so I’m delighted to see it as a nominee. I’m especially happy considering that out of all the short stories on ballot, this one displays the least amount of literary pyrotechnics. No snarky narrator, no perilous acrobatics of prose. Just two people, a chess board, and a grand, if not particularly original, metaphor.

Calla and Valk are both given full, real personalities despite little information in the text about their personal likes, dislikes, and fears. The effect is as if I’m viewing a simple yet evocative pencil sketch – a lot of information is deftly packed into as few lines as possible. Most of all, I appreciate the story’s genuine sense of kindness and goodwill. These are characters who have learned to see each other as people rather than enemies.

Read “That Game We Played During the War” for free online.

An Unimaginable Light by John C. Wright

I didn’t bother to read this one. I know enough to steer clear of the bullshit that Castalia House publishes.

An Alphabet of Embers, Edited by R.B. Lemberg

alphabet_of_embers_coverTitle: An Alphabet of Embers (An Anthology of Unclassifiables)
Editor: R.B. Lemberg
Publisher: Stone Bird Press
Format: eBook
Rating: 4 out of 5
How I got it: I was offered an Advance Reader Copy for review

(Note: The editor of An Alphabet of Embers now goes by R.B. Lemberg. The body of this review has been changed to reflect this, but the URL and the associated image still show the name under which this anthology was originally created.)

I saw the Mad Max movie The Road Warrior for the first time this year. As I watched it I was entranced, because it exhibits an unusual trait: it’s a movie that is very happy to be itself. Whatever its references and antecedents are, it incorporates them so well that it transforms them into something completely unique.

I got the same feeling when I read An Alphabet of Embers, an anthology of short stories edited by R.B. Lemberg that will be launching later on this week at the Nebula Awards conference. Lemberg’s goal with An Alphabet of Embers was to collect a variety of “very short tales and prose poems showcasing evocative and startling language.” Looking over stories contained within, it’s very fair to say they’ve succeeded.

I say this because despite the variety of tones, textures and voices, Embers maintains a consistent and cohesive feel throughout: it stories are literary and poetic, with a fluidity of style and theme that borders on slipstream and the surreal. Reading them, I felt like I was encountering instances of dream logic — even if the stories didn’t make sense on the surface, they contained the kind of truth that exists between sleep and wakefulness.

This sense of fluidity is tangible in both the contributors’ prose and as an overarching theme within the collection itself: many of the stories’ characters inhabit liminal states or move between states. A few examples:

  • The protagonist of Mina Li’s story “Dreaming Keys” gains the ability to hop between different worlds/dimensions if she falls asleep wearing keys on her person.
  • In “Everything Under One Roof” by Zen Cho, the protagonist visits a trendy restaurant that the local food bloggers are going gaga over, only to realize that the restaurant literally has everything in the cosmos under its roof, including unseen mementos from her late father.
  • Both “An Awfully Big Adventure” by Nisi Shawl and “Telomerase” by Ian Muneshwar deal with the ultimate example of crossing a threshold by featuring narrators who are on the verge of death.
  • In “The River’s Children” by Shweta Narayan, a gender-nonconforming prince marries a river goddess who can manifest as both male and female, and their children display similar abilities.

However, the anthology’s focus on short, dreamlike works with vivid prose often results in pieces that seem more like vignettes than stories. Sometimes these vignettes are successful, like “Absinthe Fish” by M. David Blake. However, at other times they result in works that are too fragmentary and experimental for me to successfully grasp, like “Some Silver Wheel” by Kari Sperring and “One Testimony (m. Lao)” by Ching-in Chen.

I appreciated the following stories in particular:

  • “The City Beneath the Sea” by Sara Norja
  • “An Awfully Big Adventure” by Nisi Shawl
  • “Everything Under One Roof” by Zen Cho
  • “Absinthe Fish” by M. David Blake
  • “Dreaming Keys” by Mina Li
  • “The River’s Children” by Shweta Narayan
  • “Telomerase” by Ian Muneshwar
  • “Wing” by Amal El-Mohtar
  • “Rhizomatic Diplomacy” by Vajra Chandrasekera

Most of these stories are clustered in the middle of the anthology, and I found the first and final few stories to be hard going as I acclimated to the overall tone of the collection. However, even with its occasional missteps, An Anthology of Embers is unapologetically itself, and worth a look for its consistency of tone. It feels like a cohesive whole.

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