Adult · Book review · Short fiction

Review: Not So Stories, edited by David Thomas Moore

382315941Not So Stories is a short story collection edited by David Thomas Moore and with a foreword by Nikesh Shukla.

In 1902, Rudyard Kipling wrote Just So Stories, which is now considered a classic of children literature – a classic rooted in colonialism, as Kipling saw the Empire as a civilizing force, the British as superior to the natives.

Bringing together writers of color from around the world, Not So Storiesis a response to Kipling’s work. Here you’ll find talking panthers, hidden Nagas, wishing trees, magical snakes, cat stories and more, with none of the unchallenged racism.

How the Spider Got Her Legs by Cassandra Khaw – ★★★★½
Cassandra Khaw is one of my favorite short fiction authors, and I can say that her dark, delightful tale about grief and revenge did not disappoint. Her writing gives me chills.

I want you to imagine this, Best Beloved. Those long decades before Man learned to wring the earth for oil, when the waters were clear, when there was no light in the dark save for the coruscation of a million brightly burning stars.

This is the story of how the Spider, first of her own kind, got her legs from a tiger, befriended a banyan tree and defeated Man, who wanted to colonize the forest. It was a perfect opening for the collection.

Queen by Joseph E. Cole – ★★★½
The old Queen is telling a child – the future queen – how she was separated from her family when she was young, how she was forced to fight her own in an arena, how she learned to survive and escaped. I didn’t love the writing, but the ending made up for it.
Who is the beast?

Best Beloved by Wayne Santos – ★★★★
This story is set in Singapore in 1856, and it follows Seah Yuan Ching, a Chinese woman who has an important work: she keeps the dead at bay as the seventh lunar month arrives. She is in a relationship with a white man, Adam, but she doesn’t know the truth about him; also, the opium wars are beginning, and the dead may have a message for her. I really liked how the main character realized she didn’t deserve to live with people who compliment her in ways that are both backhanded and racist (“she’s quite articulate for a [racial slur]”), and I loved the ending.

The Man Who Played With the Crab by Adiwijaya Iskandar – ★★★★
A Malay girl and her father keep watch on the shore until a violent stranger, drunk on power, arrives. He is looking for “Pau Amma” (actually Sang Pawana, Protector of the Seas; he can’t even learn to say her name right) to kill her because she sunk his ship. I loved seeing the magical aspect of this one.

Saṃsāra by Georgina Kamsika – ★★★★
This story follows a biracial indian woman who grew up disconnected from her culture because of her white father. Saṃsāra is about reconnecting with your heritage and how immigrants will deal with it differently across generations; it also talked about cultural appropriation. I loved this one, even though it felt somewhat out of place – it did have a supernatural element, but it felt like a contemporary story when all the other stories were either tales or historical fiction.

Serpent, Crocodile, Tiger by Zedeck Siew – ★★
This story had some interesting aspects (the Tiger’s story and the mirror scene, mostly), but when I was halfway through I couldn’t follow what was happening anymore because of the many time and PoV jumps.

How the Tree of Wishes Gained its Carapace of Plastic by Jeannette Ng – ★★★★★
My favorite story in the collection. I already knew I loved Jeannette Ng’s writing from her novel Under the Pendulum Sun, which was one of the most original stories about fae I had ever read, but this was even better.
Through the story of the wishing tree, the author tells us the turbulent history of war and colonization (British, then Japanese) of this village (which is not one village – it’s Hong Kong). I loved this from the beginning to the end, and the writing was so beautiful and sharp I wanted to highlight and quote every paragraph.

We belong and do not belong; we are our own people until we wish to be our own people. We shall together be one country with two systems, one body with two minds. With that paradox of wishes, we assailed the tree, a monsoon of oranges tangled in its branches, and our red papers choked back its leaves.
And so it broke.
The branches cracked and the tree of wishes bled a sap as gold as greed.

How the Ants Got Their Queen by Stewart Hotston – ★★★
This is a story about colonialism, its consequences, and how easy it is to become a tyrant, told through the wars between ants and the pangolin. Really liked the writing, even though the story could have been shorter.

How the Snake Lost its Spine by Tauriq Moosa – ★
I almost did not finish this one. It was long, and unlike the other stories, which managed to be tales without talking down to the reader, this one was obvious and predictable.

The Cat Who Walked by Herself by Achala Upendran – ★★★
The main character of this story is the cat, a cat who has always walked by herself, but loves to listen to Woman’s music. I really like reading cat stories, and I liked the message of this one, but it definitely needs trigger warnings for self-injury.

Strays Like Us by Zina Hutton – ★★★½
Another cat story! This follows Bastet (yes, the Egyptian cat goddess) as she rescues a kitten. I really liked the way the narration managed to establish the main character as cat and goddess at the same time. Just like Saṃsāra, this story felt a bit out of place, but it was still really interesting.

How the Simurgh Won Her Tail by Ali Nouraei – ★★★★½
An old man is telling his sick niece the story of how the Simurgh won her tail (Persian mythology!), and it was a really sweet tale within a tale. Also, the writing was lovely.

There is Such Thing as a Whizzy-Gang by Raymond Gates – ★★
I… didn’t get this one. It was paranormal? Maybe horror? It’s set in Australia, and the main character is afraid of something called Whizzy-Gang, who lives in the hedge and assaults animals and people for no reason. It was weird, and not in a good way.

How the Camel Got Her Paid Time Off by Paul Krueger – ★★½
Paul Krueger wrote Last Call at the Nightshade Lounge, which is one of my favorite urban fantasy novels, but this just wasn’t that interesting. This story is about capitalism, and why capitalism damages some people to favor others, a message that was also in Last Call at the Nightshade Lounge, but here it overpowered the story, which came off as preachy.

My average rating: 3.32 stars.

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