Book review · Short fiction

Mini Reviews: Short Stories

Short reviews of short fiction I’ve read lately.
I mostly choose what to read and review randomly, but if you have recommendations, let me know! I feel like it’s a very underappreciated format.

Four-Point Affective Calibration by Bogi Takács – ★★★½
In Lightspeed Magazine, Issue 93.
A non-binary Jewish autistic person’s point of view on alien first-contact – it’s about immigration and what neurotypical people presume of autistic individuals. Interesting, well-written, but too short for me to really get invested, even though I loved the narration and what the story said about emotions (are the thing we think universal really universal?).

All the Colors You Thought Were Kings, by Arkady Martine – ★★★★½
In Shimmer Magazine, Issue 31.
The first story I read by Arkady Martine, The Hydraulic Emperor, didn’t work for me, but I decided to give her a second chance – and I’m glad I did, this story was beautiful.
This is set in a sci-fi universe in which people are clones, and every time a clone of the Empress is raised, the clone and the Empress need to fight to the death (…like queen bees) because there can only be one of them. Three kids – Elias, Petros and Tamar, who is a clone of the Empress – are planning not to play fair this time.
The plot was a bit predictable and the world wasn’t easy to get into, but the writing was so beautiful I didn’t care (the imagery! the lights!) – also, the ending was lovely. …Now I can say that I do want to read her debut A Memory Called Empire.

What to Do When It’s Nothing but Static by Cassandra Khaw – ★★★★¼
Cassandra Khaw is one of my favorite short fiction authors, and when I saw that she described this story as “middle-aged Malaysian Jaeger pilot aunties” I knew I had to read it. They fight Kaiju and the apocalypse, but this story is set when they’re not fighting – one of them is preparing for a date and the others are complaining about young people these days, through a neural network.
I… wow. The glimpses of the war, the sci-fi technology, the food descriptions (no one writes food descriptions like Cassandra Khaw. Sometimes they make you hungry, sometimes they’re commentary on colonialism, sometimes they remind you of the descriptions of entrails of just a few lines before) – there was a lot I loved about this and it’s not like much happened.

Blue is a Darkness Weakened by Light by Sarah McCarry – ★★★¼
A short of a few years ago, from an author I had never heard of.
It’s a story told from the point of view of a lonely woman who wanted to be a writer and is now the assistant of a literary agent, and lives in a crowded, cold building – but she knows a vampire. It’s a vampire story and a story that pokes fun at vampire stories, but at the same time it understands the reasons bad paranormal fiction exists. The strongest part was the atmosphere, the sense of loneliness, but the writing wasn’t great – …were the missing commas intentional, a mistake, or does Acqua just not know how to English – and sometimes I couldn’t even understand where the dialogue ended and the narration began again. The result is a bit confusing, but overall the story isn’t bad.

Men Who Wish To Drown by Elizabeth Fama – ★★★★
Another short from another author I had never head of.
It’s a story of a man who was saved by a mermaid in New England waters. He loved the mermaid, but he couldn’t be with her, and he tells what happened to his great-grandson in his deathbed letter. It’s a story about regret and not settling down for what doesn’t make you happy, told in a really interesting way. I really liked the writing and message but I think it could have done more with its atmosphere (and it could have been even more creepy!)
TWs for suicidal ideation.

The End of Love by Nina LaCour (reread) – ★★★★★
A short story from the anthology Summer Days & Summer Nights, edited by Stephanie Perkins. It follows Flora, a girl who decided to go to summer school even though she didn’t need to because her parents are divorcing. There she meets Mimi Park again, the girl who, a few years before, made Flora realize she was a lesbian.
It’s a cute summer romance and a story about finding love in a difficult time. It’s very short, but it works, because Mimi and Flora already know each other and because the writing makes you understand how Flora felt about Mimi. Also, the atmosphere is beautiful and the scene in the tree even more so.
I read The End of Love for the first time in June 2016, and it was the first time I read something from the point of view of a girl who liked girls.

You Can Make a Dinosaur, but You Can’t Help Me by K.M. Szpara – ★★★★
In Uncanny Magazine, Issue 23.
K.M. Szpara is an author I was already familiar with – he wrote one of my favorites short stories of last year, Small Changes Over Long Periods of Time, a story about a trans vampire. This one, instead, is a story in second person about two trans men, dinosaurs, and trans dinosaurs.
First of all, I think a story in which the sentence “unleash the horny trans dinosaurs” doesn’t sound forced deserves praise in itself, but that’s not the only reason I liked it. It’s a story about finding your own family and your place in a world that doesn’t want you. And just like the first story I read by him, You Can Make a Dinosaur, but You Can’t Help Me is also a story about metamorphosis.
Trigger warnings for misgendering, dysphoria and explicit sex scenes.

Seven Cups of Coffee by A.C. Wise – ★★★
In Clarkesworld Magazine, Issue 114.
A story about queer women, time travel and internalized homophobia.
It follows two characters – a woman who is in denial about her attraction to women, in 1941, and a woman from the 80s who is estranged from their family because of homophobia, who is asked to kill the woman from 1941 for money.
It’s very well-written, but it’s also sad – you could read the ending as both desperate and hopeful – but the portrayal of the future for queer people isn’t. I’m not sure how I feel about this; the writing was lovely, though.
It needs trigger warnings for miscarriages and in a way also for bury your gays (maybe? It’s complicated).

Next time I do this kind of mini reviews, I will reviewing Hugo and maybe Nebula 2017 nominees.

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