Today, I’m reviewing some short stories and novellas I read recently.
A Dead Djinn in Cairo by P. Djèlí Clark
Egyptian steampunk paranormal murder mystery? Yes.
A Dead Djinn in Cairo is one of the best Tor.com shorts I’ve read in a while. The first thing I thought after finishing this story was how I wanted more from this world, and then I remembered that the novella The Haunting of Tram Car 015 will be set there too. I was already anticipating it because I loved The Black God’s Drums, but now? I can’t wait.
Anyway, this is a story about an Egyptian investigator, Fatma, trying to understand if a suspicious Djinn “suicide” was actually what it looked like. It’s an atmospheric, beautiful story set in a world with a rich mythology and an even more interesting steampunk-like technology. One thing I loved about P. Djèlí Clark’s The Black God’s Drums was seeing the magic and the steampunk aspects coexist, and I think I liked the setup even more here? So much magic and mystery.
My rating: ★★★★½
All the Time We’ve Left To Spend by Alyssa Wong
All the Time We’ve Left To Spend is a short story by one of my favorite short fiction authors, Alyssa Wong, which was initially published in Robots & Fairies, an anthology I had no interest in if not for this story – which has been reprinted on Fireside Magazine (and it’s free there!).
Like all Alyssa Wong’s stories I’ve read so far, All the Time We’ve Left To Spend is queer and haunting, and just as I expected, I loved everything about it. It’s about Ruriko, a Japanese girl who is visiting a hotel where the memories of the dead members of a pop band are preserved. The sci-fi technology was really interesting to read about, but that wasn’t the only reason I loved it.
I often say that I don’t like sad queer stories, and this is very much a sad story following a queer mc. It’s about a love between two women that can’t be, about yearning and memories, but it worked for me. It’s beautifully written and unique and not just queer pain for the sake of it – the subtle difference between queer pain and queer characters being sad just like everyone else can be.
My rating: ★★★★★
Alice Payne Arrives by Kate Heartfield
Great concept, messy execution.
A novella about a biracial time-traveling highwaywoman who robs sexual predators with the help of her scientist girlfriend sounded like the best thing ever. In reality, this was so confusing that I didn’t enjoy reading it at all.
As usual for SFF novellas, the pacing isn’t great, and this story managed to feel both watered down – because the characters didn’t have any depth – and too complicated to be crammed in such a short book. This book is about a war between time travelers, and it attempted to explain what was happening, but I didn’t understand any of it.
I have to say that I’m not at my best mentally, and maybe that’s the reason everything about this book felt foggy. I feel foggy. But anyway.
I thought most of this book would be about Alice Payne, our sapphic half-Caribbean highwaywoman with a scientist girlfriend. It’s not. It’s not, and the girlfriend character is so flat that the “romance” didn’t make me feel anything. Far more space is given to Prudence, an African-Canadian time traveler from 2070, and the time travel war she’s involved with. It would have been less of a problem if I had understood anything about that time travel war.
This novella attempted to say some things about time travel and the difficult choices involved, but not enough time was spent on them. What about the fact that by avoiding a war not only you might create other wars, but you’re also erasing from history a lot of people who currently exist or that have existed? (Hi! I’m 100% sure I wouldn’t have existed had WW2 not happened)
I don’t know, something that attempts to talk about the ethics of time travel without talking about that will feel superficial to me. The main characters wonders whether she will still exist, and that’s all we get.
However, this book did get some things right. Not only the concept is awesome, so is the first chapter, and it’s also obviously well-researched. It’s also short enough that it never gets boring.
My rating: ★★½
A Human Stain by Kelly Robson
I think I just don’t like Kelly Robson’s short fiction. I tried her novella Water of Versailles earlier this year and thought it was mediocre, and then this. I can’t even understand why it was nominated for a Nebula, much less won (when Small Changes Over Long Periods of Time, a story with… actual depth and queer characters who are not just There To Suffer, was right there!).
Anyway, all this managed to do was to put together a pointless, vaguely creepy but too vague to be actually interesting and cheaply tragic historical horror story that was disgusting without any depth to it.
I really don’t get this.
My rating: ★
Have you read any good short fiction lately?