Today, I’m going to review nine short stories and two novellas.
Short Story Time
In which I chose random short stories free online from the list I have put together in the last year and a half and review them.
Maybe I will make this a monthly feature? I don’t know. There’s so much good short fiction out there and I like to scream about it when I have the time to read it. One day, I’m also going to write down a list of my favorite ones, but I want to get through most of my list first.
Super-Luminous Spiral by Cameron Van Sant – ★★★★★
This one was so weird. It felt like a pages-long, weirdly sexual hallucination about literature in second person, and at first I understood nothing of what was going on, but when I was halfway through, I finally got it – and wow. This is a story about literature classes and the way genre fiction is considered lesser than literary, and it’s kind of… making fun of literary fiction’s obsession with cheating.
It follows a lit student who, after being left by a mysterious, very sparkly trans boy who made him realize he was bisexual (but he’s still kind of in denial) and who made his stories become perfect, can only write literary fiction about cheating. It’s funny and very weird and an experience. Also, this story takes the idea of the “muse” and makes the muse someone who uses the writer and not the other way around.
I loved it.
Ally by Nalo Hopkinson – ★★★½
A maybe-ghost story? I’m not sure I got this one, but it follows a trans woman and the conversation she has with someone who was once her friend after the funeral of her friend’s husband. It’s a very queer story and what it said about what it’s like to just… live when a part of the world hates you for existing was powerful. It’s about a haunting, in a way, and about whether and how much everything that is behind an action – from intent to means – matters when confronted with the results. As the title suggests, it’s also an interesting thought to apply to allyship.
Girls Who Do Not Drown by A.C. Buchanan – ★★★★★
This was wonderful. But keep in mind that, while it’s not a tragic story, it definitely needs TWs for attempted suicide and transmisogyny.
It’s the story of a trans girl who just realized she’s a girl, who is changing the future of the whole island. It’s a story about girlhood and not drowning, featuring Manx folklore (the very persistent glashtyn? I loved that part). It’s beautiful, very atmospheric, and I really recommend it.
Tell the Phoenix Fox, Tell the Tortoise Fruit by Cynthia So – ★★★★½
A beautiful story about a country that was once colonized (I think it’s inspired by Southeast Asia), following two girls who love each other against homophobia and other monsters. It talks about racism and about the way queer people in history are often erased. I loved how hopeful it is, I loved the fact that it featured both a phoenix fox (!!) and poetry – stories that have foxes in them are great and stories that acknowledge the importance of literature are too.
Dead Things by Becca De La Rosa – ★★★★½
An atmospheric story about bargains and what it means to love following two girls falling in love in the Kingdom of Death. The description and symbolism are gorgeous and I really liked many aspects of this story – I love to read about people finding happiness and beauty in unexpected places just like I love reading about f/f couples.
Now Watch My Rising by A. Merc Rustad – ★★★½
I was already familiar with this author because of their short story in the Cosmic Powers anthology (which I really liked) and a short story on Uncanny Magazine (which I didn’t care about). This was more in the middle – as usual, I loved the writing, but struggled a bit to follow it, even though the story was very… simple. I knew how it was going to develop from the first paragraph, but it’s exactly the direction I wanted it to take and it’s a message I always appreciate, so I’m not going to complain. And if you’re wondering whether you should try this: what do you think of fate?
[Anyway, I really feel like howling at the sky right now. Mood of the evening!]
50 Ways to Leave Your Fairy Lover by Aimee Picchi – ★★★★
…If you want to read something really short that will make you smile, that includes faeries and folklore, and that features an f/f relationship, you should really read this story. I don’t know, when I compare it with the stories I’ve read before I find that maybe it reads a bit more superficial, but you know what? There’s nothing superficial about stories that make you happy. Or about happy gays in general.
Salt Lines by Ian Muneshwar – ★★★★½
This is a story following a gay Guyanese immigrant who has left his homophobic family and one day meets a jumbie (a spirit from Caribbean folklore). It’s heartbreaking and definitely needs trigger warnings for homophobia and mentions of homophobic violence, but it’s also the kind of story I know will stay with me. The way it talks about what it’s like to be queer when your family doesn’t accept you, and the monster romance aspect in this story… it speaks to me. (There’s something to be said about being queer and liking monster romances and how these things can be tied – since people made you feel like you were the monster – but also not necessarily? I don’t feel like I’m good enough with words to talk about it but it’s something I feel.)
The Dead, In Their Uncontrollable Power by Karen Osborne – ★★★★
Space fantasy stories will always have a special place in my heart, even when I struggle to get into them at first. This story was no exception, especially considering it’s about sin-eating girls finding strength in each other to fight against terrible dead men (f/f romance in space!). It’s a story about how we do not need to follow in our predecessors’ footsteps when those footsteps are part of an oppressive system. It’s beautifully written, and while it’s very… bloody, it’s at its heart a story about the healing of a society.
The Haunting of Tram Car 015 by P. Djèlí Clark
The Haunting of Tram Car 015 is a wonderful, atmospheric novella set in an alternate Cairo, featuring haunted steampunk technology.
I already knew I liked P. Djèlí Clark’s writing because of The Black God’s Drums (…another alt-history, darker novella you should try if you haven’t already) and because of A Dead Djinn In Cairo, which is set in the same universe as this book and is also free online (and you should read it). Even though I loved both of these, I was still surprised by how much I liked The Haunting of Tram Car 015.
There are so many interesting concepts in so little space, all of them handled gracefully. In that, it reminded me of Witchmark, even though on a content level the only thing these two books have in common are the steampunk aspects.
I loved the worldbuilding. You can see how much thought and research went into it – this is set in an alt-history version of Cairo in which colonialism ended also because of the supernatural, in which airships and djinn-powered aerial tram cars are the most common means of transportation. I always love reading about worlds in which the technology is tied to the magic system (and, in this case, also to folklore and mythology), and this was no exception. This book also portrays Cairo as a diverse city, not only because humans live side-by-side with djinns, but because its population is all but homogeneous: there are Sufis, Copts, Armenians, Sudanese, people who grew up in the city and people who grew up in the countryside. P. Djèlí Clark’s Cairo feels so alive.
Even though the two main characters are men – two agents from the Ministry of Alchemy, Enchantments, and Supernatural Entities, one of which is a new recruit – this is a story in which women have a very important role. The Haunting of Tram Car‘s main plotline is about a mysterious being who is haunting a tram car and the attempted exorcisms, but that’s not the only thing going on – in the background, we see side and minor female characters collaborating to get women the right to vote in Egypt. And the way that plotline ends? So many feelings.
This novella approaches a lot of interesting themes – the way folklore is often steeped in misogyny; what gender could mean to non-human beings (featuring a genderfluid djinn!); the meaning of personhood and sentience; what “modernization” looks like when there’s magic around – and maybe it didn’t give that much space to them, but I never felt like any part of it was incomplete. I just want more books set in this world.
My rating: ★★★★¾
Unbroken by Brooklyn Ray
Unbroken is a novella set in the Port Lewis Universe, in which Darkling and Undertow also take place. It follows Michael, a non-magical human who has recently moved to Port Lewis with his sister but without any knowledge of the town’s… history.
Also, his new house is haunted by a demon. A very good-looking demon who is also great at baking.
Yes, this is exactly what it sounds like, it’s a gay erotic monster romance and I’m totally here for this (and probably no one is surprised).
One of the things I liked the most about this that I didn’t remember from the other Port Lewis novellas – because as usual, the atmosphere is great and this author knows how to write romance but I knew that already – was the humor. There’s at least one scene that made me laugh out loud, which is… more than most full-length novels do even when they’re trying to be funny.
The main character of this novella had been in an abusive relationship in the past, and I liked the way this book dealt with that, and what it said about consent. Also, part of the main character’s arc is tied to understanding that he didn’t deserve what happened to him and I really appreciated that.
However, I didn’t love the way this ended, because it features one of my least favorite romance tropes. I understand why it makes sense for the story but anything fate-related still creeps me out on many levels.
My rating: ★★★½
Have you read any short stories or novellas lately?