Short Fiction Recs, 06/10/2020
Updated: Nov 8, 2020
One of the main things that finally pushed me to sort out another site was the desire to have a base for more of my reviews, free from the character restrictions of twitter. So, without further ado, here is the first batch - 5 stories, some new, some older, and spanning a pretty wide spectrum of both genres and styles.
A Machine, Unhaunted (Kerstin Hall, Fireside Fiction) - An extraordinary story of friendship and grief, as told by an AI. I won’t say much about the plot, other than that Hall’s stylistic choices, structure and the overall quality of prose combine to make it incredibly moving - all the more impressive given how short it is (1315 words). An audio version is also available.
I really enjoyed Hall’s novella, The Border Keeper (Tor, 2019), and recommend that as well, for fans of weird fantasy. Her debut novel, Star Eater, is out next year, also through Tor, and I can’t wait to read it!
The Silver of Our Glory, The Orange of Our Rage (Jared Oliver Adams, Cossmass Infinities) - A compelling tale of insurrection against a totalitarian government, which is set apart from most other stories of that kind by its well-realised setting. I sometimes find that stories based in alien civilizations can get a little too sidetracked by world-building exposition, often trying to fit a novel’s worth of info into a few thousand words (a sin I’m as guilty of as anyone else). However, Adams avoids that pitfall through a combination of crisp prose and the decision to actively make that history a key part of the plot. Some of its imagery conjured shades of Miéville and even The Dark Crystal, for me, while retaining a clear sense of the author's own vision.
The Swarm of Giant Gnats I Sent After Kent, My Assistant Manager (Marissa Lingen, Translunar Travelers Lounge, Issue 3) - Translunar Travelers Lounge specialise in ‘the fun side of fantasy and science fiction’, and this story certainly fits the bill. As this is another one under 1500 words, I won’t say much about the plot, except that it more than lives up, in some pleasantly surprising ways, to the promise of its title. Enjoy!
Scrimshaw (Eley Williams, BBC National Short Story Award shortlist 2020) - Another playful story, albeit in a different way, this blends a linguistic inventiveness with a compelling and relatable narrative persona/predicament, to reflect on the pitfalls of relying on instant messaging to keep in contact with one’s partner. Especially those which might arise if/when walruses are involved… This version is very well read by Charlotte Ritchie, but if audio stories aren’t your thing, you can also find it in the official BBC NSSA Shortlist Anthology, released by the excellent Comma Press.
Update: It didn't win the overall Award, but if you enjoy it you should definitely hunt down Williams’ debut collection, Attrib., published by the also rather marvellous Influx Press. Her first novel, The Liar's Dictionary, has also been recently released, and while I haven't yet read it, I aim to do soon.
The Coast of Leitrim (Kevin Barry, The New Yorker, October 15, 2018 issue) - Last but not least for this instalment, a low-key gem from one of my favourite writers. From the premise, of a man in his mid-thirties struggling to find love despite his self-defeating tendencies, it might be easy to overlook this as cliché, or ground too-well-trodden, but in Barry’s hands the scenario feels fresh again, and moving. And, as with a fair amount of his stories, there is a humour to be found, both at the expense of the neurotic narrator, and in the endearing, authentic repartee between him and a woman who may just be the one. (Note: The prose is brilliant, but for best results I recommend the accompanying audio version, read by the author.)
I love his first two short story collections, There Are Little Kingdoms and Dark Lies the Island, and so am indecently excited about the prospect of his third, That Old Country Music, in which this story features.
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