Short Fiction Recs, 25/10/2020
Updated: Nov 8, 2020
To quote the (Disney) White Rabbit, I’m late! I’m late! I had hoped, as with my first two Recs posts, to publish this earlier in the week, but ended up taking rather longer than I'd planned on shedits for one of my own stories, which pushed everything back. Fortunately, this means I can include a story that otherwise wouldn't have been released in time, and thereby bring the week's total to 4 in the process. I hope enjoy them! Staying Behind (Ken Liu, Clarkesworld, Issue 61; The Hidden Girl and Other Stories, Saga Press, 2020) - Even in such a packed and competitive field as contemporary sci-fi/speculative fiction, Liu is one of the most inventive writers around, and his grounding in ‘subjects such as cryptocurrency, futurism, implications of new technologies (5G, GPT-3, nanomaterials, etc.)’ helps even his wilder ideas retain a sense of plausibility and authenticity. More than that, however, he’s just a really great writer. I loved his first collection, The Paper Menagerie, and am currently working my way through his second, of which this has been one of the stand-outs so far. Essentially, it’s his take on both a kind of ‘Rapture’ scenario and a zombie apocalypse, but with a possibly even more unsettling, thought-provoking digital twist. Note: I read the version in The Hidden Girl and Other Stories, but I don’t believe there are many differences with the Clarkesworld version. And for those who’d prefer, the latter comes with audio, too!
The Sunday Ritual (Vineetha Mokkil, Fairlight Shorts) - One of the good things about twitter is that not only has it led me to discover stories and magazines/ezines I might otherwise never have encountered (or encountered much later), but also to interact with some of the authors behind those stories. Vineetha Mokkil is one such writer, and being a follower on there allowed me to notice her latest work soon after its release on Thursday, for which I'm very grateful. Set against the tense political backdrop of the Kashmir region, this tale of star-crossed love avoids some of the usual narrative beats, focusing less on the romantic relationship and instead on the way that prejudice can strain and damage even what should (ideally) be a person’s most lasting, reliable bonds. Keenly observed, with wonderful prose, this moves through authentic anecdotal snapshots of sibling banter and rivalry into an altogether darker, more troubling place. Mokkil has also released a collection, A Happy Place and Other Stories, which somehow went way under my radar back in 2014 (when, I have to admit, I was not reading as widely as I could have been), but which I hope to get hold of and start reading soon.
Down to Niflhel Deep (Maria Haskins, Kaleidotrope) - Stories that follow an animal perspective, especially in a non-anthropomorphising way, can be tricky to pull off, but Haskins does so brilliantly here. Weaving fantasy and myth into a tense narrative of a missing child and a frantic but determined pet, this features some of Haskins’ finest prose to date (a high bar), as it makes a strong case that dogs, not diamonds, are a girl’s best friend. Maria is another writer I’ve been fortunate enough to connect with through twitter, and I always look forward to more of her work. I believe she has a short story collection coming out next year (about which I’ll share more details when I have them), but in the meantime I heartily recommend taking a look at some of her other recent fiction, and also her own recommended stories, which have never steered me wrong.
Citizen Conn (Michael Chabon, The New Yorker, Feb 13, 2012) - In the last slot this week is one of my favourite Chabon stories, which marked a return to the field of American comics that he explores to such incredible effect in The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay (and which, if you still haven’t got around to reading, you definitely should! And, where possible, get a copy from your local bookshop or library). Rather than diving back into the Golden Age of that novel, however, Chabon here deals with the strained later relationship between two septuagenarian stars of that period, Artie Conn and Mort Feather, as mediated by the rabbi of an assisted-living facility. With echoes of the feud between Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, this is a powerful tale of friendship, shared dreams, and sad misunderstandings. I never get tired of rereading this.
If you enjoy these recommendations, and other work by the listed authors, then please do what you can to support them, and the relevant magazines/sites, where possible. Also, if you'd like to toss a coin to yours truly at some point, via my Ko-fi or my new Curious Fictions profile, that would be very much appreciated, too! I'm aiming to suggest a more horror-focused, Halloweeny selection of stories at some point next week, but for now, to borrow a phrase from another animated wabbit… that’s all folks! (Disclosure: If you buy books through links on this page, I may earn a commission from Bookshop.org, whose fees also support independent bookshops.)