Short fiction has always been a sticking point for me. I don’t seek it out; I have trouble enjoying it; I particularly dislike reading it online. Except when a writer is fucking amazing, so is their short fiction. Obviously. Authors like Maureen McHugh, Julio Cortázar, and P.K. Dick remind me of this fact, but I need more proof. Largely thanks to the proddings of Manic Pixie Dream Worlds‘ Cecily, I have gotten over myself and looked at three post-apocalyptic short fictions this week.
If you’d like to discuss, I’ll be around on twitter for most of the (European Central Time) day using #ShortSFF.
“The Plague Between Us” by Clint Monette
Read “The Plague Between Us” for free on Crossed Genres.
Maybe the first story I read for this exercise was never going to have a fair chance, but “The Plague Between Us” didn’t do much for me. A plague or maybe aliens have destroyed human civilization, using human bodies as hosts and communicating via sores in their hands. Two humans, a man and a woman who are never named and who are not infected, hide out in a room (that I never got a concrete sense of this setting was one of the story’s more annoying faults), farm tomatoes, collect rainwater, and search for bacteria that they can use to wipe out the malicious hosts. While an interesting idea, I would have liked more world building, more characterization, more drive, less stilted dialogue. It takes more than half of the story to figure out what is happening, but I would have appreciated a reason to care from sentence one. In a short story, every single word has to be doing work or get cut. The words in this story didn’t appear to be heavy lifters.
Flavor quote: “The boy sprayed the tomato leaf. His face was starting to wrinkle, and his hands no longer felt like they were his own. It had been a long time since he had seen his reflection in anything other than the darkened swirling fish pool.”
Rating: 1/10 plague antidotes
“Documentary” by Vajra Chandrasekera
Read “Documentary” for free on Lightspeed.
Take two. After a great first sentence (“Kamaria turns into a helicopter gunship at the full metal moon.”) the story plunges into an unforgetable style with intriguing details that made me want to read the shit out of it. The framing device—that this story is being told by a documentary film crew doing a piece on a woman who is a sort of helicopter werewolf, shapeshifting unwillingly into a ‘copter at the sight of a certain moon—works well as a bullshit detector. Only the most cinematic bits of the story are shown, the rest is cut due to time, budget, and other constraints. There has been a war. Many are dead. Haunted and haunting. Chandrasekera packs so much world, detail, feeling into so small a space, I am reminded of why it is necessary to force myself to read short fiction as often as I can bear it. Weird and original. A joy to read.
Flavor quote: “We are the world regarding itself, hungry for somebody’s narrative, anybody’s narrative. And maybe we are the dead.”
Rating: 9.5/10 shapeshifting werewolf helicopters.
“A Shadow on the Sky” by Sunny Moraine
Read “A Shadow on the Sky” for free on Mythic Delirium.
A world ruined by an alien war, planes constantly overhead, a woman, saved from it and turned into a righteous, destroying god? I wasn’t entirely sure what the full picture was, but these were the pieces, and they were interesting and vivid, if not more satisfyingly fleshed out. Reading, I kept thinking, well, this would probably make a novel I would love, but not a short story I will be able to rave about. Interested, but not intrigued.
Flavor quote: “I saw my mother and father judged by the planes. I saw them torn to pieces by a wave of heat and flame, standing in the center of a crowded market, as I turned back to ask them if I could buy a bag of candied dates. I was thirteen years old, a child, but no one can truly be a child here, and I was old enough to know that whatever judgment had fallen on them, it was not justice.”
Rating: 7/10 vengeful gods.
Have you read any interesting short fiction lately?