February 2012 Short Fiction

 All The Young Kirks And Their Good Intentions (Clarkesworld) by Helena Bell – Earth is being ravaged by some kind of disease. It responds by sending a few brilliant men and women to a moon colony where they try to recreate Earth’s (often extinct) ecosystems. Meanwhile, the town of Riverside, Iowa, has gotten caught up in this interplanetary fervor: it starts naming all of its children after a mythical hero from the past, James Tiberius Kirk.

I am normally very suspicious of fan-service stories, because I think they have a tendency to try to glamour their audience by namedropping nerdery instead of creating interesting characters, situations, and settings. And perhaps that’s what is happening here, but if that’s the case, I am thoroughly beglamoured. I love this story.

It’s just a story about kids, jostling to be special. Ostensibly, they all want to grow up and go to the moon and be heroes. But right now, they’re sitting in Iowa, playing status games with each other. The story is slow, but implacable. All of its pieces resonate with each other, and obey some unseen internal logic.

 

Bear In Contradicting Landscape (Apex) by David J. Schwartz – An author finds that a character from one of his early (terrible) short stories has come to life. In most hands, this story would be really playful and silly and insubstantial. But Schwartz just keeps throwing stuff in there. He spends all this time detailing the really dystopian story that the character came from. Then he starts describing the author’s girlfriend, a woman who is having her whole life story tattooed on herself. Then he’s writing about the character’s wife and her fascination with Elvis. And then the character’s cats corner a rabbit and the author saves the rabbit.

There’s really not a wrong note in the whole story. I’m just reading and reading and I’m never thinking–as I usually am, for most stories–“Okay, how is all this crap going to cohere.” No, because it’s cohering and agglomerating as we go. Even the everyman schlub narrator manages to avoid being just another everyman schlub. He has an engaging, fox-quick voice that’s full of wonderment and understanding (rather than the usual self-pity and neuroticism that I’ve come to expect from everyman schlubs). Anyways, I liked this story alot.

 

Aftermath (Strange Horizons) by Joy Kennedy-O’Neill – The zombie plague was averted after only a year by an airborne cure that turned the zombies back into ordinary human beings. A former literature professor struggles to live with a husband who succumbed to the plague and spent several months as a flesh-eater.

I love zombie stories. And I love that zombie stories are so versatile. They’re not just about titillation, like vampire stories, or about scaring you, like most monster stories. Zombie stories are about how we relate to society: the blank mass of strangers that we see around us everyday. And I love this story’s twist on the zombie tale: in this story, the zombies come back to life and try to live like ordinary people (they don’t remember any of their former atrocities). It has a lot of resonances with many modern situations in which people have to live with situations that they were not fully responsible for: Slavery or the Civil War (in America) or The Partition (in India). But it’s also a story that fully engages with its own premise. This is a story about the aftermath of a zombie apocalypse. It’s rigorous and it doesn’t provide easy answers to the dilemmas that it raises.

 

In addition to the stories mentioned above, I also enjoyed Genevieve Valentine’s “The Gravedigger of Konstan Spring” (Lightspeed), Brooke Bolander’s “Tornado’s Siren” (Lightspeed), and Justin Howe’s “Shadows Under Hexmouth Street” (Beneath Cease Skies)