Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Quick Sips - Fireside Fiction September 2017

Well it's another pretty full month of fiction from Fireside Fiction, with three flash fiction stories, one short story, and two more chapters of the ongoing novella. What surprises me most about the month's releases is that two of the pieces might not be speculative, though they are definitely still worth checking out. There's only a few SFF publications that also put out stories that are completely without SFF elements, but it's nice to see, to give some variety and to show that the editorial vision is not going based on what kind of elements are in the story, but how the piece feels and impacts. And in that department these are all rather hitting stories, some of them rather fun but mostly stories about danger and injustice and the push to fight back against that. These are some excellent pieces of fiction and I'm going to get to those reviews!

Art by Galen Dara

“Feeding Mr. Whiskers” by Dawn Bonanno (787 words)

This is a delightful story that holds to an innocent sort of fun and doesn’t let go. It finds Melanie put in charge of feeding the family cat, Mr. Whiskers. Of course, what could have been an easy job is turned into anything but when a new bag of dry food must be retrieved from...the basement. The story takes all the imagination of a child and weaves it into reality, where the shadows are palpable and all the small weird things of the basement become monsters, the whole subterranean realm an unmapped dungeon to explore and, hopefully, survive. There’s such a sense of fun to the piece, and a humor that springs up out of the way the story uses Melanie’s imagination to create both friends and enemies to populate the world of the basement. The back drop to that is, of course, the mission to feed the cat, and the elderly Mr. Whiskers does a great job of both grounding the story and making it all the more sweet and hilarious (as cats are wont to do). There is a definite whimsy here that contrasts nicely with the darker aspects of the story, because it does capture some of how the unfettered imagination of children can be a bit...dangerous. After all, the mind of a child can create some seriously messed up things, especially when confronted with such a strange unknown as the basement, where mold and dust and strange other creatures might mix and mingle. Melanie manages to find some light and allies in the dark, though, and I like how she navigates that space, aware that it means something that she can do this on her own, that she can face these horrors and keep going and even fight back. It’s a nice way to frame the pull and repulsion from such places, that are filled with mystery and excitement but that it’s nice to be able to shut away. To avoid. To shut the door on. And again, it’s a very fun story with a mix of excitement and magic, and you should definitely check it out! A great way to kick off the month!

“If We Live to Be Giants” by Allison Mulder (993 words)

This story is a much darker take on childhood, centering twins Rhee and the main character, who live in fear because of who they might be, and who their grandfather might be. The story brings up the specter of intolerance and hate, as their grandpa hates giants and has kicked his daughter, the twins’ mother, out of the house for having had a relationship with one. The parallels are pretty easy to spot but I like how the story handles this fictional minority group, how it begins to be reflected in the main character and her sister as they grow, as their height begins to betray who their father might be. As such, as they grow, the worse and worse their grandpa treats them, with added policing and monitoring. There’s a certain idea out there in the world that family can’t hurt or hate family. It’s something that the main character struggles with, having seen her mother kicked out of the house. It’s something that her grandma struggles with as well, because she has to face what kind of man she’s married to, and what she’s willing to do to stand up for what she believes in. The story also complicates the idea of leaving, and pressure that people can feel to try and do what’s right for a child. The twins’ mother left because she thought she had to, and yet the leaving doesn’t mean she doesn’t care. It shows instead the pressures that are put on women to accept blame and accept hate in order to try and protect their children. As so often is the case, though, it doesn’t work. Luckily, the story doesn’t end on utter despair. There’s a pervasive darkness, a weight to the story because of the threat of violence, because of the harm that this one man is visiting on three generations of women. But it’s a story that looks at family as beyond blood, as beyond that idea that those who love you are those directly related to you. The story shows that it’s more about how you treat others that defines family, that it’s love and not hate that should rule who is connected to who. And it’s a story that offers some hope that sometimes even tyrants can be escaped. That maybe there can be healing in community, and safety. And it makes for a rather wrenching and beautiful read!

“Loss” by Sarah Gailey (Fisher of Bones, chapter 4) (1234 words)

Well things just won’t look up for Fisher, as she deals with a sick healer and the weight of shifting roles and a future that’s supposed to be certain. The action continues to be rather slow and still heading in an “oh shit can this even get worse?” direction. Every decision that Fisher seems to make is complicated by the uncertainty she feels which is reinforced by the way that everyone questions her in ways that they didn’t question her father. She wants something to be easy, and yet things are only getting more and more difficult, and the farther the story progresses the more that it looks like Fisher is in for some Difficult Shit. It’s almost difficult to watch because the heaviness is balanced by these moments where things seem like they could get better. Fisher asserts herself a little, or a weight seems like it will be lifted. It seems like maybe, for once, she’ll catch a break, but...yeah, well, the story continues to be gripping, and I’m very interested to know what’s going to come from this latest development. There was an announcement recently that the whole story is going to be released in early October, which means I guess I don’t have that much longer to wait. And I like how here we do get to see more of Fisher interacting with her past friends, and how her new role has twisted her previous relationships. Especially given how much she’s going to need allies, it’s interesting to see how everything is coming to a boil. For now, it continues to be a rather intense story with a vividly complex net of people all looking to Fisher for direction and certainty when she doesn’t seem to have any to spare. Definitely keep up with this story!

“Reaching Beyond” by Evelyn Wong (3836 words)

Following the other non-serial stories this month, this piece makes another great example of centering a story from a child’s point of view. Once against we have a look at family and danger, but here the threat is definitely external, taking the form of Indonesian soldiers targeting Chinese residents of a town. There isn’t really any speculative part to the story but that doesn’t mean it hits any less hard, showcasing the fear at work in Lan, a young girl who doesn’t know what is going on around her, who wants to help protect her family but also wants something to hold onto in a suddenly-very-unsure time and place. Like the first story of the month, part of the story’s power comes from how it captures the imagination of Lan and where that imagination takes her and, in this case, how it fails her as well. This is not a land of make-believe that she finds herself in, and while there is a sense she wishes she could think of it like an adventure, the stakes here are all too real, the threat hammered home by the absence that opens the story, a classmate’s disappearance. Though she doesn’t know why this is happening, the story definitely shows Lan dealing with this new reality and trying to keep things together as the oldest child, still only twelve years old. The story doesn’t offer much in the way of comforts, recealing a landscape quickly slipping towards something very, very ugly. But it does show a series of resistances large and small, people trying to help those in danger of disappearing in the night. To me, as much as the story is about flight and loss, it’s also about what people do when faced with impossible circumstances and decisions. How people risk themselves to try and remain human in the face of inhumanity. It’s difficult and unsettling in how it depicts this being visited on a child, and it’s an important look at what happens to childhood amid growing authoritarian and racist powers. A fantastic read!

“The Whale of Tikpiti’i” by Tariro Ndoro (563 words)

This is another story that might not be speculative, but which hits with a strength of injustice and the specter of violence. Here the narrator, unnamed, has been violated by the prince of their island, by the son of the ruling family who takes what he wants and doesn’t have to worry about what happens after, where men in general bow to those in power because it is tradition and do not speak up against the harm done because it would cause problems. In many ways, for me, the story is about bravery and hardship, and what how often times people find it easier to face death from nature, to go hunting in the sea for whales that could destroy you, than it is to face the social dangers that justice requires. The narrator has been hurt and yet there is no recourse for them to take, no avenue where they can find justice, thanks not just to the power of the man who wronged them but the complacency of the rest of the island in the face of that power. The narrator here is making a stand, is resisting and rebelling in the way that is open to them. Not to seek bloody revenge exactly but to show by standing that they will not be erased, that they not be silenced. And the story does a wonderful job of showing what that means, the strength it requires to stand up when no one will stand with you, the extreme crimes that are covered up and ignored because social power is sometimes more binding than physical threats. It’s a story that captures a hurt and a burning desire again, not really for revenge so much as for justice, for something to be done. Because without that then all that remains are the bodies of the dead and the angry ghosts that the powerful try to buy off with bribes. It’s a great and impacting story!

“Fear” by Sarah Gailey (Fisher of Bones, chapter 5) (1237 words)

Wow, Fisher just can’t catch a break. I know that’s becoming something of a broken record, but things...well, they’re not going well. After the death of the healer, Fisher’s concerns have become quite personal, as the healer acted as midwife as well and, well, time is an issue. I can’t imagine that the escalation of tension can get much higher, though, without boiling over. The Inciting Incident looks to be happening just now, and each time these chapters close without everything going to hell it’s kinda torturous having to wait another week or two to find out what happens next. Because really, things are getting dire, and Fisher for all her sight and godly powers doesn’t really have any idea of what to do. And that’s what I like most about the story so far, that Fisher is just as much a victim of faith as she is bolstered by it, that this was something that comforted her and confounded her because her father was the last Prophet, and for all that she trusted him and was let into his secrets there is still a difference between them. Well, many. Largely, he was believed instantly where not. But more than that it seems like he never questioned himself. And maybe that’s just her perspective but it does seem like he had less doubt and less complications. Though he was a parent he was able to always put his faith and role first. She...well, even before the child is born it’s weighing heavily on her thoughts and influencing her actions, because she also doesn’t want to fail the child like her father failed her. And glob that’s a complex situation made all the more tenuous by the tensions getting worse and worse and, finally, maybe, threatening to explode. Or not. For all I know there’s going to be another chapter of further escalating but my heart can’t take much more. Oh glob... Another excellent chapter!


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