Monday, March 8, 2021

Short Fiction Round Up: February 2021

February was finals month for me, so I’m sorry to report I still have 49 tabs of short stories open, which I have not read, and thus can’t recommend for you here. Among other things, a new issue of Translunar Travelers Lounge dropped which I’m extremely excited to read cover to cover. But more on that next month. For now, I bring you offerings from Apex, Uncanny Magazine, and Fireside Fiction.

An emotional short story in which a Grim Reaper is tasked with reaping a two-year-old child. As the Grim Reaper observes the child, we learn more about his past as a man and a father, and watch as he makes decisions about his future. It’s a classic Harrow story, in that it is deeply evocative, furiously kind, and brilliantly hopeful. I cried three separate times, and I invite you to do the same. 

The Pill by Meg Elison (Big Girl, PM Press)
This dystopian novelette from Meg Elison’s Big Girl short story collection examines a near future in which a Pill magically turns fat people thin – for a price. Elison’s first-person protagonist is the daughter of one of the early adopters of The Pill. Reminding me of Carmen Maria Machado's short story Eight Bites, a thematic element of Elison's story is the way that mothers rejecting themselves can feel to daughters like their mother rejecting them. As the Pill’s toll on her family and on society gets bigger, what does the role of a fat person in society become? 

A 2020 story, but recently featured in the Uncanny Readers Poll, Ken Liu's title captured me immediately, and the story itself did not disappoint. I loved it. The story, which is set up as an obituary for the most renowned AI AI-critic WHEEP-3, explores the complicated relationship between the AI and its creator, Dr. Jody Reynolds Tran. It ends with a “commemoration of the life and work of WHEEP-3,” which is his 50 things every AI working with humans should now. The final line brought me to tears.

The thing about being a Newitz fan is that one always has to be prepared to be surprised. The effortless way that Newitz blends her near-future tech-laced settling with the magic and fantasy of fae is tonally perfect. The fae Newitz invokes is weird and creepy, but always happy to bargain. So it’s unsurprising when the fae and the workers band together in an extremely satisfying narrative twist at the end of the story.

How can one describe a short story in which the protagonist is a marsh? It’s a marsh with powers, one that can sing prophecies, though only when cut with silver. But then it begins to fight, to search for its own song, to explore its own agency…and meets a woman. This story is stunning, evocative and deeply piercing. 

Now that I look at these five stories together, I do think there’s a powerful theme of identity in the column this month. How do the choices you make now inform what kind of person you will be? How do the protagonists of these stories sit with it? Happy reading!

POSTED BY: Elisabeth R Moore is a writer, birder and grad student living in Germany. When she's not writing strange stories about scary plants, she can be found crocheting, hiking or biking. She tweets at @willowcabins.