February’s shorts include emotionally resonant stories about family and friendship and trippy genre-benders.
“The Language of Knives” by Haralambi Markov (Tor.com) is a secondary world fantasy in which the main character has given up the life of a warrior and chosen to prepare the dead; when he must perform this task for his husband, he mourns not only his lover but also substantially lesser status in the eyes of his daughter. Parents having favorites amongst their children is very much part of our cultural milieu, but not so frequently presented is the reverse, and this is a rendering of complex emotions that feels very true. Gwendolyn Clare’s “Indelible” (Clarkesworld #101) is another such resonant tale of grief, following the loss of one’s sister in a science fictional far future in which aliens are characterized by their physical malleability.
Rachael K. Jones’ “Traveling Mercies” (Strange Horizons 9/2/15) brings a new spin on the mythology of supernatural creatures and is a good reminder that when a given subgenre feels done to death, it’s quite possible that it’s due to Anglophone homogeneity. This tiny story about hospitality and friendship had my favorite prose of the month:
In the old stories, strangers at the door could be disguised gods, so you had to invite them in. It was a sin to turn away a guest.
Atithi devo bhava. Sanskrit: the guest is God.
I am not God, though I am old.
And on the opposite emotional note, but also featuring great prose and voice, is “The Confession of Whistling Dixie” by Fiona Moore (The Journal of Unlikely Cryptography, #11), told from the perspective of the first self-aware, evolved botnet. The creepy A.I. story is a well-trod trope, but this story presents a fresh take on it.
Of the three unexpected genre-benders I loved in the month of February, my favorite was “A Shadow on the Sky” (Mythic Delirium 1.3) by Sunny Moraine, a post-apocalyptic fantasy that invokes the horrors of real-world drones and living in a state of terror. “Schrodinger’s Gun” by Ray Wood (Tor.com) brings quantum physics and the multiverse to the hard-boiled detective story. The most interesting part is not the who-dunnit, but rather how having access to knowledge of multiple universes affects the protagonist in terms of her job, her relationships, and her psychology — as well as how it changes the archetype of the police procedural. Amal El-Mohtar’s “Pockets” (Uncanny #2) is portal science fiction that invokes the laws of thermodynamics; protagonist Nadia begins to find increasingly strange objects in her pockets that don’t belong to her, and comes to terms with the mystery with a little help from her friends. I read this on Valentine’s Day, and this along with Jones’ story are great reminders that good friends are the best Valentines.