This week’s short stories are a bit of a mixed bag. I’m reading a couple of anthologies, listening to some stories on podcasts during my daily commute, as well as reading some online from various SF magazines and websites.
I read (or listened to) some really good short stories this week, so picking favourites is really hard. There were none I didn’t like. Possibly the one I enjoyed the best this week though was A Fable With Slips of White Paper Spilling from the Pockets by Kevin Brockmeier (*****). This was a magical realism story about a man who buys a second hand coat in a thrift store (charity shop as we call it in the UK), only to keep finding bits of paper in the pockets with things written on. I don’t want to give too much away, but this is a lovely story.
The Prison House of Language by Elana Gomel (**** 1/2), from Apex Magazine was a really interesting story. The narrator didn’t speak until she was six. When she did finally speak, she found that speaking was very painful. Different languages felt different, her native tongue “filled my mouth like a handful of grinding stones” and Arabic was like “chewing Rose flavoured gum”. This is a form of synesthesia and I found it absolutely fascinating. She found though that whatever stopped her speaking as a young child, gave her an aptitude for languages later. She became a linguist, in part to find a language that didn’t hurt her to speak. She could learn a language in a week, and knew many, but then one day she was asked to help in an experiment to find the one original proto-language of humans. And what might she learn then? Lots of stuff about languages here, including stuff by Chomsky, and the Fermi paradox comes into it too.
Next I’m going to go for Octonet by Keyan Bowes (****) from Escape Pod. It’s about Octopuses actually being really intelligent, and what happens when they are taught to communicate by use of electronic tablets. Quirky, and by no means a perfect story, but I liked it a lot. The author apparently took information and inspiration from a popular science book I’ve been meaning to read for a while but not quite got around to – Other Minds: The Octopus, The Sea and the Deep Origins of Consciousness.
This was a fascinating story that I enjoyed a lot.
Oh dang! I forgot about Yiwu by Lavie Tidhar (****) which was a lovely tale set in a future China about a lottery ticket seller, but it isn’t any normal lottery because the winner is granted their greatest wish, their heart’s desire, whatever it is. The ticket seller doesn’t play however, he knows such dreams are not for him. Until one day one of his customers buys a winning ticket, but then leaves it on the kiosk desk and walks away… Definitely worthy of inclusion in the top stories of the week.
Next up is Welcome to Your Authentic Indian Experience by Rebecca Roanhorse (****). In a future world, the narrator is a Native American who works as a sort of VR actor, giving people virtual experiences of Native American culture. He prides himself on always giving an ‘authentic’ experience for his customers, but one day there’s one who isn’t impressed and wants a more realistic experience… This is a really good story that offers into an insight into the native American experience, but examines what real and authentic actually is.
Sixteen Questions for Kamala Chattarjee by Alistair Reynolds (***) – I do really like Alastair Reynolds and have read many of his novels and short stories. This one didn’t particularly resonate with me, possibly because of the way it uses two overlapping timelines and lots of technical content. It had some lovely descriptions in it though. It was in the book Year’s Best Hard SF and it definitely fits in this. For lovers of science heavy SF, this is likely to be a good story.
Then we’ve got Repairing the World by John Chu (***1/2). This is my first story by John Chu and it was certainly one I enjoyed and found interesting. In this story there has for a long time been ‘incursions’ into our reality by another universe and there’s an ongoing struggle to contain these before they spread. There’s also concurrently the story of forbidden love between two men, this being a culture that is much more intolerant than our own.
Finally, a couple of flash fiction stories from Daily Science Fiction. Broken Yesterdays by Tabbie Hunt ***) is a bit icky, but there’s truth in there about our lives. Then there’s The Future Faire by Dustin Adams (***1/2), about when time travellers from the future host a sort of fair or expo for people from the past