REVIEW SUMMARY: This week’s short fiction selections are the three original works of fiction in the latest issue of Clarkesworld.
BRIEF SUMMARY: Non-Western culture and a blending of genre elements infuse the three works of original fiction with thought-provoking ideas and creativity.
PROS: Familiar tropes form a foundation upon which various genre elements are added to tell largely satisfying stories; focus on non-Western cultures; interesting ideas are examined within accessible stories.
CONS: One story stumbles at times due to inclusion of an idea that feels forced.
BOTTOM LINE: The three works of new fiction in this month’s Clarkesworld strive for a sense of originality and in some measure each achieves that by first building upon the foundation of familiar tropes then adding a variety of genre and non-genre elements. Each story satisfies in its ending, leaving the reader feeling as if he/she has experienced a complete story. This issue also contains two reprint stories and worthwhile non-fiction that can be accessed through the Clarkesworld website.
“Cry of the Kharchal” by Vandana Singh
Audio Version read by Kate Baker
Stories exist within stories in Vandana Singh’s work of original fiction. In a hotel build on the ruins of an abandoned fort a young boy, a poet, a mysterious girl and the hotel manager have the threads of their lives woven together by the manipulations of an ancient Queen with her own particular agenda. Elements of fantasy and science fiction blend together in this contemporary story that feels as if it could be at home within a modern Arabian Nights. The various characters are each interesting in their own individual stories and become more so as those stories come together. There is a sense of time and history present in the story which lend it heft and the main crux of the story, which will not be revealed for fear of spoilers, works well in bringing the various elements together for a satisfying whole.
“Shepherds” by Greg Kurzawa
Audio Version read by Kate Baker
An interesting blend of post-apocalyptic and Biblical themes, “Shepherds” follows the path of a particular shepherd who feels that he is coming to the end of his days and takes old paths out of the solitary mountains to a convent inhabited by the women who offer an alternative to a violent and lonely death. Greg Kurzawa uses names and thematic material from the book of Genesis to create a story that has a nice element of suspicion and suspense. It is apparent that the protagonist feels fear about approaching the convent and yet his knowledge of the future that awaits him were he to remain out in the wilderness drives him to push past that fear. What he finds may or may not be the salvation he was looking for.
Inventive storytelling that will make you look at the creation story in a new light.
A communal people spread among the asteroids await the arrival of a people from a far distant planet and moon who responded to a signal sent out among the stars. The asteroid settlements are failing and the people from the stars, the Nu, are on their way to gather these survivors and take them to a new home.
There is a lot going on in MacFarlane’s story, and most of it is very successful. In a brief number of pages she has created this interesting world which appears to be of a Chinese-based culture living out among a series of asteroids. The protagonists is a spice trader who travels between asteroids trading her family’s spices which lend flavor and variety to their otherwise bland foodstuffs. The spice element is woven throughout the story in interesting ways and though it may seem terribly wrong to write this, it does give the story a great deal of flavor.
There is fear and anticipation in mixed quantities among these people as they await their rescuers, knowing that there are things about their new environment that will not be conducive to the type of existence they currently enjoy. The story looks at culture, family structures, the fear and necessity of change and it does so very well. Where the story goes off course to a degree is the inclusion of gender issues that seem to be dropped in rather than smoothly integrated into the story in the way other elements are. It feels as if the author is trying to get a message across but that it is lost in translation in comparison to the many other well-crafted story elements.
Well worth reading despite this minor flaw, MacFarlane has a great imagination and it is on display in her world-building.
Kudos to Julie Dillon for the great cover art for this month’s issue. Her works are always infused with such rich, dazzling color.