SHORTS: El-Mohtar, Wilde, Zinos-Amaro & Castro, Fallon, Larson, Kingfisher, Zhang

Our weekly exploration of free and inexpensive short fiction available on the internet. Here are a few stories we’ve read that we wanted you to know about. 

“Biting Tongues” by Amal El-Mohtar (2011, free at Uncanny, $3.99 Kindle magazine issue. First printed in The WisCon Chronicles (Vol 5): Writing and Racial Identity)

“Biting Tongues” is a speculative poem which slowly reveals the tenaciousness of the character or characters involved, through a progression from social expectations of their voice and bodies to their true form.

El-Mohtar makes you hang off every word with her fiction, and this poem is no exception. The sleek images bleed into each other and create a truly interesting and unique vision. I read this poem for a horror literature class and have kept coming back to the images therein. It’s a collection of images that aren’t easily forgotten. ~ Skye Walker


The Canterville Ghost by Oscar Wilde (1887, free at Project Gutenberg and Amazon (Kindle version))

This 1887 novella by Oscar Wilde relates the adventures of a rather brash American family that buys a haunted mansion in Victorian England. Mr Otis, the American Minister, moves his family into a mansion called Canterville Chase, despite earnest warnings from the prior owner, Lord Canterville (“a man of the most punctilious honour”), about the ghost that’s been haunting this home for 300 years, since 1584. Mr Otis dismisses the story, stating categorically that there’s no such thing as a ghost.

The Otis family ― the parents, an older son (“christened Washington by his parents in a moment of patriotism, which he never ceased to regret”), a gravely sweet 15 year old daughter named Virginia, and two younger twin boys who would give Red Chief a run for his money ― has a surprise coming. There is in fact a ghost and, being a true artiste in the art of haunting, he takes a great deal of pride in his work … you know, appearing in various bloody guises, breaking up engagements, driving people to suicide and such. It doesn’t take the Otis family long to admit they were wrong about the existence of ghosts. But the ghost, too, has a surprise or two coming.

Wilde deftly combines occasionally grisly descriptions of a haunting, some old-fashioned sentiment, a small droplet of romance, and a large helping of dry wit in this novella. It may be predictable, but it’s a quick, light and highly enjoyable read. This story makes fun of some British and American stereotypes of the day, but is oddly touching at the same time. Wilde’s humor raises this ghost story above the norm for this type of tale. ~Tadiana Jones


“A Touch of Heart” by Alvaro Zinos-Amaro and Adam-Troy Castro (July 2017, free at Lightspeed, $3.99 Kindle magazine issue)

A hard-scrabble farmer in China is envious of his much more prosperous neighbor. When he contracts with a “Black Touch” assassin to kill his neighbor so he can annex his land, things don’t quite go as planned.

This is a sweet little parable of a tale.  I loved the opening half—the voice and tone, the manner in which Dou’s spite and jealousy are laid bare.  The assassin segment was a small step downward for me—the assassin’s dialogue didn’t quite ring true or didn’t seem to fully mesh with the rest of the story’s voice. The conclusion is cute and has its clever moments. The dialogue is a bit on the nose and it’s all perhaps a little too pat, but the story’s brevity (under 5000 words) allows for more tolerance toward those sorts of issues and those aspects really fit the mode of a fable/parable, so it’s hard to complain much about them. ~Bill Capossere


“First Kill” by Jennifer Fallon (2016, free at Tor.com, 99c Kindle version)

A young man, Kiam Miar, who has been trained for some years as an assassin (a respectable profession in this world) is sent to the port city of Calavandra on his first assignment. Because it is a test, he knows it will be a tricky one; he also knows that he’ll be supervised by an experienced assassin in his guild, who will speedily kill him if he fails in his mission.

What he didn’t initially know is that the prostitute he has been sent to kill is a young woman from one of the ruling houses of the Trinity Isles, who has inexplicably taken up the life of a whore. More shocks await Kiam: When he finds her in a dockside tavern, he recognizes her as Sofya, a girl with whom he had a brief but intense (and forbidden) love affair when they were both fifteen. And now she doesn’t recognize him, at all. Kiam decides he needs to investigate further before assassinating Sofya, even though doing so puts him in grave danger of being assassinated by his guild for failing in his mission.

“First Kill” is an enjoyable high fantasy story, straightforward and easily accessible. There’s an eyebrow-raising coincidence or two, and an unlikely (despite his inexperience) mental lapse for our assassin, but the story has a good heart … for a tale about assassins and a murder for hire. ~Tadiana Jones


“Travelers” by Rich Larson (July 2017, free at Clarkesworld, $3.99 Kindle magazine issue)

“Travelers” is a pretty straightforward story that is a grimmer (one might say more true to the premise) version of the movie Passengers.  As a brief fiction (about 3000 words), there’s little character depth/development, but it chills in its slow reveals and thus works well as a plot-based story with a strong edge. ~Bill Capossere


“Packing” by T. Kingfisher (July 2017, free at Uncanny, $3.99 Kindle magazine issue)

It’s time, the narrator tells their reluctant younger companion: the new seasons are arriving, and the animals and plants need to be packed up ― but only those that they’re able to take with them, that will fit in.

All these choices were made long ago. Now is not the time to relitigate them.

 

Now our job is to decide what to bring with us.

 

No, you can’t take the polar bear. I’m sorry. I know you loved him. He takes up too much room, and he requires refrigeration. So does his food. We have to make hard choices now.

“Packing” is a brief allegory of our world and the climate changes that will alter it. One can speculate on who the narrator symbolically represents (Mother Nature? Our current world?) and who the childlike character is that the narrator is talking to. T. Kingfisher uses some colorful imagery and examples to illustrate the limitations and choices that climate change forces on us. It’s a slight tale, too plotless and one-note to really appeal to me, but it’s thought-provoking. ~Tadiana Jones


“An Age of Ice” by Zhang Ran, translated by Andy Dudak (July 2017, free at Clarkesworld, $3.99 Kindle magazine issue)

This is a sub-3000 word story about a daughter visiting her cryogenically frozen mother. It’s translated from Chinese and I’m assuming/hoping it lost something in translation. The prose is flat, the structure straightforward, the content consists of a lot of telling rather than showing or evoking, and there’s nothing new here in the concept, whether it be the execution or the ramifications. ~Bill Capossere


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SKYE WALKER, who has been on FanLit’s staff since September 2014 (after a brief time on staff as a YA reviewer in 2007-2008), is from Canada. Their HBA in Anthropology and Communications allowed them to write an Honours paper on podcasting as the modern oral tradition of storytelling: something they will talk about at any and all opportunities. Skye is a communications professional in the non-profit sector. These days their favourite authors include Ursula K Le Guin, Bo Bolander, and Chris Wooding. They can be found on social media @cskyewalker.

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TADIANA JONES, on our staff since July 2015, is an intellectual property lawyer with a BA in English. She inherited her love of classic and hard SF from her father and her love of fantasy and fairy tales from her mother. She lives with her husband and four children in a small town near the mountains in Utah. Tadiana juggles her career, her family, and her love for reading, travel and art, only occasionally dropping balls. She likes complex and layered stories and characters with hidden depths. Favorite authors include Lois McMaster Bujold, Brandon Sanderson, Robin McKinley, Connie Willis, Isaac Asimov, Larry Niven, Megan Whalen Turner, Patricia McKillip, Mary Stewart, Ilona Andrews, and Susanna Clarke.

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BILL CAPOSSERE, who's been with us since June 2007, lives in Rochester NY, where he is an English adjunct by day and a writer by night. His essays and stories have appeared in Colorado Review, Rosebud, Alaska Quarterly, and other literary journals, along with a few anthologies, and been recognized in the "Notable Essays" section of Best American Essays. His children's work has appeared in several magazines, while his plays have been given stage readings at GEVA Theatre and Bristol Valley Playhouse. When he's not writing, reading, reviewing, or teaching, he can usually be found with his wife and son on the frisbee golf course or the ultimate frisbee field.

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