SFM: Hodge, Chiang, Vaughn, Ryman, Simmons

Short Fiction Monday: There is so much free or inexpensive short fiction available on the internet these days. Here are a few stories we read this week that we wanted you to know about. 

“More Full of Weeping Than You Can Understand” by Rosamund Hodge (2010, free at Beneath Ceaseless Skies, 99c Kindle magazine issue)

Violet always knew she was different: she’s unable to feel deep concern or love for others, whether it was her kitten that died or her Grandmama. So she isn’t too surprised when a tall pale woman with huge butterfly wings appears to her and tells her that she is her real mother, and induces wings to grow on Violet’s back. Violet visits the land of Faery with her mother, and then returns to her human family, with her wings hidden from view. But Violet is changed internally as well as externally, and when a deadly war breaks out between humans and faeries the next year, Violet secretly helps the faeries … until a certain event causes her to rethink her loyalties.

The setting of this short story is a WWI type of setting, except that the conflict here is between humans and faeries. The key conflict in this story, however, is within Violet herself. Faeries are lovely but act with indifference and careless cruelty toward humans. Although as a faery Violet has no soul, something in humanity calls to her.

The title of “More Full of Weeping Than You Can Understand” is taken from William Butler Yeat’s famous poem, “The Stolen Child,” about faeries beguiling a human child into joining them in Faerie. The first three stanzas end with this refrain:

Come away, O human child!
To the waters and the wild
With a faery, hand in hand.
For the world’s more full of weeping than you can understand.

This story follows the viewpoint of the changeling faery rather than the human child, but the themes of the poem, and the feelings of loss and longing, echo in this tale. ~Tadiana Jones


“Exhalation” by Ted Chiang (2008, originally published in Eclipse 2 anthology (99c Kindle version), republished 2014 and free online in Lightspeed, $3.99 Kindle magazine issue). 2008 Hugo award (short story)

An alien scientist describes the life of its people, who are robots that depend on regular refills of the gas argon for their brains to function. They swap out “lungs,” aluminum cylinders filled with this gas, at filling stations, which are community centers for their race. At a filling station, the scientist hears rumors that clocks in several different districts are running too fast, although horologists cannot find any defect in the clocks. The scientist, a student of anatomy, theorizes that it is in fact the brains of this race of people that are running slower, rather than the clocks running faster. The scientist embarks on a daring, risky experiment on its own brain to determine whether its hypothesis is correct.

The results of this experiment, and the knowledge it brings to the scientist and others, bring bitterness and a sense of futility to many, but the scientist also has hope. Its reflections on the marvelous variety of life, and how other races in the universe might discover the scientist’s people and their fate in some distant future, imbue this story with a sense of wonder and make the ideas and concerns of this mechanical being, who is a thinking, feeling person, both universal and personal to us as readers and human beings. ~Tadiana Jones


“A Princess of Spain” by Carrie Vaughn (2007, originally published in The Secret History of Vampires anthology, republished 2012 and free online in Lightspeed, $3.99 Kindle magazine issue)

In 1501, the sixteen year old Spanish princess Catherine of Aragorn travels to England to meet Prince Arthur, the heir to the British throne and her new husband. Arthur is fifteen years old, thin and pale; his ten year old brother Henry is as tall as Arthur, and far more hearty and energetic. Tonight is Catherine and Arthur’s wedding night, but Arthur is uninterested in Catherine. His full attention is taken up by a dark-haired foreign woman, a lady-in-waiting to the daughter of the Dutch ambassador. Their wedding night is a bust.

Weeks after the marriage, Arthur still has not slept with Catherine. She feels that she has not fulfilled her duty as a wife, and she also fears greatly for her place at court if she cannot bear an heir to the throne. One December night she dons a black cloak and sneaks off to Arthur’s bedroom. There she sees him with the dark-haired foreign woman ― and what she sees shocks her profoundly. The woman speaks to Catherine, urging her to say nothing and claiming that she is keeping Arthur alive.

Carrie Vaughn weaves fantasy into actual history, creating an alternative history that proffers a different explanation for events in the lives of Arthur and his brother, as well as the devout Catherine, who was married to both of them. “A Princess of Spain” also takes into account the political situation in Europe at this time, and the intrigues that resulted.

This country was cursed, overrun with rain and plague. This king was cursed, haunted by all those who had died so he might have his crown, and so was his heir. Catherine could tell her parents, but what would that accomplish? She was not here for herself, but for the alliance between their kingdoms.

The motivations of Henry and the mysterious Angeline are a little more complex than I originally anticipated. Arthur is pretty much a non-entity in this tale, and Catherine seems a little lost in all of this (as she may well have been in real life), but young Henry ― later Henry VIII ― is a memorable character. ~Tadiana Jones


“Those Shadows Laugh” by Geoff Ryman (Sept/Oct. 2016, Fantasy & Science Fiction)

Geoff Ryman often riffs off other literary works, as he did with his great novel Was about The Wizard of Oz. In “Those Shadows Laugh” in the Sept/Oct 2016 issue of The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, he chooses a more obscure work, Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s Herland. Ryman re-imagines the all-female communal society in an alternate present-day world, in an engaging and thought-provoking story.

The reclusive society of women, which reproduces parthenogenetically, has found a unique way to maintain its privacy to some extent, at least; they have licensed part of their tropical island to the Disney Corporation, and they allow tourists to see limited parts of their lives and culture. Dr. Maria Valdez, a visitor to the island, is not a mere tourist. She is a geneticist. The Colinas Bravas, as they are called, have requested her presence because they are seeing a rising trend toward genetic mutation and require her help.

As a woman and an invited guest, Valdez gets to see much more of the personal lives of the Colinas. Along the way, Valdez, our first person narrator, drops a few casual clues about the differences between this world and ours; the 1936 Munich Olympics, for instance. The Colinas make a profit from their deal with Disney and from the sale of chocolates and coffee, and they enjoy buying things, but they are genuine communists with no sense of personal ownership. They enjoy cartoons and some movies, but edit out all serious violence and any references to marriage or exclusive sexual relationships; as they point out, that leaves very little to read or watch. Valdez understands this about them intellectually, but the story’s strength is in watching her struggle viscerally with a culture that is so completely different. Valdez is a woman raised in a patriarchal society; she has inculcated those patriarchal values and, while she is able to help the Colinas medically, her ingrained assumptions and beliefs don’t allow her a happy ending.

While I liked it, I thought the story was coy about Valdez in some ways. It seems that she is attracted to women from the very beginning of this story, but she hides it. I could not tell whether she was hiding it because her world was homophobic or because of her misunderstanding of the Colinas. I think Ryman could have made that clearer. This confusion made this a three-star read for me, although the description of the Colinas’ world made me want to rate it higher.

I had a pretty good idea where Valdez’s personal story was going, and I was right, but along the way I was caught up by the descriptions of the world of the Colina Bravas. “Those Shadows Laugh” left me with plenty to think about. ~Marion Deeds

 

“Those Shadows Laugh” is an alternative universe tale set on Colinas Bravas, a utopian island in the Atlantic Ocean founded by and solely inhabited by women who reproduce via parthenogenesis. The protagonist, Maria, is a biologist specializing in reproduction, who arrives on Colinas Bravas to set up a clinic to try to help solve the birth defect issues that have arisen. But her obsession with her host, Evie, causes all sorts of problems, as might have been guessed by the spot-on parallel with the male explorer who first found the island.

I didn’t care much for this story, which felt overlong. The island and its women were a bit too utopian for me, not only in their society/lifestyle but also in how they apparently pick up microbiology quickly and easily and have even “cornered the world market” on a bunch of products, building the best windmills, etc. Worse, though, was that Maria’s actions, which felt overly dramatic, just came out of nowhere and her obsession never once felt real, which made its earlier set-up (she tells us that she always falls in love with the places she goes, and with a person in each place, and that it doesn’t end well) just feel clumsy. ~Bill Capossere


“Burned Away” by Kristen Simmons (Sept. 2016, free on Tor.com, 99c Kindle version)

Sixteen year old Caris has dreams of being a reporter, and now she thinks she’s found the story that will make the snobbish editor of the Journal take her seriously, despite her age: There are rumors of a revolt by the workers in the factories of Metaltown. Caris leaves her safe home in Bakerstown to go investigate. She sees the striking workers outside of the factory, when violence erupts. Caris is struck by a boy who is watching the yelling and fighting with a crooked smirk on his face. When she is cornered in an alley and threatened by two thugs from the Brotherhood, the factory employees who are supposed to ensure that workers are treated fairly, the boy with the cockeyed smile shows up. Caris isn’t at all certain she can trust him, but she figures that he has to be better than the alternative.

“Burned Away” is a short story set in the universe of Metaltown, a dystopian novel just published by Tor Teen (September 2016), where oppressive, polluting factories rule the lives of most of the people there. But “Burned Away,” by itself, doesn’t tell a particularly exciting tale about this bleak world, and it didn’t make me any more likely to read the full novel. I didn’t really understand the nature of the labor dispute or the factions involved. Matchstick, the boy that Caris meets, could be interesting if we found out more about him (as I suspect readers of Metaltown will), but he remains an enigma here. And I just wanted to tell Caris to quit meddling in situations where she seems more likely to run into serious trouble than be of help. ~Tadiana Jones


SHARE:  Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail  FOLLOW:  Facebooktwittergoogle_pluslinkedinrsstumblr
If you plan to buy this book, you can support FanLit by clicking on the book cover above and buying it (and anything else) at Amazon. It costs you nothing extra, but Amazon pays us a small referral fee. Click any book cover or this link. We use this income to keep the site running. It pays for website hosting, postage for giveaways, and bookmarks and t-shirts. Thank you!

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.

View all posts by

MARION DEEDS, with us since March 2011, is retired from a 35-year career with county government, where she met enough interesting characters and heard enough zany stories to inspire at least two trilogies’ worth of fantasy fiction. Currently she spends part of her time working at a local used bookstore. She is an aspiring writer herself and, in the 1990s, had short fiction published in small magazines like Night Terrors, Aberrations, and in the cross-genre anthology The Magic Within. On her blog Deeds & Words, she reviews many types of books and follows developments in food policy and other topics.

View all posts by

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.

View all posts by

4 comments

  1. Regarding “A Princess of Spain,” I think Arthur Tudor is kind of a nonentity in history because he died young and without an heir. And because Henry VIII was so… well, so himself.

    • I think Arthur Tudor would have had to invent a real, working spaceship in order to avoid being eclipsed by Henry VIII.

    • I understand why Arthur is a footnote in the history books, I just thought the story could have fleshed out his character a little better. But Carrie Vaughn chose to focus on Catherine’s feelings (which are a mixture of duty, religion and fear) and on young Henry. Ultimately it’s hard to argue with that choice, given the nature of this tale.

  2. Bill, I agree with all your points… I still liked the story a bit more than you did.

Leave a Reply to Marion Deeds Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Add your own review

Rating