SHORTS: Slatter, Tolbert, Pratt, Pinkser

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. 

Finnegan’s Field by Angela Slatter (Jan. 2016, free at Tor.com, 99c Kindle version)

This grim story of a mother’s love for her child taps into a rare feeling of collective folklore from a shared history. Finnegan’s Field is a dark fantasy tale about a missing girl returning home after having disappeared three years prior. As it unfolds, the mother, Anne, has either uncovered something no one wants to explain or has lost her grip on reality.

The sunny atmosphere of a Southern Australia town and the underlying horror of this story are expertly paired, leading the reader along with Anne as she tries to grasp any sort of truth about her daughter’s disappearance. Finnegan’s Field feels at once like the present, with a mother investigating the kidnapping of her returned child, and the past, with the underlying echoes of ancient folklore. Both of these worlds combine to create an utterly satisfying and thoroughly creepy tale.

Described as “dark fantasy,” this novelette includes a fair bit of blood and gore, but I wouldn’t call it gratuitous. Anne is a believable protagonist, and Angela Slatter does an excellent job putting the reader in Anne’s mind and motivations. Finnegan’s Field is a slow boil of tension and mystery right up to its utterly satisfying ending. ~ Skye Walker


“La Alma Perdida de Marguerite Espinoza” by Jeremiah Tolbert (2012, free online in Lightspeed, $3.99 Kindle magazine issue)

Alvardo is a trained custodian of souls, in a world where their God has for many generations capriciously allowed very few humans to be born with souls, or almas. Most people are born as empty vessels, capable of only minimal thought unless another person’s soul is breathed into them. So human souls are far more precious than gold, passed down in families or purchased for fortunes. Those who cannot afford a human soul will often be given an animal’s soul, which not only has less intelligence but also causes their bodies to change, taking on many of the characteristics of the dog, snake, ox or other animal soul that inhabits their body. Soul custodians, like Alvardo, assist in collecting souls of the dying and holding it until the new recipient is there and ready for it.

Alvardo is hired by the wealthy Espinoza family to collect the soul of their dying grandmother, Marguerite, and pass it on to a new grandchild that will be born soon. After he collects the soul, Alvardo is promptly taken by the Espinoza guards to a safe house to await the birth of the child, but on the way Alvardo is captured by unknown assailants who want the valuable human soul he is carrying for their own purposes. At the same time, the grandmother’s soul is struggling within Alvardo, seeking to escape his body, whispering that it will offer him anything ― treasure, power, valuable information — if he will only set it free to ascend to the heavens.

“La Alma Perdida de Marguerite Espinoza” is set in a medieval Spanish type of culture, but in a world that is far different from ours. Not only are souls rare things that can be trapped or transferred, but the people themselves are different, bleeding humors rather than blood, for example. They call their God El Dios Tacaño, the miserly God, and despise him for what he has done to their world by making new souls so infrequently. Alvardo has competing motivations, since his own soul was taken away when he was young and sold by his parents for a fortune. I was a little hazy on how Alvardo managed to think as well as he did when he was an empty vessel, and why Marguerite’s soul battled with his thoughts rather than becoming part of Alvardo, as I presume her soul was supposed to be when given to its intended recipient. These are fairly minor quibbles, though; overall this is an intriguing and thought-provoking story, and Jeremiah Tolbert tells it well. ~Tadiana Jones


“The Wilderness Within” by Tim Pratt (Sept. 2016, free online at Lightspeed, Kindle magazine issue)

Helena, who is recovering from a bad breakup with her girlfriend, looks out the window of her San Francisco apartment one morning and is astonished to see a smoking volcano blocking her view. She screams (frightening her cat) and turns on the news to see what is going on … and there is no mention of the volcano at all. When she goes to the local coffee shop and asks the barista about it, they respond like the volcano has always been there, but they don’t know the name of the volcano. Mt. St. Helens, perhaps, or maybe Kamehameha?

A good-looking guy catches Helena outside of the coffee shop and tells her that the volcano is actually Mt. Kilroy. When they get around to exchanging names, he tells her that his name, too, is Kilroy. Helena gets Kilroy to admit to her that the volcano follows him from place to place. He claims it’s not dangerous, and that only one or two people out of thousands have the ability to recognize that the volcano hasn’t always been there ― people who are troubled. Like, say, Helena.

I saw what was coming quite a bit before Helena did. The dialogue between Kilroy and Helena is rather shallow, and I agree with Bill that the gender diversity part of the story feels clunky, more for show than an integral part of the story. But despite these weaknesses, I thought this was a fun, quirky story. ~Tadiana Jones

When the narrator opens her blinds to look out on her San Fran view, what she sees instead is a volcano that appeared overnight but that everyone else remembers always being there. Eventually she’ll find out where the volcano comes from, and to be honest, the premise is a pretty good one. But the mechanics of the story just killed it for me. The dialogue, the prose, the handling of gender issues, the characterization all felt shockingly clunky and amateurish. ~Bill Capossere


“Talking to Dead People” by Sarah Pinsker (Sept/Oct. 2016, Fantasy & Science Fiction)

The narrator, Gwen, relates her relationship with her former best friend/business partner, explaining how they came up with the idea of building and selling “murder houses” ― exact miniature replicas of homes that were the settings of unsolved crimes (their first was big Lizzie Borden’s house). Gwen does the building while her friend Eliza programs the models with an AI that allows people to ask questions of those who lived there, including the victims and possible suspects.

The premise is interesting and the structure sets up some nice anticipation, with the reader wondering what caused their falling out. But the cause, I think, is a bit too bluntly telegraphed, and it isn’t mined fully enough, making the latter half of the store fall more than a little flat. ~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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2 comments

  1. Bill, you are just a tougher reviewer than Marion or me. ;)

  2. I’ve definitely been the grumpy old guy lately on some of these. Btw, stay off my lawn!

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