Short story reviews for February 2016

Early spring has arrived here, though it seems to have skipped a few steps. By late February, we’re used to seeing the first neon-green shoots of onion grass and crocuses poking through snow. This year, though, we have massive rainstorms and unseasonable heat. It adds an element of the bizarre to picking through the detritus of a Valentine’s Day candy binge while dressed appropriately for a summer picnic. Spending a few hours a day sifting through, or writing in, science fictional and fantasy worlds, it’s hard not to see all the reasons why those seasonal norms are shifting. It’s hard not to fear many of those reasons. It’s harder still to admit to being exhilarated by any of them.

While I Wait by Ayla Al-Bedawi (500 words)
Fantastic Stories of the Imagination, January/February 2016

Every morning after I set the kettle on the stove, I peek through the blinds to check on the dead who have collected on my stoop overnight.

A piece of flash that packs a wallop. The narrator’s world is one of mundane, familiar horror. In other stories we might explore how it came to be, or how it can be resolved, but here Al-Bedawi uses it as a backdrop for a tiny bit of human kindness. No purpose. No mission.

The House of Surrender by Laurie Penny (4100 words)
Der Freitag, January 2016

Not far from here and many lifetimes’ journey away, there is a place called Sanctuary where they grow almonds and avocados and the weather is a perpetual late Spring. The town and its hundred thousand happy folk are watered by a wide, grey, treacherous river, and in that river is an island where no trees grow, and on that island is a house unlike any other.

It has had many names, but the people of Sanctuary have forgotten them. They call it the House of Surrender.

Der Freitag is a German site, but don’t worry: this is the English-language version of the story. Unfortunately I no longer remember how it wound up in one of my open tabs, but it was another refreshing and unexpected surprise. Although it is a science-fiction story set in a future world like ours, like Al-Bedawi’s piece, it doesn’t feel like it falls all that far away from a path we’re currently walking. Horrifying, but with a thread of hope. I thought of James Tiptree throughout. Mind that Rape Culture tag at the beginning; it definitely applies.