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2015 Stories 128 - 135

Because I missed ReadaThon April 25th for various personal reasons, I decided to set myself a challenge on APril 26th to read at least 24 short stories (one for each hour of the day), out of various online sources and in anthologies that have sat on my shelves un-opened for too long. Well, that turned into a goal of 24 stories in 36 hours, of which I managed to read 20 stories. The reviews on stories 1 - 12 of the challenge were posted on the 26th in groups of three. Then real life and work life got in the way, and I didn't post the final 10 reviews. So Here are my thoughts on the final group, with links to where they can be found:

128. YOU WILL ATTEND UNTIL BEAUTY AWAKES by Jay Lake, from the anthology Clockwork Fairy Tales.   (I keep tripping across these anthologies that have Jay Lake stories in them that I somehow never read while Jay was still alive. It's always a pleasant surprise, but a bit wistful at the same time.) This is a novella-length retelling of the Sleeping Beauty myth in a steampunk alternate Europe. Lake mixes magic (the faerie Court of the Seasons: King Winter, Lady Summer and their 13 children) with the steampunk theme of the anthology to fulfill the roles the story requires. He alternates POV through a dozen narrators, including the omniscient voice, to lay out the pieces of his puzzle. There are the usual playful Lake touches: Beauty's parents are King Grimm and Queen Perault, the 13 children of the Court are named for the order of their birth, the prince's name is Puissant. But there's also a deeper analysis of the natures of pride and guilt and how both can work subtle changes even without a curse being laid.

129. THE WAYS OF WALLS AND WORDS by Sabrina Vourvoulias from Tor.com.   Two young girls, one "free" native Nahua and one an imprisoned Castillian Jew, bond through prison walls during the Inquisition as it was practiced in the new world (which doesn't seem much different from the way it was practiced in Spain).  Bienvenida (the native) and Anica (the imprisoned) can barely see each other, but they share poetry and the wish to be free of the chains (physical and emotional) that keep them in this prison. Vourvoulias does a wonderful job showing how a friendship can grow despite differences in upbringing and belief and current circumstance, and I have no problem believing the girls would have still struck up a friendship even if their current situation did not exist. The characters are both sympathetic to the reader (in fact, one strains to find an unsympathetic character; even the Dominican brother who learns plant lore from Bienvenida's mother clearly feels pain at the torture inflicted upon Anica and her sister). Neither Bienvenida's nor Anica's beliefs are presented as more "right" than the other's: the author concentrates on the commonalities even as the characters are pointing out the differences. If a tale can be both sad and full of hope simultaneously, Vourvoulias has given us that story.

130. THE PERFECT BOOK by Ken Liu, from the anthology Coffee: 14 Caffienated Tales of the Fantastic.  Short, punchy and to the point, but not lacking in the usual Liu depth. The author posits a future in which the Book Genome Project mixes and matches sentences from every book every published to craft the perfect unique book for each reader based on their mood/interests/current situation. The characters are a barista in a coffee shop that provides access to the Book Genome Project along with the coffee and his favorite customer/reader. They bond over the books created, until the barista decides to take an emotionally dangerous risk. In the short space provided, Liu makes both characters real, sympathetic, and caught up in a technology that could be more dangerous than it seems.

131. WEEDS by Stephen King, from the anthology Dark Screams Volume 1.  This is the long out-of-print short story that King used as the basis for his portion of the screenplay for the movie Creepshow (and in which he played the main character). This is early King and not necessarily the most subtle of his work, but still creepy. A meteor lands on Jordy Verrill's property and touching it sets off an infection that Jordy does not realize could threaten all of Earth. The descriptions of the fungal growth are of course classic King. The story creeps along to it's inevitable conclusion, and I felt itchy reading it.

132. GOLDEN HANDCUFFS by Jess Faraday, from the anthology Death and the Detective.   Christmas season at a shoe store in a local mall. Intentionally or not, there's the implication that this is a mall suffering from local economic depression, as there's no description of the usual holiday crowds (although there is a description of the usual garish holiday mall decorations). Faraday takes time setting up her main characters (friendly mall security guard, two store empoloyees (one desperate to keep his job, one just creepy), an off-camera jerk of a boss) before engaging the mystery: the death of one of the employees. There are plenty of red herrings before the final reveal and just enough of a noir feel to make the story work.

133. FIVE BULLETS ON THE BANKS OF THE SADJI by Keffy R.M. Kehrli from the anthology River: An Anthology.   The Sadji River flows into the larger Koretl, but it is the Koretl people who have expanded upriver to conquer and control the Sadji people. The last surviving brother of a Sadji family that has tried rebellion and conciliation with equally deadly results is confronted with his family's past when an injured Sadji 'traitor' is left to die on his doorstep. The question is, does this brother remember enough river magic lore, taught by his mother, to save the man's life? Told in first person by this youngest brother, the narrator's voice realistically moves from defeated to hopeful and back several times over the course of the story as the influence of the past on the events of the present is revealed.  The story feels more topical than ever in light of events all around the globe.  I also thought, and I'm not sure if this was the author's intent, that the main character is not only gay but trans* (female to male, if I read what I think are the clues properly). If I'm right, I have to mention how happy I always am to find stories in which a character's trans* status is just a facet of the character and not the plot point on which the whole story hangs. (The story is also available in audio form on Podcastle: The Fantasy Fiction Podcast.)

134. THEY ARE FORGOTTEN UNTIL THEY COME AGAIN by Jay Lake, from the anthology River: An Anthology.  Set in a vague long-post-apocalypse future. People have forgotten technology, live in steadings, and personify nature as deities. River, Storm and Ocean are all described with feminine pronouns and are feared/worshipped/sacrificed to, despite the clear indication that the society we're viewing in patriarchal rather than matriarchal (and, in fact, there's heavy indication that the priestesses of these deities are not exactly well-regarded in the steading). Main character Smallish Boy and his older brother watch such a sacrifice play out, as a proud woman (a priestess of River, I think) risks all to do battle with the men about to sacrifice her child. Lake's penchant for strong natural imagery takes center stage here, the river being as fully a character as the people battling on its shoreline.

135. LADY OF THE WATERS by Seanan McGuire, from the anthology River: An Anthology.  McGuire gives us a fantasy setting with a truly diverse riverboat crew (female centaur captain, a merwoman with legs and poison spikes, a female assassin with a heart of gold, and a seemingly average token male to round things out) who arrive in a river-town they've never visited before and end up investigated the disappearances of several of the town's young women, possibly lured to their deaths by the titular Lady of the Waters. But of course all is not what it seems. McGuire, as she is known to do, weaves elements of both the fantasy and mystery genres together very well in this story. I'm not sure it quite counts as a "fair play" mystery, but it's still a satisfactory one. I'd read more stories with this riverboat crew, mysteries or not.

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