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2013 Stories 46-48

Here are three I read before I started proofreading next month's Lightspeed magazine. This doesn't quite catch me up, but it closes the gap:

46. THE CRACKER TRAP by Maurice Broaddus, from the Spring 2012 issue of Shroud magazine. When I had dinner with Maurice and his family in Indianapolis last year, he told me about this story's publication and the reaction it had received when he read it at Mo*Con. I finally tracked the issue down and gave the story a read. And ... wow. Maurice doesn't pull any punches in this story of the Token Black Guy in every modern slasher film. At the start, he plays expertly with the tropes of slasher/haunted-house scripts: how the characters came to be here, how they all know each other and inter-relate, all the while allowing the main character (saddled with the unfortunate name Benson T. Cosby) to comment on the ridiculousness and predictability of the situation they are in (which of course allows Broaddus to also utilize the Unrealistically Self-Aware Character trope as well). Broaddus clearly pushes the Archetypes of black portrayal in film right in our faces (and we do get to see them all) and then he twists the issue oh-so-slightly. I don't want to give the ending away, but I will say that it made me laugh uncomfortably, which I think was one of Maurice's goals. It's a great story, and gives one more to think about than I can write about in a short review of a short story.  Definitely seek this one out.


47. GHOST IN THE MACHINE by Jerry Gordon, from the Spring 2012 issue of Shroud magazine. This is my first experience reading a Jerry Gordon short story, and I'll be back for more. (I'm more familiar with Jerry's work as Maurice Broaddus' co-editor on the DARK FAITH books.)  In "Ghost," Jerry takes a shot at modern politics in what seems to be a slightly dystopian near-future. We don't get many details of the world: somehow San Diego has been destroyed and in the aftermath, both Democrats and Republicans have fallen in favor to a new party, the Sons of Liberty. The public isn't aware of the use of mind-reading spies to keep various politicians in line .. but our main character, John Wexler, knows just how well they work.  Especially once he becomes a target himself.  Gordon introduces the concept so subtly that at first I thought he was talking about regular spies (with lines like "well, let the ghosts do their work..."), until the realization hit that these are, in effect, psychic hit-men. I won't give away the twist the story takes, but I will say it was highly satisfactory.


48. BREAK ME IN AND OUT by Kindeall Gray, the January 23rd 2013 issue of One Story magazine.  One Story publishes a lot of "slice of life" / "day in the life of" stories, as so many magazines that focus on literary short fiction do. This story, narrated by a young girl (12 years old, I think) who is stuck in a life of poverty. The voice of the character is clear, consistent and felt appropriate for the age I think she's supposed to be. The details of the world are gritty, but focused on the things this girl would notice: smells (mostly food) and sound (in particular, the sound coins make in jars, in pockets, on counters), which I felt was a nice touch. The relationships between the girl and her mother and her older brother and Elidio, the undocumented immigrant living next door, are well-drawn as well. Unlike the previous One Story I reviewed, I felt like something actually happened in this story: the girl reaches an epiphany about the way her world works, and not in the way the first half of the story leads you to believe (wherein both mother and brother refer to the neighbor as a possible pedophile). Gray plays the story out with just the right amount of tension and possibility.

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