In part two of my review of Women Destroy Science Fiction, we come to the reprints and flash fiction sections. I personally had not read any of the reprints before, but was happy to be introduced to some of these author’s works. The flash fiction section was really fun, and a nice breaking point before the next section. If you’re curious about this project, please see my explanation in the first part of this series.
REPRINTS — selected by Rachel Swirsky
In her interview later in the issue, Tananarive Due talks about how she makes you wait. Like Daughter doesn’t show the daughter until the end, after you’ve already learned about her mother, Denise, and her godmother, Paige. This story is about child abuse and redemption, and came across as very real. By the time Neecy was introduced, my heart was already breaking for her.
Love is the Plan the Plan is Death by James Tiptree, Jr. (Alice Sheldon) didn’t really do much for me. The conceit of the story is that it’s from the point of view of an alien species, but overall it was just a little too slow-paced and predictable for my taste.
Plant daughters and advanced surgeries fill the days of the unnamed narrator of The Great Loneliness by Maria Romasco Moore. There was an apocalypse and only a few people survived, who cloned themselves and used those clones for backup organs, manned flights exploring space, company. Some of the drones they sent out have sent back news of possible intelligent life, and so the clones and few originals left must decide whether to go or stay. Moore’s writing was nicely baroque and filled with details about the plant daughters the narrator raised. While it might be overwrought if stretched to novel length, the richness was perfect for a short story.
Knapsack Poems by Eleanor Arnason was really strange. The goxhats have more than one body for each person, a mix of male, female, and neuter in varying proportion. The wandering poet narrating the story has 8 bodies: 2 neuters, 2 male, and 4 female. It finds a child left to die next to a river. The child has only one body, and in this culture, that is not tolerated. However, one of the female bodies decides to take the child and care for it over the protestations of the rest of the bodies. The narrator encounters ghosts and testicle-mutilating lords, but mainly it makes poetry, observing the places and people around it. The poet makes its mark on the world, and raises its child. It was a very lovely story, and the complex nature of the goxhats alone will prompt me to seek out more of Arnason’s work.
Next was a colonization story with rockets, wise off-worlders, and savage natives. But The Cost to Be Wise by Maureen F. McHugh expertly subverted this trope. Janna meets a graduate student, visiting from offworld, Veronique, and shepherds her about dutifully, while eyeing her exotic belongings. But tragedy strikes when marauders come through the village, and Veronique is left as Janna’s responsibility. There are a lot of open, honest feelings in this story as Janna deals with resentment and envy, and the relationship between the two girls feels real.
ORIGINAL FLASH FICTION — edited by Robyn Lupo
Salvage by Carrie Vaughn could be retitled Shades of Aliens, or really any spooky spaceship movie. Vaughn conveys the feeling of loneliness and encroaching dread perfectly, as a crew searches an empty spaceship. There’s a bit of self-conscious joking, as one of the crew likes to watch horror movies, but it works. In the end it’s all about human interaction set against the frozen abyss.
A Guide to Grief by Emily Fox was messed up. Fox begins by talking about the reality of grief, when someone is torn from your life violently, before sliding into time travel, and then even darker territory. This story might need a trigger warning.
While the premise of See DANGEROUS EARTH-POSSIBLES! by Tina Connolly was interesting, I couldn’t really get into the story. Oh, I was an angsty teen and have that in common with the protagonist, but the emotional level of the story never rose above a “meh.”
A Debt Repaid by Marina J. Lostetter approached loan sharks and regret in a really interesting way. While it may also need a trigger warning, the body of the story is so delicate and vivid that it magnifies the horror of the ending.
Full of the bittersweet ache of love in an unusual old folks home, The Sewell Home for the Temporally Displaced by Sarah Pinsker gives a lot in a little space. The inhabitants are all from different times, but their concerns are universal.
#TrainFightTuesday by Vanessa Torline takes the form of teenagers chatting online in real time about the superheroes and supervillains that are a day-to-day reality for them. One villain attacks their train, and the teens muse about shoes, damage to their electronics, and the inconvenience of someone saving your life.
This is a not a story for the squeamish. The Hymn of Ordeal, No. 23 by Rhiannon Rasmussen starts out with a glimpse of yellow fat and then tears through to your heart. The narrator’s brother has volunteered to be turned into a shrike, a cyborg soldier, and she has been left behind. This story is beautiful and dark, and stands out even among this excellent selection.
Emoticon by Anaid Perez is super short, more of a joke than an actual story.
I can be a little paranoid about germs, so The Mouths by Ellen Denham made me squirm from the very beginning. The narrator is among a group of aliens that can only sense and communicate through their mouths. They bake their words into crackers, and slowly digest them. That concept alone is brilliant, but the price these aliens pay for their quiet lives of contemplation is steep.
Clones are a classic in the sci fi genre, but M1A by Kim Winternheimer shows how twisted the idea of growing beings for organ harvesting can be. There is a little girl who is sick, but luckily she has a clone who can give her all the healthy body parts she needs…while her parents contemplate what makes a perfect daughter. This story totally gave me the shivers.
Standard Deviant by Holly Schofield was crazy and very sad. What would you do if a voice told you were the chosen one, destined to lead the human race to their next evolution? What would you give up? This story shows one of the possibilities.
“Truth is a very fluid concept,” indeed. Getting on in Years by Cathy Humble describes John, who is 830 years old. This isn’t the norm, and so he’s contacted a PR firm to help him finally reveal his immortality after ages of hiding the truth. Unfortunately the woman running the PR firm has different ideas, and her concept of the truth is the most fluid.
Ro-Sham-Bot by Effie Seiberg is a short, sweet story where robots have hearts. A well-worn robotic heart is found by a man, and he watches the videos recorded on it to learn about the robot is used to belong too.
The beautiful golden girl in Everything That Has Already Been Said by Samantha Murray scans all recorded human communication: voice, text, and data, and uses it to make sure she never says something that has ever been spoken before. This delights her creator even as it prevents the girl from expressing how she feels, or expressing even the bind that she’s trapped in.
The Lies We Tell Our Children by Katherine Crighton is just heartbreaking. A woman is watching her two little girls play, and uses their questions to explain scientific concepts to them, until she says too much.
I also have the bonus story from the Kickstarter that is not available in some editions.
They Tell Me There Will Be No Pain by Rachael Acks is another military story with enhanced soldiers, but this one cuts closer. The narrator, Charlie, lost her sister during an attack, and when she signs up to become a pilot and gets an computer system plugged into her brain, she names it after that lost sibling. This story is about PTSD viewed from the inside, and it is brutal. Charlie gets out the military and has them take out all of her upgrades, but she can still hear her sister talking in that robotic voice, and there’s no normal to go back to.
Stay tuned for the next review: Nonfiction and Personal Essays!
Full disclosure: I was a backer of the Kickstarter.