The Winds and Persecutions of the Sky, Robert Minto. Forgot to take notes at the time of reading. This story rushed back to me as soon as I re-read the first few words; the mental image of the protagonist clinging to the side of a crumbling skyscraper as they scale the vines that enfold it is a memorable one. It’s a nice story that juxtaposes two ways of life in the aftermath of a fallen civilization and has some fine moments, although I found the conclusion a little under-supported in terms of character motivation.
Of the Green Spires, Lucy Harlow. A very short story – two pages in the magazine – that nicely demonstrates what can be achieved with flash fiction. Meanwhile an alien plant spreads over Oxford, fruiting wildly. It’s respectfully invasive and although no one understands it, no one is concerned either. Eventually it retreats into a space of its own where it caters for those it has touched. Characterisation is light but enough: the main character is alienated and detached and angry at the start, and by the end has begun to forgive herself for some of what drives this. It’s nicely understated and doesn’t pretend that broken relationships can be resolved at once, or at all, but healing and positive growth is possible.
Jolene, Fiona Moore. I like this story’s conceit of intelligent vehicles that are basically AI citizens; they sign contracts rather than having owners, they collectivise for both social and economic gain, and they invest their income in themselves for maintenance and upgrade. There are a lot of stories you could tell with this idea! The story we have here involves a private investigator cum automotive psychologist who looks into a case where a driver is insistent that foul play was involved in ‘his’ truck – Jolene – leaving him. The case begins to read like domestic abuse – but is it? And is it better to know? I really enjoyed this story. Also, how about this for an opening line:
“I’ve got a case for you,” said Detective Inspector Wilhemine FitzJames. “It’s a country singer whose wife, dog and truck have all left him.”
The Palimpsest Trigger, David Cleden. Palimpsests are strange creatures with powers over memory who have integrated themselves into the seedy underbelly of human civilization. Our protagonist works for one such, delivering “pilla” – the detached cilia of one of these alien beings – to victims targeted for assassination. The manner of death so inflicted is cruel and inevitable, meaning few dare cross a palimpsest – save perhaps another ‘palimp’. Surviving in an underworld dominated by such creatures, how much can one’s own memory be trusted?
Fix That House!, John Kessel. A married professional couple seek to restore a “stately Southern home”; how far will they go to do so? This flash story is slight and I felt the twist came in too fast, with not enough force to the punch after the initial surprise, but I appreciated the dig at wealthy property owners obsessed with ‘authenticity’.
Two Worlds Apart, Dustin Blair Steinacker. James White Award winner. A story about communication, but culturally more than semiotic. Compellingly written with a lively cast of characters. I hope to read more of Steinacker’s work in future. (SG: reading these notes back they are very terse, but I did enjoy this story a lot.)