Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Quick Sips - Flash Fiction Online April 2016

The editorial in this month's Flash Fiction Online says that the issue is kind of about celebrations. Holidays. But I think that language might be a stronger element binding the stories together. And, more specifically, language that's not language. A language of taste and a language of song and a language of touch. Ways of communicating that not only step outside the bounds of traditional discourse but need to in order to be expressed, because they point at a central failing of traditional language, that for all that it brings people together it also is a tool of separation, and the stories all seek a more universal form of communication. A way to share meaning that goes beyond what might be found in a dictionary. It's a great common thread and one that will come up in my reviews. So let's get to it! 

Art by Dario Bijelac


"Foreign Tongues" by John Wiswell (956 words)

Okay, as far as "alien cultural differences results in mass death" stories go, this is probably the cutest I've ever read. Cute? Well, yes, because any story that centers ice cream as the great communicator of Earth is a rather cute story, for all that there is also brain melting going on. And I suppose there's not exactly the greatest amount of nuance in this story, but it is wildly entertaining, a comic and violent romp that has a nice contrast between this alien's admiration of ice cream and complete lack of understanding for humans. And I love the idea of taste as a language. Of taste as a way of communicating and as such ice cream having language. And as such ice cream having will and a sort of sentience or at least perceived sentience and therefore more deserving of kindness than humans. And okay, perhaps I lied. The story does have some nuance because the story is in some ways about humans being judged based on how they treat an outsider. An alien arrives and is trying to communicate. But I think the story does a nice job showing that the alien only really reacts. It is treated a certain way and reflects back. It's achieved with visceral and chilling results, but manages to keep its sweetness and its fun. And it's great that the alien never really gives up, and in not giving up becomes this looming threat. This sort of "I'll only do back what you do to me" but the reader knows that there's no real limit to what humans will do out of fear, no amount of injury we won't do to ourselves. It's the unsaid punch line after all of this, that this misunderstanding is leading to some Bad Shit. With whipped cream. Moral? Be the ice cream. Taste the ice cream. A fine read!

"Songbird" by Shveta Thakrar (1000 words)

This is a beautiful story about censoring yourself, about identity, about song. About conforming to the rules placed upon you in order to live up to some ideal of personhood. The story features a narrator who stands in for the universal I or We, and Shailaja, a woman taken into that society and made into an object. A pretty thing to be admired. The story does a great job of describing the double standard applied to women especially in having to conform. That Shailaja faces such pressure to give up the one thing that makes her happy, that makes her, well, her, and yet even in doing so, even in becoming just what people want, she does not make friends. Indeed, she is resented and hated all the same, is pushed and oppressed no less for giving in. She can only lose, can only lose her voice in the face of promises that never come true, a dream she can never fully realize because the point is to keep her silent. And then she refuses. The way that the story blends prose and poetry, song and substance, is admirably done, the prose rising, breaking free from constraints, illuminating the truth that threatens to stifle and suffocate. Shailaja reveals the system through her song, through the commonality of it, breaking through people's barriers, their preconceived notions that they are different. That it matters more what you sound like rather than what you say. And the story manages to come full circle, to draw out that opening image, a bird trapped in the body of a human, but in a way that's very different than one might expect. A fantastic read!

"The Knives of Her Life" by Jennifer Todhunter (996 words)

All the stories in this month's issue deal with language, and this last very much lives up to the idea, starring a person dealing with a crappy home life learning the art of carving. It becomes a way for them to escape, a way for them to get out, get gone. There's nothing really SFF about this story, but it's still an achingly raw piece about abuse and about the steps people take to cope. The main character here pours themself out into carving, first with things at hand, things that remind them of where they'd rather be, and then as a release in itself, as expression to the pent up anger and hurt. It's moving and it's dark and it works quite well. And the title makes the story into something of a map. The map of a life as told through knives, starting with the one the main character receives from their dad and ending on the one they receive as a sort of graduation present. The prose is vivid and the art of carving rendered masterfully. I loved reading about the time in the kitchen, too (perhaps because kitchens always fascinate me). There is such pain and barely controlled anger that shows up in the piece, and yet there is this hope as well, that the main character is turning the blade, a weapon they could possibly use to defend themself against harm, and turning it to art instead. It's an urge that many probably understand to some degree, and it is hauntingly rendered. A great way to close out a strong issue!

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