This month's stories at Flash Fiction Online do a nice job of capturing in bite-sized servings the charm and potential of SFF. Both in how they handle classic tropes like time travel and the Fae and how they innovate through novel uses of narrative, plot structure, and voice. The stories manage to do a lot in the short confines of their flash lengths, and they provide compelling tastes of these various settings, these various genres. What results are three stories that are at turns tragic and touching, hellish and hopeful. So yeah, let's get to the reviews!
|Art by Dario Bijelac|
"The Time Cookie Wars" by Benjamin C. Kinney (978 words)
This is a rather cute and deceptively dark story about time travel and cookies and patience. In many ways it's a critique about he idea of being unwilling to wait. About being more willing to steal from the past rather than deal with the present. Quite literally this story stars a woman, Sanna, going back in time to steal cookies from alternate versions of herself. It's a neat premise, one that explores the way that we treat past versions of ourselves as separate from ourselves, how we attempt to distance ourselves from the decisions we made in the past that aren't working out for us. [SPOILERS[ Sanna is stuck without cookies and blames a past version of herself, which she then uses to go and steal from that past version and thinks of it as justice. And it's a nice commentary on how we treat the problems that we cause. As a people and culture especially, seeing things like climate change and violence as somehow divorced from our present selves and instead perpetrated by these "past people." And it's done just so we can avoid doing something about it, just as Sanna has been avoiding it, and just as she eventually decides to act. Given the nature of time in this story, it's possible that this will fix everything, that it will ripple out across the multiverse she's created and everyone will get their cookies. But even if it doesn't, it shows that she finally understands that stealing and punishing her past self for the present is only hurting herself. A great read!
"You Are Not a Metaphor" by Marina J. Lostetter (857 words)
This is a rather strange but moving story about illness and medication, about love and magic and escape. The plot unfolds in a world where magic has kind of crept in at the corners. Not really in great ways, but in the form of diseases. In the form of maladies. The story looks at a couple effected because one of them has a condition where they actually think they are a character in a story. In a fantasy or science fiction. The story makes great use of perspective. There is the strong sense of "I" throughout but there's also a nice use of "You." This relationship is the heart of the story, the heart of the conflict, and one that provides a very difficult thing to approach, because mental disorders, or things that get labeled mental disorders, are very difficult to speak about while being sensitive and compassionate. But I think that the story succeeds at treating the subject matter with the gravity and complexity it deserves. The story becomes about how the narrator deals with being in a relationship with a person who doesn't know them all the time. Who doesn't even know themself necessarily. It's about care and it's still tricky because we never get to really hear much from the person with this condition. Which makes it difficult to really know what's going on, which makes it difficult to know who has the problem, who's mind is unreliable. It's possible, after all, that the problem is with the narrator, that they are creating all of this. But trusting the story is more straightforward, I feel like it does a good job of showing how it can be to navigate trying to care for someone and still valuing their choices and their consent. Still caring about who they are. It's an emotionally heavy story with a relatable voice and a strong message. Definitely one to spend some time with!
"Creation" by Sara Norja (984 words)
This is a rather fun, if sad, story of Fae and mortals. About erasure of identity. About the persistence of hope even in the face of despair. In some ways, about hope spurred on by despair. The plot sees a human who was stolen to Faerie and made into a malleable being of clay. Stripped of his identity. At the whim of the Queen. And when she orders him to build a palace of despair, he acts, assuming that he will have no real problem because despair is sorrow mixed with hopelessness, things he is well aware of. He doesn't remember his mortal name, has nothing to anchor him to the mortal world. So he drifts. [SPOILERS] But this action of building the palace, this action of examining his own hopelessness, reveals to him just what he has lost. And in looking at what he has lost he ends up finding what he thought he could not. Hope. The story does a great job of showing this world full of wonders but also devoid of meaning. Where the main character is a slave, where he is unable to really find fulfillment because he has nothing, is valued as nothing. But it's too painful to think of and seems so useless that he pushes it away, assumes that there is nothing to be done. Until things get worse. Until even his despair is threatened and he learns that he still cares. That there is still something in him that is human, that is alive, that wants to escape. It's a fun little story about…not never giving up exactly, but about how sometimes it takes facing despair head on to get through it, to find hope again. A nice way to close out the issue!