It's the last 2016 issue of Flash Fiction Online and the publication is definitely sending the year off with an interesting mix of SFF short fiction. There's Robert Redford and physical grief and a generation ship with some seriously sketchy policies. These are tales that bring to mind endings and new beginnings. Whether the ending is a death or a destination, the stories all look to how people react to their world being changed in some important way, even if that only means being visited by the phantom of a celebrity. It's a bit of a strange issue, but 2016 was a strange year. So yeah, let's get to the reviews!
|Art by Dario Bijelac|
"A Box Full of Winter" by Hannah Dela Cruz (789 words)
This is a very strange but moving and tender story about a person, Robert Redford, and winter. There is an almost dreamlike quality that permeates the tale, that blurs the edges of what's happening. There is also a sadness that falls like snow over everything, some knowledge that the narrator is living with, some decline that they are experiencing, and as they fall asleep to a biography of Robert Redford he appears, the embodiment of nostalgia and comfort. His is a voice from the past that is soothing and present, understanding and kind. I love how the story seems to curl around this idea of him, drawn from so many of his roles and, ultimately, from the story of his life, to create this presence. It's a great feeling the story manages to evoke, that in the midst of pain and exhaustion and fear there comes the specter of something to soothe it. And to me it's like a dream but it's like magic, like being granted a dying wish, to have this perfect moment, this perfect evening—to get this at a time when it is truly needed. The story speaks of relief and longing, of wanting so desperately to be told that things will be okay, that someone is going to take care of everything. It's beautiful, even if it's only temporary, and when it's gone there is the feeling for me of some small part of the weight the narrator is carrying having been eased. That maybe that will be enough to keep them going. In any event, it's a sweet story and a nice read!
"A Menagerie of Grief" by Kelly Sandoval (1000 words)
Well fuck. Trigger warning: loss of a child. This story builds a beautiful picture of devastation. Which might seem an odd thing to say, but it imagines grief as a physical thing, a manifestation of feelings that follow those bereaved around. For Shane and Will, who have lost their daughter, their griefs look very different. Where Shane's seems clean and calm, a dog following at his heals, Will's is a dragon, huge and ugly. It's a great way of imaging the feelings that come with loss, and the story is a startling examination of these two men and how they each react to this terrible thing that has happened. How it drives them apart and how, in some ways, it spawns new griefs to plague them. As one might expect from a story that kicks off with death and grief, it's not exactly a happy story. But I feel that the weight is appropriate, is wrenching, is sensitively handled. These men find themselves seeing each other's grief and judging not just the other person but themselves as well. Comparing. Competing. Because the loss has left them reeling and hurt and in need of so much that they can't really give in their current state. And yet the story is also about hope. A hope not that they can erase their griefs but that they can live with them and still be together, and still reach out in love and compassion. It's an emotionally devastating story and one that both acknowledges the life-altering nature of certain losses while also quietly saying that life goes on, even if it's never the same again. A great story!
"Hinterlight Abbey" by Kat Otis (745 words)
This story reveals the situation on board a generation ship where families only have a single citizenship right to pass down to one of their children, which gives that child the right to reproduce. It's a situation that seems a bit strange, especially given how if the citizenship rights are coming from both sides of the lineage it would seem like they'd run out. But whatever the mechanics of the deal, all the children that don't have that right enter into the Abbey, a sort of convert where they are trained to see to the workings of the generation ship. The story opens with the narrator being called to deal with a new initiate, who happens to be her niece. The two share more than just a familial bond, though—both have been in some ways betrayed by their twin sisters so that they lost the chance to have citizenship rights. The situation is interesting and the story gives both characters a strong sense of indignation and anger. Only the story also then twists, revealing that the situation isn't what it seemed, and that soon enough it will be the time for the abandoned twins to assert their place in the order of this society. I like how the story moves and I like the bitterness of the main characters, if that makes any sense. I wish there was a bit more about what exactly was happening with the setting, though, and how it all worked, because I wasn't wholly comfortable with a lot of the implications of the ending. Because while I like the characters' anger about what happened, it seems to me that their sisters are just as much victims as they ever were, and that if the story is about the reversal of roles, about punishment and perhaps revenge, then it leaves me not knowing exactly what to think. At least for me it seems like the system is what's unjust, not necessarily those competing under it. But it's certainly an interesting story and worth spending some time with. Indeed!