Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Quick Sips - Flash Fiction Online September 2019

September brings a somewhat grim collection of short fiction to Flash Fiction Online, with three pieces very much about accidents and loss, grief and the slim margins of hope. In many, death rides heavy in shotgun. In some, grief and loneliness seem like they will be too much for the narrators to bear. There is a sharp edge of bleakness in many of the stories, and how they approach grieving and sorrow. But there’s also hope to many of them. That even when you lose someone, not everything is lost. Even when it seems that way. And not everyone who leaves does so entirely, leaving pieces of themself behind in memories, in acts of compassion that linger long after their footsteps have faded to silence. To the reviews!


“Together We Will Burn Forever” by Micah Hyatt (935 words)

No Spoilers: This story picks up following a rather horrifying accident, and one that finds the narrator near death and being seen to by their ship. Even with the trauma of the events, though, they are more distressed by an absence. By the loss of the person who had been with them during the accident. The piece is heavy with grief and sorrow. The wounds here are raw and recent, immediate in a way that makes them a bit difficult and bordering or gratuitous, but I think ultimately heartfelt and devastating. It’s not an easy read, but it does capture a certain gutting shock and buried tenderness in the dark and beauty of space.
Keywords: Space, Exploration, Accidents, CW- Injury/Medical Trauma, Loss, CW- Suicidal Ideation
Review: This story does not pull its emotional punches. It gets right into the horror of the situation, not just with the physical damage done to the narrator (their arms have been largely burned off), but the psychological trauma (with the death of their partner). And fuck, in that it’s not an easy read for me. Not just because I get a bit squeamish about this kind of grievous bodily harm, but because the loss and torment of that moment are raw and if anything so much more horrifying than the physical ones. That the couple has been separated in such an extreme way’s quite a shock to the system, and the way the story introduces readers to the full extent of it is well handled to the extent that fuck my feels. Seriously, it’s a testament to the story that it’s able to hit this hard, but it’s also playing with some very large and very heavy issues. There’s definitely a beauty to it, the way that it captures so much how these people must mean to one another, and how the isolation of space for them wasn’t isolating. But because it’s been torn apart, because it’s been rent in so dramatic a fashion, the story represents a gaping wound, and one that the story never really blunts or lets heal. There’s a hope, perhaps, that there will be healing and recovery. I do like that the dead partner here is continuing to try and protect their surviving partner, but at the same time it’s hard to see it as too much a kindness when the hurt is so real and so much. Definitely approach with some caution on this one, but it is a very powerful piece well worth checking out!

“Ashes to Ashes, Dust to Stardust” by Wendy Nikel (994 words)

No Spoilers: The narrator of this story is with their sister to see their aunt to her final resting place—space itself. All thanks to two things. The first, that their aunt had developed the science behind a space elevator that gives humanity a roller coaster to the stars. The second, a disease that is rampaging through everything, which caught their aunt and is looming like a possible end of the world. The piece mixes the grief and guilt, anger and shame. But it also looks at the awesomeness of humanity. Of humans. Of what they have been able to accomplish, and how that is a source of hope, and a fuel to keep people pushing toward a future full of win.
Keywords: Space, Elevators, Loss, Funerals, Family, Illness
Review: This is another story that center grief, though not quite so viscerally. The loss here is because of an illness, and while that might at first seem a bit more distanced, I do like that the story establishes that this illness is serious, on a scope of cataclysmic. It’s threatening all of humanity, and yet the narrator is much more focused on their personal tragedy, their personal loss. The death of their aunt, whose scientific achievements allowed people to build a space elevator. A legacy that the narrator feels quite heavily, because they were supposed to live up to it by curing the disease that was killing their aunt. And it’s such a harrowing thing, that they feel like they’ve fallen so short of the giant who was their aunt. When really it’s not the case that something like curing a disease is no more difficult than even designing a space elevator. They’re putting all of this pressure on themself, and essentially feeling like it’s impossible, like they’ve failed. And it takes really re-examining their aunt and her legacy to see that it’s exactly the sentiment that her aunt would have pushed back against. And that seeing the elevator, seeing what their aunt allowed people to do, to accomplish, is enough to remind the narrator that they have to push through the feeling that it’s impossible. They need to get over their own feelings of inadequacy and get back to the work, as their aunt would have gotten back to the work. Which makes a rather inspiring, heartening story, one resonating with the power of humans to do wondrous things. To create marvels. And to overcome even the more dire of circumstances in order to not just survive, but to keep reaching for a brighter future. A great read!

“Loneliness in Transit, Sixty Light Years from Earth” by Kurt Hunt (1000 words)

No Spoilers: This story follows a sort of generation ship, one who has been traveling with a gestalt human consciousness called Baby for quite some time. The narrator is the AI of the ship, tasked with making sure that Baby arrives at the planet that will become their new home and make sure they get a good start. Of course, things don’t quite go to plan, and the story follows the narrator through a sea of uncertainty, and silence, and loss, though of all the stories this issue this one is least focused on death, but it still carries the taste of loss, because of what happens with the narrator. And it manages to be poignant and careful and rather beautifully human despite featuring mostly AI.
Keywords: Ships, AI, Migration, Space, Malfunctions
Review: Gotta say this is a much more heartwarming story than the rest of the originals this month, featuring a bit more of a fully feel-good mood (for me, at least). Which isn’t to say that there isn’t a bit of darkness, a bit of angst. There is still an accident that occurs, still a loss that is felt very keenly (softened perhaps by reruns of ALF). But it’s not a story that’s about death. Indeed, it’s about life, and helping to foster that life, and feeling the complicated and sometimes-conflicting push and pull of wanting to help a new humanity emerge on a distant planet and wanting to stay with the being the narrator has spent basically their entire life with. It’s a nice statement on parenting, on the kind of panic and uncertain and loneliness that can grow when a parent reaches the stage where their child is supposed to be independent. When there’s nothing much to do other than wish them luck and hope and wait. And the piece draws that out in a lovely speculative way, casting it among the stars, but it remains very concerned with that moment of having to let go, and having to wait for some sign that all the work and all the time and all the sacrifice, including that final one, will pay off. Will the child return and ease that loneliness? Will they not? I like that the pressure isn’t put entirely on the “child” here to reach out and do something, but that rather it’s about the hope that the narrator has that they will, and their joy all the same that their “child” has grown and made it so far on their own. It’s a wonderful little story, and you should definitely go check it out!


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