Monday, April 13, 2020

Quick Sips - Flash Fiction Online April 2020

The latest issue of Flash Fiction Online is a nice mix of fun and kinda devastating. But the sad is sandwiched between two stories that make it easy to smile, and there’s plenty of charming humor to make up for the more disturbing and violent themes of the middle piece. So it’s a nicely balanced issue that moves well and focuses a bit on science fiction rather than spreading it about with regards to genre, but they’re three very different science fiction stories, and that’s great. To the reviews!


“A Hitchhiking Robot’s Guide to Canada” by Marie Vibbert (977 words)

No Spoilers: This story unfolds on the back of a semi speeding down the Canadian highway, where one hitchhiking robot runs into another...rather literally. The piece gives a brief history of what led to the situation playing out, while showing who robots communicate in their processing time of milliseconds while their human passengers just sort of hang. The wold that is revealed is one where capitalism has further isolated people while some, resistant to the need to conform, have merely updated their hitch-hiking technology, and continue to travel. The piece is a short scene of a seasoned pro meeting a fresh greenhorn, with a deeper shadow that lurks under the rather light banter of the robots.
Keywords: Hitch-hiking, Robots, Laws, Stories, Teaching
Review: I really like the way that the communication takes place in this story, operating first with the humans talking to each other, and then with the robots getting down to the grit of what it takes to get around under the noses of the shipping bosses. And really it shows how much it bothers those corporate bosses that people would be getting a ride. Not that it really costs them anything. But something about it, something about the fact that these people aren’t _paying for it_ means that the bosses are offended on general principle. And the piece builds this rather quickly as the narrator has to deal with a newly minted hitch-hiking robot who doesn’t really know anything about how it works, and the ways that it is incredibly dangerous by design. And I like how the narrator frames this all as a story, sort of getting back to a lot of the spirit of hitching (or riding the rails, as this has become a bit more like, what with the jumping on and off and etc.). Which is that it gets around the rigidi structures of capitalism, and it involves people meeting people. Sometimes those meetings are tense, but most of the time they are about people sharing stories and experiences. The narrator it’s an opportunity to teach someone, to give them the tools to hopefully survive. And it plays into the title, then, where what’s being imparted isn’t just a history but a guide. Because in order to survive and thrive as a hitch-hiking robot, you do have to understand why things are built they way they are. Assuming that the dangers are a mark of some sort of oversight is a deadly mistake, after all. Rather what the narrator has to impart in part is that there is an active effort to destroy hitch-hiking robots and their charges. They are active, not passive, and need to be navigated actively, knowing that they will try to bite if possible. And it’s a fun story, full of a sense of movement and freedom, and it’s definitely worth spending some time with. A great read!

“Endless Parade” by Hailey Piper (995 words)

No Spoilers: Marko is a child in a movement both in the religious sense and in the literal sense, the primary tenant of the group a constant march, a constant parade, moving through the world burning the “slothful,” who are basically anyone who doesn’t agree to join the group. And though Marko never finds much comfort or belief in the religion of the group, he’s forced to be a part of the violent aspects of the faith, and becomes increasingly disturbed by it. The story packs a lot in, including some twists that come as a bit of a shock, and add some complications to what seems at first like a fairly straightforward scenario.
Keywords: Religion, CW- Indoctrination, Family, Fire, Movement, Post-disaster
Review: This story builds up a world that undergone something of an apocalypse. And these movers, these worshipers of a goddess called Mother Crematorium, are out to make sure that people keep moving. But the origins of their beliefs are lost, and all that remains is the kind of glee they get in bringing fire to the “slothful” while scavenging off what they can find. And at first it seems like the main thrust of the story is that Markos understands just how fucked up this religion is. Just how abusive. Just how much it’s not for him. And his arc takes him away from being complacent in the violence that the group does, eventually refusing to participate in it and rejecting the faith. He’s able to shrug off the religion and, because of his status within the group, is able to escape it. Except that the ending of the story twists that, revealing that while the group has lost its history and the reasons for why it’s moving, there’s an element of the mission that is true. That, even, might be necessary. And it’s a complex, kind of messy ending for me, because there’s an element of ambiguity to it. For me, I feel that the implication that Markos ends up...not quite regretting his decision to leave. But that it still kills him. And for me I’m left wondering if the piece is trying to capture the waste of the situation, the tragedy that this group has lost its way so much that instead of warning people of a viable danger, it’s come to use that danger to justify its own violence, twisting and corrupting something that was good and making into something violent and evil. It’s a commentary on religion, perhaps, which might have lost the heart of why faith has historically been important and needed, while becoming lost in the zeal and celebration of violence and corruption. But it still gives Markos no escape, no hope. It in some ways makes the group “correct” but for the “wrong reasons,” I still am a bit uncomfortable with the way that Markos breaks away just to face this kind of punishment. But it’s a striking story, and there’s a lot to read into it. I do think it’s very much worth checking out, and I’m curious to know what other people thought of this one. Indeed!

“Keeping Time with the Joneses” by Wendy Nikel (521 words)

No Spoilers: Playing on the idea of keeping up with the Joneses, this story unfolds in suburban America, were the Joneses have gotten themselves a time machine. And while this seems fine at first, the subdivision enjoying the parties and possibilities, the drawbacks of time travel soon come up, and it’s up to the HOA to try and figure out what exactly to do about it. And like any good HOA, the answer is fuck everything up for no good reason beyond they have too much time and money on their hands. Seriously, HOAs are the fucking worst. Anyway, the piece is the shortest of the month and is something of an extended joke, but that doesn’t mean that joke isn’t carefully built or delightful. Because it’s both, and had me smiling throughout.
Keywords: Time Travel, Home Owners Associations, Rules, Paradoxes, Suburbia
Review: This story is short and hilarious, perhaps because I grew up in suburbia and so a lot of this reads as real to me. Because it’s not the health hazard that actually tips the neighborhood against the time machine. It’s when the Joneses start spoiling shows and events from the future. As long as it was just a fancy pool, where plenty of people liked that they could come over and swim, the neighborhood is grudgingly okay with it. Yes, they feel jealous, but they also feel or suspect that it would be a hassle, and in any event they can’t afford it. But if suddenly the Joneses begin to “show off,” the gloves come off, and HOA shows its claws. And really, that seems so telling, that as long as enough people benefit from whatever that is kinda-sorta against the rules, it can slide. But once enough people feel like they’re on the side missing out on something important, they flip hard and decide to take action to ruin it for everyone. And they end up doing just that, though in a completely incompetent way. The piece is a nice send-up of suburbia, where people are always pulled between reveling in their own affluence and trying to compete to appear the most successful. And having the Joneses there breeds a lot of resentment even as these people are benefiting by that second-hand wealth. And it’s sharp and it’s fun and it highlights the cyclic nature of this. Which is how this all works, where people have to keep on escalating all the time, from cars to pools to televisions to more and more and it’s a snarky way of showing the cut-throat nature of wealth and the affectations of wealth. And the ending is a nice twist and lots of fun and it’s funny and cute and you should definitely read it if you’d like a smile. A wonderful way to close out the issue!


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