Monday, May 11, 2020

Quick Sips - Flash Fiction Online May 2020

Flash Fiction Online is celebrating Mother’s Day with an issue full of SFF stories dealing with motherhood. Now, not all of them are precisely happy, but they show the many ways that mothers give for their children, and sometimes how those children give in return. The pieces move from near future science fiction to dark contemporary fantasy, all of them dealing in some ways with sacrifice and care. In each, there is a person who is sick or otherwise trapped, and it’s down to their family to try and free them, or at least be there with them to make what’s happening a bit more bearable. There’s a mix of light and shadow, hope and grimness, and it’s a great way to complicate and interrogate a topical holiday! To the reviews!


“Against the Dying of the Light” by Stewart C Baker (999 words)

No Spoilers: Alyssa is a journalist whose mother has the opportunity to receive an experimental procedure that’s supposed to be effective in arresting the progress of her disease. Alyssa is along both as a support, reversing the old parental role, as well as being there as a reporter, ready to use her experiences to convey what exactly is going on. For all that the procedure seems like it might be not only a Big Story but maybe a personal relief, the reality seems a bit more measured. For all that, though, the piece focuses on family and on care, and the relationship between Alyssa and her mother, and what this procedure means for them going forward.
Keywords: Family, CW- Dementia, CW- Medical Procedures, Journalism
Review: This is a rather heartwarming story even as it’s a rather difficult one, building up how the relationship between mother and daughter has shifted as the mother has struggle with dementia. In many ways it’s a reversal, the daughter now having to oversee a mother who goes through times when she doesn’t remember anything, when she is loud and seemingly inappropriate in public in ways that resemble a child throwing a tantrum. And I feel the story does a good job of balancing that, showing the mother not as a burden but as someone in need of some care, giving Alyssa this opportunity to be one giving comfort and care during a medical procedure, being the one to offer reassurances on the same terms that her mother had given to her when she was younger. The medical procedure itself it futuristic without really being fantastical. It’s an incremental step, a small move when hearing it described, but at the same time, it’s huge when it comes to the impact that it can have. And that’s where I think the story complicates itself, because it adds the frame that Alyssa is a reporter. And as much as she wants to believe that this is some sort of magic, it’s not. The benefits are clear and maybe immediate and still maybe life changing. As a journalist, though, she has to try to convey what the procedure is without either her hopes of what it might be or her disappointment at what it’s not. And as much as she might want to report that this is the “cure” that she wishes were available, she seems to know that it’s no less important, especially for those who need help now, that people go into this procedure with realistic outlooks. Meaning it’s not about selling paper or the procedure itself, but about educating people about the work involved. For Alyssa, that work seems well worth it, and she’s resolved to see it through. A great read!

“Mirrored” by Jennifer Hudak (986 words)

No Spoilers: This story is told from the wrong side of the mirror, from a magical space where the narrator looks out, watching a mother and daughter as they life, as the daughter grows up and changes. The situations dates to an event when the daughter was still very small, and the narrator and the mother have two rather distinct memories of what happened, or at least what it meant. The story explores what happens as the daughter grows from the perfect baby the mother has enshrined in her memory, to a young girl with an at-times more defiant personality. It’s a rather grim piece, the ending full of implications that whispers of some dark dealings.
Keywords: Fairies, Family, Mirrors, Bargains, Longing
Review: This story unfolds from the perspective of a girl, a changeling, who has been abandoned inside a mirror, left by whatever fairies created her because their plan failed. The mother who the narrator watches tells the story of her saving her child, rejecting the dirty child of the forest that was meant to fool her. She got to keep her perfect child, and they all lived happily ever after. Except, of course, that’s not really the story. Because that happily ever after seems to be showing cracks, as the daughter, once “perfect,” becomes a bit more unruly, becomes moody and difficult. And for me this seems to instill in the mother a kind of fear. That maybe she was wrong. That maybe she made a mistake in the past, and maybe picked the wrong child. At least, that seems to be hope that the narrator has, that maybe if this daughter is difficult enough, that the mother might regret, might want to make a deal, to follow through on that trade that was rejected so many years ago. For me the piece speaks to the way that children aren’t quite so neat as they seem in stories, and that there are always moments when parents are frustrated with their children, where in a moment of weakness they might want to trade. To see if it was easier. Or to doubt maybe that this person in their house is actually their child and not some impostor, some agent of dark magic. And the ending finds the narrator really trying to exploit that, her situation wrenching because she had to choice but to be made, and she was forgotten soon after, and has always been waiting to be wanted, to be chosen. As understandable as that is, though, the piece speaks to me of a shadow, not where everyone can be happy and free, but where one has to live on the other side of the mirror, and that the choice might come down to which child is “perfect,” and the criteria for that might be toxic indeed. A chilling but wonderful read!

“Blood Magic” by Angela Teagardner (1000 words)

No Spoilers: Nora has come to the edge of the ocean to try to heal her daughter, who has been growing weaker and weaker. But Nora couldn’t beseech the ocean until a certain day, when everything aligned, and she had all of the ingredients. But what additional cost might be required for the magic to work is unknown, and the piece follows Nora as she works, as she casts her spell, and her heart and desperate hope, out over the waters. It’s a quick but moving piece, a family poised on the edge of devastation, trying to create a miracle that more passive means has not produced.
Keywords: Oceans, Magic, Family, Bargains/Sacrifice, Rituals/Spells, Healing
Review: I like how the story reveals how magic works in this setting, how this mother is trying desperately to find a cure to a mysterious or otherwise terminal condition that her daughter has. What’s left to her is magic, and she goes about it boldly, without hesitation, both because she needs to in order to bring the proper respect and power to the ritual/spell and because if she doesn’t do it boldly, she might lose herself to the fear and doubt and panic creeping through her. The language is lovely, the imagery sharp, and the sense of mystery and power is definitely present and intriguing. The relationship between Nora and her husband, Adrian, is also something I was interested by, as at first it seems to maybe not be the greatest. At least, there was a part of me expecting when he arrives on the scene that he’s a disruptive force, and might not have wanted to try something like a spell, something that goes along with rather traditional “magic as realm of the sacred feminine” witchery that is fairly pervasive. I rather like and appreciate that it’s not that he was against it, or even non-magical himself, that led to him being late to the party, but rather that Nora was trying to protect him from whatever sacrifice might be necessary to save their child. And I like that trying to do that might be her biggest mistake. Not because it means she needs a man but because it means that trying to take on that entire sacrifice is selfish precisely because it isn’t necessary. There are two of them, and they are better able to absorb the drain if they both work at it together, the efforts rewarded when they are able to both stand in willingness to give for their child and for each other. And it’s a lovely read and a great way to close out the issue!


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