Monday, August 10, 2020

Quick Sips - Flash Fiction Online August 2020

August brings a mix of mostly non-speculative fiction to Flash Fiction Online, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a lot of interesting stories to check out. From religious cars to help lines with all the answers, the works reveal the ways that people often create their own systems, their own structures, that support what they want to believe rather than looking at the reality of the situation. That allow for great injustices because of the gaps they open in human compassion and empathy. It’s a challenging bunch of stories, and I’ll get right to the reviews!


“Godomatic” by Nancy Moir (1000 words)

No Spoilers: This story builds around an autonomous car and a narrator who seems part of some religious movement. A narrator looking to expand their flock. The meeting is strange, loaded, and becomes a transgressive act as the narrator and car seem to grow closer. The car, however, has an owner, a woman who views the narrator’s relationship with the car as an act of theft. The truth is hidden under the probably unreliable nature of the narrator and the general strangeness of the piece. The result is something that is difficult to simplify, something that I’m personally a bit conflicted about, but is certainly interesting.
Keywords: Cars, AIs, Religions, Ownership
Review: There are times when I can’t quite tell if a story is trying to be satirical or genuine, and this might be one of those times. The premise, that a religious...figure(?) finds a car that might be some kind of sentient and the car chooses them as a sign of burgeoning religious faith is interesting. In some ways I feel the story deals with ownership, the AI car struggling with the newness of what might be sentience, pulled toward the narrator and their faith, their certainty. That the car’s owner considers this theft seems rebuked by the text which finds this a kind of choice, a freedom, one that is being constrained by the “owner.” And it all might be a little Too Much, bordering on ridiculous, a farce that says more about the narrator than car. They might just be personifying a non-sentient car, might be a bit delusional given everything. It’s hard to find an argument for that inside the text, though, at least for me. And the description of the car’s owner as a “purple-haired pagan” more interested in her phone than her car seems perhaps a dig at the non religious. Which, by extension, was hard for me to not read as a swipe at queer-coded people. I’m not really sure what to make of the opening, either, the rather sexual description of the narrator and car first meeting, the way the narrator describes the possible addition to their flock. There are questions left unanswered, and I think the ambiguity builds a strange, complicated picture of faith and technology, but not one I’m sure completely worked for me. Still, it is an interesting piece, and I recommend people check it out for themselves and drawn your own conclusions.

“Oracles of Chestnut St.” by Dayla Haynes (843 words)

No Spoilers: This story focuses on a man nicknamed Angry who works for a school as a homework resource. He’s supposed to help people with finding answers to questions, looking up information in encyclopedias and the like. But as time goes on, the job becomes more and more work, more and more people calling in for answers. Not just students looking for help with homework, though. People of all sorts asking all sorts of questions, and as time goes on Angry responds with increasingly esoteric answers, which only seems to make people more eager to ask more questions. It’s a strange piece about authority and information, about being overwhelmed in the face of the demand for certainty.
Keywords: Reference, Phones, Employment, Housing, Answers
Review: For me so much about this story makes a sort of meta statement about interpretation, uncertainty, and texts. At least, a big part of it for me revolves around the strange way that Angry falls into this role where people are asking more and more of him despite him trying less and less to really answer the questions. He starts out trying his best to give context, to really answer the questions fully, which means leaving room for uncertainty, for the range of possible answers. But the more people ask, the more he just sort of starts firing off answers, having perhaps some sort of context, some reason for answering the way he does, but none of that comes through. Instead, people assume their own meanings from his answers, making those answers fit something that will make them feel better, that they will read as helpful, even when it’s....decidedly not. Which is how things like horoscopes and fortune cookies and other things work. By being vague enough, ambiguous enough, that people will find their own ways to make them meaningful, to make them seem to be profound and correct. And I love the way that Angry deals with this at first with some relish, and then I feel with some alarm, realizing that there are no answers that he can give that will be met with rejection. That no matter how strange the answer, no matter how little he tries to give the matter any thought, people will only come back more. Indeed, they’ll come back more because of how little he tries. It’s a terrifying thing. And I like the way that in some ways it makes a meta point on fiction in general (as a reviewer, at least, I feel this a bit) where readers often bring their own baggage to a piece, so that when they’re looking for something to take away, it can be something the author didn’t intend at all. Which can be terrifying for an author, especially if the meaning being taken away is not what they’d want someone to take away. It’s a fascinating piece, and a great read!

“Alfonso” by Sam Dunnington (997 words)

No Spoilers: The narrator here is a seasonal worker at a cannery, a young man who is largely out of place, not quite accepted by any of the cliques of the factory. One of the only people he gets along with is a very old worker named Alphonso. But following a theft, the narrator faces the anger and violence that comes as a result. It’s a piece that looks at the strange space the factory represents, isolated and outside the rest of normal society. Touching on the gothic, on the way that being on the fringes geographically can relax social norms, can strip away social protections as people give in to their desires for violence, especially when they are being exploited, who are being worked too hard, for too long, for too little.
Keywords: Canning, Cigars, Theft, Retribution, Employment
Review: In some ways I feel this story is about the way that people abandon the “proper” avenues when they are put into these sort of situations that are considered outside society. The cannery is a place where people come away to, where people work summers away from their normal homes, where they live at the cannery, where that becomes its own world. So when someone breaks the “rules” of this place, the justice is not taken back to that normal world. It’s handled on site, according to a much more brutal system. A system that exists because the situation is brutal. Because everyone is dealing with the dangers they are facing, the ways that they aren’t really valued by the factory, by the management. Everyone is running thin, is being exploited, is hoping to get a payout that really isn’t guaranteed. They’re gambling with their bodies and their health. And Alphonso violates a part of the rules here in that he acts against the management, steals from them. Which one would almost thing would be approved. But because the situation is corrupt, the management can retaliate, and in that what Alphonso has done is viewed as selfish, as wrong, though really it’s still the management who is the villain, who deserves to be condemned. It’s only Alphonso, though, who is made to pay, who dies. And the narrator watches, mourns because he is the only one who really liked Alphonso, the only one who might remember that for all stealing isn’t cool, neither is the cannery fair. These people deserve more, deserve better, but because they don’t believe it’s possible to get more, they police themselves, fight like cats to protect what little they have. It’s a wrenching piece, difficult in how it shows this man murdered because of something as small as stealing some cigars. Exposing the true boundaries and vicious structures this place, this system, has created. A fine read!


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