Flash Fiction Online brings a bit of news, namely that long-time editor-in-chief Suzanne Vincent will be stepping down at the end of the year, being succeeded by Wendy Nikel. I wish all the luck to both as they move into new roles! Otherwise, the issue itself in a mix of genres, most of them not speculative. But they’re still interesting and powerful looks at characters dealing with expectations. Navigating how their hopes and dreams and aspirations meet the harsh reality of the world. The pieces explore how they cope, and how they overcome, the dangers, setbacks, and pressures to give up on themselves. So yeah, to the reviews!
“Invisible Ones” by A. C. Spahn (662 words)
No Spoilers: The narrator of this story is the cashier at a fast food place, one who is filling the order of a woman in a car with her son. As the narrator takes in the details of the encounter, though, they realize that the woman might not be quite what she seems. She might be one of Invisible Ones. What that means isn’t entirely clear at first, but slowly a picture develops of a situation that is complex, wrenching, and all too common. The story looks at the way that certain people, that certain situations, are rendered invisible. Not through magic, but through a kind of collective avoidance, one overlooks a massive and systemic issue.
Keywords: Fast Food, Invisibility, Family, CW- Self-harm(?), CW- Abuse(?)
Review: I love the way the story plays with the speculative. The name, the kind of general building feel that there might be a conspiracy, a speculative element of invisible people, is something I think is consciously evoked. At least, for me, it deepens the reading because it works into the way that as readers we might be more than willing to believe something like that in the guise of speculative fiction. But when the reality of the work is revealed, that the invisibility turns out to be largely symbolic, largely figurative, then the reader has to sit with that. With the way it might be easier to believe in magic than to really believe that there are people out there who are invisible, who are suffering and in danger alone, who are a step from losing everything. And people just ignore it. Look away. Don’t want to see what is happening because if you saw it you’d have to do something about it. Or else admit that you’re a shitty person. And it’s a great way to approach the issue, to recognize that there are people who are invisible, and that some of that is them wanting to be, needing to be to escape abuse, to find something like safety. And for some that’s not possible, and they are caught between the impossible situations of staying invisible and dying that way or being seen and risking being seen by the wrong person. The story takes this on with compassion, the narrator seeing the woman because the narrator was once in a similar situation. And now that they’ve perhaps managed to get out of it, what they can do is help as they can, and to see in as safe a way as possible those people who are otherwise invisible. A powerful and deftly crafted story!
“Feet like Wheels” by Samuel Barnhart (993 words)
No Spoilers: Lily wants to run. It’s most of how she’s built her young life, around her desire to, her joy of, and her dreams about running. And today is an important one in that, one where she’ll be running track in gym class as a freshman in high school, hoping to impress the track coach and maybe being able to secure a spot on the varsity team. Standing in her way are the various ways this could go wrong, and the competitive rivalry of another girl who thinks she can beat Lily. Lily was born to run, though, and she’s not stopping for anything. Or, well, almost anything. The piece is tense but fun, capturing the importance of this moment for Lily but more capturing her determination and her spirit in pushing toward her dreams in a way that doesn’t betray her values.
Keywords: Races, Running, Friends, School, Family
Review: There’s a lot of world building in this story, which might seem a strange thing to say about a contemporary piece but I like how much Lily is revealed in such a short space. We learn not only about her desire to run but some of the reasons. The shattered relationship with her father. The strained one with her stepdad. The way that everyone seems to think that her desire to run is just a phase, a fad, something that will pass. The friendship and rivalry she has with Annie. The way she carries herself through school. It’s great, all of it, the confidence she exudes because she knows how good she is, because she knows how much work she’s put into it, knows her body, knows the task, and is more than a match for it. I love the voice and the feel of the work, the way that it zips along, matching the speed that Lily uses to get to and through this day. It’s energetic, it’s complicated, and it’s really fun. When at last the race happens, there is a power to it as Lily finally stops holding back, and I love that there’s that twist, that moment where she has to make the decision to keep running despite what she sees in front of her, despite what could have gone wrong, or to do the right thing. To help her rival. To put aside her desire to win, her desire to impress the coach, her dream of this moment. For a high school story with low-ish and personal stakes, it provides this wonderful tension, this slowing down of the action just so. And even so it’s never really in doubt, never a question of if she’ll stop. She acts with speed and clarity, like she does with everything, but there’s still a sort of shocking moment because it means dropping this race, this thing that is important to her. While still recognizing that it’s still important. Just not more important than her friend’s safety. And that makes for a wonderful read!
“Poise and Grace” by Kyle Richardson (1021 words)
No Spoilers: Dint is an automaton working on an airship at the request of her father. Her father, who is dead now. Whose life’s work seems to be wrapped up in the airship. With the task complete, Dint is supposed to present herself for decommissioning. The piece follows Dint through the final days of her project, and time leading up to when she’s supposed to be shut down permanently. And what’s revealed is a person struggling under the weight of what she was supposed to be and do, and the possibilities that she’s not supposed to think about. The piece hinges on a bit of a twist, too, on a hidden message that opens up a rebellious hope that might mean not everything is ending as anticipated.
Keywords: Airships, Family, Automatons, Tasks, Stars
Review: I like the feel of the story, that Dint has been working on her own for what feels like a long time, that she’s crafted this ship as the last wish of her father. That now that’s it’s completed, she’s supposed to meet her end. There’s just this great feel of decay. Of mess. Dint is rusted, her skin torn, her appearance nothing like it probably was when her father was alive. She’s a mess, and to the rest of the world she’s a wreck to be scrapped. But I love the little things that she takes pleasure in, the way that she can get dirty, that she can climb a tree, that she can do all these things that she probably wasn’t supposed to do, not if she was built with a corset, with these very Victorian woman coded things that speak to an expectations on service, on ornamentation, and ultimately on sacrifice. And yet she defies these, defies them with the building on an aircraft and defies them in the way she doesn’t intend to give herself over to be shut down permanently. And I like the clever little twist that works in that way, the message from her father which at first seems like a call to “do the right thing” and not make a fuss about it. To let herself be destroyed. But which is revealed to be a code, a double-meaning, where the real intent is that she should escape, that she should live. And I just like how the story pulls it off, how it gives Dint the chance to go beyond even what her father intended for her, except that she be free. She can go anywhere, do anything, and for Dint that means slipping the last links of her chains, the expectations that have been put on her. And it’s a triumphant, joyous ending to a great story!