Lovely Stories, Things for Ballots

A wee handful of things I’ve read recently for which it’s very tempting to post nothing but links along with an endless sequence of hearts.

“Seven Commentaries on an Imperfect Land” by Ruthanna Emrys is a vision of a Jewish Narnia. I read it first on Saturday; yesterday, while passing on the link as a recommendation to a friend, I was sucked in once more. This short story packs so much in its tiny package: its narrative structure is unusual. It aces the Bechdel test (mostly female characters talking to each other mostly about not-men). And the world building is loving and atmospheric. Magical mint plants! Golem librarians! I hope one day we have another opportunity to visit Tikanu.

Emrys’ “Litany of Earth” is an entirely different sort of story. The world is atmospheric, but Lovecraftian; as I know and care very little about the Cthulhiuan mythos, I didn’t expect to like this, but the writing hooked me:

“That’s a good answer. Some people think that ‘power’ is a good answer, and it isn’t. The power that can be found in magic is less than what you get from a gun, or a badge, or a bomb.” I pause… “What magic is for is understanding. Knowledge. And it won’t work until you know how little that gets you.”

The protagonist Aphra Marsh is a Deep One (I had to look up the name for this) in an alternate history in which the U.S. government has destroyed Innsmouth and hunted down most of the survivors. Aphra is one of the last of her kind, and this is a portrait of the fear and loneliness that comes along with that. The pleasure she takes in finding people she can trust, while knowing that trust has limits, and the way she must negotiate desire and responsibility, feels so very true.

So these, a sublimely optimistic short story and a novelette about alienation and internal conflict, can be considered addenda to my 2014 short fiction round-up post from last week.

And speaking of loneliness, “The Unbearable Solitude of Being an African Fangirl” by Chinelo Onwualu may be my favorite essay of 2014. I reviewed the magazine issue from whence it came at Skiffy and Fanty; Omenana is a new zine headquartered in Nigeria with stories by and about people from the African continent. It’s probably going on my Hugo ballot for best related work, which may seem odd given that it won’t produce its second issue until the next calendar year. However, I read a lot of short fiction, and it’s rare to see an issue or anthology where the stories relate and work together so well to produce something more than the sum of their parts, as well as including nonfiction that is this evocative and profound.


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