This time around, we have stories about endings, about conflict, and about hope in bleak situations.
“Beautiful White Bodies” by Alice Sola Kim (Strange Horizons December 2009)
God, this story.
Justine is a boomerang millennial working at a coffeeshop in the suburbs after she loses her newspaper job. She befriends an unpopular high school student, Pearl, right before something starts happening to the young girls in their town. The girls become beautiful, and strange, and deadly. Soon what was limited to the popular girls starts trickling down.
Kim works this delicate balance of quiet satire and horror that had me laughing even as my heart was pounding. Kim’s twenty-seven-year old Justine and sixteen-year-old Pearl are so spot on, they genuinely feel like real humans living now. Pearl is sarcastic and angst without being a Sassy Teen(TM) and Justine feels like one of my friends. Very rarely do story teenagers feel truly real.
“A Tale of Ash in Seven Birds” by Amal El-Mohtar in The Djinn Falls in Love, and Other Stories
This story appears in The Djinn Falls in Love, a new anthology of djinn stories from Solaris, but I had the pleasure of hearing El-Mohtar read it at ConFusion this January.
Like “Beautiful White Bodies,” “A Tale of Ash in Seven Birds” is a careful balancing act. It is political yet sentimental, clearly a story and yet nearly a poem, strikingly original and yet instantly recognizable. An extended metaphor with bird ecology and personified nation-wizards standing in for the immigrant experience does not sound like a thing that should work, but it does, it does.
I’ve been reading a lot of El-Mohtar’s stories lately. I love the joy that is so often at the core of her stories (see “Pockets” in Uncanny, or “Madeline” in Lightspeed). “A Tale of Ash in Seven Birds” gets very dark indeed, but the joy still shines through in the cracks.
“The Shadow Collector” by Sveta Thakrar (Uncanny March/April 2016)
Rajesh grows girl-blossoms for the Queen, but in his spare time he collects shadows stolen from passersby and he covets the queen’s. When he has the chance to seize this most desirable of prizes, he thinks nothing of the destruction he will cause.
I love this story’s ambiguity. There is no explanation for the shadow-stealing or the girl-blossoms. It passes no judgement on Rajesh for his covetousness, his human fragility.
This is a story about…not redemption exactly, because Rajesh is not redeemed in the end, but about hindsight. About realizing how you have failed and seeing just too late the ramifications, and doing what you can to fix it anyway even if you can do very little.