‘The Deepest Rift’ by Ruthanna Emrys (Tor.com). This is a very particular kind of story, I think – it’s quiet (despite the trope of first contact being usually treated as higher-stake), personal, driven by relationship and scientific curiosity. In those areas it excels and the way the story implies at hierarchy and cultural hegemony is something I appreciate, but by and large while I read to the finish and found it quite enjoyable, what didn’t work for me was the relationship between the protagonist and their lovers. Again, it’s gracefully understated:
warm hands brush shoulders on the way to the kitchenette; familiar body language tickles my peripheral vision. We speak rarely. Still, it matters that we are in the same room, on the same world.
But for me I can’t get invested in their need to stay together. At about 7,800 words, it’s not very short (though it did feel much shorter than it is – it’s a pretty smooth read), but I don’t think there’s enough room to establish the protagonist’s partners as distinct individuals. That relationship being so central to the story, the result is a whole that’s missing the middle.
‘Tin Cans’ by Ekaterina Sedia (Weird Fiction Review).
You know that you’re old when your children are old, when they have heart trouble and sciatica, when their hearing is going too so that both of you yell into the shell of the phone receiver. But most often, he doesn’t call — and I do not blame him, I wouldn’t call me either. He hadn’t forgiven and he never fully will, except maybe on his deathbed — and it saddens me to think that he might be arriving there before me, like it saddens me that my grandchildren cannot read Cyrillic.
This is a reprint. I first encountered it in Ekaterina’s collection Moscow But Dreaming (reviewed on Tor.com here), which is absolutely worth reading. It’s a dark magic realism story that, unlike most contemporary SFF, is not infused with inescapable Americana, geek pop culture references, and all the other markers that too often blight that particular sub-genre. This one is infused with real history, real darkness, and haunting imagery: honed like a knife, sharp in its effectiveness. It makes me sad that Ekaterina doesn’t write in genre anymore, because no other writer creates the same kind of short fiction she does.
‘Android Whores Can’t Cry’ by Natalia Theodoridou (Clarkesworld).
Some notes on the translation of Massacre Market
There is some uncertainty about the translation from the local language of what I have called “Massacre Market.” Other possible translations include “Atrocity Place,” “Massacre Fair,” or, and that was the most confusing aspect of this, “Pearl Fountain,” because even though each of the two words means something different, together they create a new compound which, as Dick and Brigitte explained to me, could rather clumsily be interpreted as “a fountain whence pearls flow,” “the breeding ground of oysters,” or even “the plane of sublime imperfections.”
This is an intricate, interstitial story that wouldn’t have looked out of place at Interfictions. It covers memory, identity, uncertainties, haunting imagery – so naturally, I’m all over it. It does rely on contemporary depiction of gendered violence, but then this seems a relatively near-future piece so that’s not out of place at all.