Sunday Shorts is a series where I blog about short fiction – from flash to novellas. For the time being, I’m sticking to prose, although it’s been suggested I could expand this feature to include single episodes of anthology television series like The Twilight Zone or individual stories/issues of anthology comics (like the 1970s DC horror or war anthology titles). So anything is possible. But for now, the focus is on short stories.
I received a review copy of this spring’s issue of Abyss and Apex magazine and here, finally, are some brief thoughts on the stories contained therein:
1. EXHIBIT K by Nadia Afifi. A woman wakes up and finds that she’s not only famous for what she did during wartime but also that she’s become an interactive museum exhibit opposite her most hated enemy. I won’t give away the how of the situation (I really hate spoiling short story twists), but I can say it’s not your standard “person from the past adjusts to an unexpected future” story. The author stays firmly in the viewpoint of the main character, Selma Carmichael, allowing the reader to experience this strange new world alongside her – which means any answers Selma doesn’t get (about how the world got the way it is) the reader doesn’t get either. And while in other stories that might bother me, it doesn’t here because of how much else is going on: the reveals about Selma and her enemy’s pasts, the reveal of what the museum curators are really up to – it’s all very well done and very well paced, with tons of concrete physical and sensory details to help the reader feel connected to the world and to Selma.
2. THE BIRDS THAT FLEW IN WARTIME by Tamoha Sengupta. The second story in the issue is far more ephemeral that the first; alternating points of view and style. Some sections are very middle-Eastern fable-like in tone, while others are more modern in voice. The full story comes together in bits and pieces, and there’s a lot for the reader to speculate about. There are some poetic, beautiful turns-of-phrase throughout.
3. A MISSED DIVERSION by R.S. Alexander. The third story in the issue veers away from hard SF and ephemeral fantasy into the realm of sf-crime. The setting is clearly the near future, but the story is centered on a man in hiding trying to solve the mystery of a friend’s death – by blackmailing the person he thinks committed the crime. It’s a bit of a crime thriller, a bit of a corporate espionage thriller – and a very, very insular story told mostly through transmitted dialogue between our main character and his target. It felt like it would be equally at home in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine or Asimov’s.
4. ARS POETICA by David F. Shultz. This was my favorite story in the issue. Sort-of near-future, not-quite post-apocalyptic setting in which the people with the best chance of saving the human race from falling to robot infiltrators are … writers. Well, poets, specifically. It seems the one aspect of humanity the robots (called bugs for the way they attach to and take over humans) can’t quite imitate is the writing of poetry. So communities survive or fall based on their ability to sniff out who is really writing poetry and who is plagiarizing. Scenes discussing the nature of creativity (nature vs. nurture) alternate with serious dissections of the taking in of refugees who may or may not be what they seem, all mixed with several high-energy, high-body-count, very bloody human vs. robot encounters that felt original in the way they were executed. All the stories in the issue are enjoyable, but this one especially kept me thinking long after I was done reading it.
5. SIBLING SQUABBLES by Gregg Chamberlain. This is a very funny bit of flash fiction about a father trying to explain to a daughter why using magic on her magic-less sibling is not acceptable. It’s classic parent-sibling head-butting, enhanced by sharp dialogue and winking references to a variety of television and literary wizards and witches (I think I got all of them, but I’m not sure), and even a kind of nod (I think) to a Disney live-action classic film from the 60s. I smiled all the way through this one.
6. THE GIFTED SOMMELLIER by Grayson Bray Morris. The fiction portion of the issue ends with a heart-breaking bit of flash fiction about a wine sommelier with a very specific job to do. I hate to say too much, but the lush detail in such a short piece really sets the mood excellently, and the end brought a tear to my eye.
Issue #70 of Abyss & Apex also has a poetry section – but as I’m not an avid poetry reader, I don’t feel qualified to review or discuss the seven poems or the artwork that accompanies them.