Paula Guran Reviews Short Fiction: Flash Fiction Online, Nightmare, and Fantasy
Flash Fiction Online’s October 2021 issue seeks to “explore that darkness that lurks inside things that initially seem harmless….” Sarah Pauling’s “Litany in the Heart of Exorcism” considers the casting out of a demon – but is something that has kept a young woman from a marriage she does not want demonic? “Better devil-deals than marriage contracts.” A young girl dares to visit a forbidden abode in the atmospheric and evocative “Like a Sunday House” by Linda Niehoff. The narrator of Aimee Picchi’s “AITA for Using My Side Hustle to Help My Boyfriend Escape the Clutches of Death?” has devised an herbal restorative she sells to folks whose ailing pets need help. When her boyfriend drinks another of her experiments, she uses it to save his life. Well, not exactly his life. A giggle of a tale with a happy (I think) ending. “Like Feather, Like Bone” by Kristi DeMeester examines the terrible depth of grief for a child who has died. Vivid. Poetic. Unforgettable.
Fantasy #72 leads off with “Breath of the Dragon King” by Allison King. Less than one thousand words, it’s a lovely story of a girl who, despite her parents’ misguided expectations, finds her own path and power. Zebib K.A.’s narrator in “Heirlooms” learns empathy for those less privileged than her after a weird encounter with a homeless woman. The title character of “Emily and the What-if Imp” by Gwynne Garfinkle is a young girl who learns to deal with more-than-intrusive thoughts. Both Zebib’s and Garfinkle’s stories are a mite too directly didactic for my taste. Nellie, in “Obstruction” by Pamela Rentz, is a Karuk who left her tribal home but is now compelled to return by the invasion of a television competition series. It’s a story about roots and identity and finding one’s true place. Yes, more lessons here, but more subtly and entertainingly told.
In Fantasy #73, “Lessons” by Billie Cohen is a brief (665 words) consideration of the science and magic of bubbles. “Shouty Lads” by Charles EP Murphy is even shorter (469 words). It is a tart slice of South London life, but really only a vignette. I think Genevieve Mills meant her “Girls Have Sharp Teeth” to be about empowering girls, but since its narrator (and others) ultimately gain confidence and strength only from dental modification, that may not be the message delivered. “The Petticoat Government” by Kehkashan Khalid is based in 16th-century Mughal history. The real story of Akbar the Great, who became emperor at age 14, is an interesting one. What we know of Maham Anga, the woman who raised him, advised him, and even briefly ruled for him is, is even more interesting. This is fertile fictional ground, but Khalid’s story never fully blooms.
Paula Guran has edited more than 40 science fiction, fantasy, and horror anthologies and more than 50 novels and collections featuring the same. She’s reviewed and written articles for dozens of publications. She lives in Akron OH, near enough to her grandchildren to frequently be indulgent.
This review and more like it in the December 2021 issue of Locus.
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