Karen Burnham Reviews Short Fiction: khōréō, Luna Station Quarterly, and Shoreline of Infinity

khōō 3/22
Luna Station Quarterly 3/22
Shoreline of Infinity 3/22

Starting in on its second year, khōō has another strong issue with five original stories. ‘‘Phoenix Tile’’ by Guan Un is a fun story about Ah Lok, a trickster demigod starting to fade out in Chinatown. He cons his way to the East Wind’s hangout, and mayhem ensues – possibly enough chaos to get him back on track. ‘‘Me and Seed Sheself’’ by Celeste Rita Baker has one of the more unusual narrators I’ve encountered lately – it’s half of a magic tamarind seed that has been with the human girl Junisa since she was little. Acting as a kind of charm, the narrator and the seed nudge Junisa to make healthy choices. In the course of the story Junisa becomes a grown woman; at a party she goes for an ill-advised swim and barely makes it back to shore. The fate of the magic seed is a reveal for the ending. ‘‘Electric Waterfalls’’ by Ruth Joffre takes place near Deadhorse AK. In this post-climate-change world there’s no more push to open oil drilling nearby, and Xiomara is a student and technician working on a major solar array installation. She heads out to do some repairs, and also quietly panic about whether or not her crush will come to her birthday party. It’s a slice-of-life story that would fit nicely in the Solarpunk venue, with the added bonus of focusing on an indigenous future. ‘‘Matchmaker, Matchmaker’’ by Evalyn Broderick is a sweet story of two best friends who are pitted against each other to try to win the hand of an off-world suitor deemed acceptable by the shadchan. The meeting comes down to a baking contest, but the narrator has serious doubts that this is a competition she wants to win. ‘‘Hiraeth Heart’’ by Lulu Kadhim is a more poignant story, imagining a person visiting a destroyed desert with her mother. It had been the mother’s home before she fled and her grief is obvious. But even for the narrator, who never lived there, there is grief in losing the hopes they’d had of visiting the place when it was whole.

Luna Station Quarterly is a great place to find new voices, and their 49th issue is no exception. Of the 16 original stories, I count 14 that are either by debut authors or those who have only a handful of stories out. The stories range far and wide, from wish fulfillment to horror. Two beautiful stories are ‘‘Clouds in her Eyes’’ by Glenna Turnbull and ‘‘Dinner with Jupiter’’ by Clare Diston. In ‘‘Clouds in her Eyes’’, Isabella is wife to a rich man in perhaps the 17th or 18th century. When she is sitting for a portrait, the canvas is grabbed by the wind. She merges with it and goes on a journey, encountering younger and older women, giving them advice, able for once to have agency. In ‘‘Dinner with Jupiter’’ the narrator is having, once again, dinner alone during the pandemic. She imagines reaching up to the sky and plucking the planets down to have as centerpieces for her table, just for one night. ‘‘Soul Mate’’ by Paulene Turner strikes an interesting balance between being fun and dealing with death, grieving, and moving on. Cassidy died and is in a sort of halfway house where souls stay until the living completely let them go. Some people have been there for a looooong time, especially someone with the fame of a Shakespeare. Cassidy’s fiancé is starting to move on, and she’s having a hard time coping with that. She’s helped by the ghost of Franklin Kent, a one-hit wonder sort-of star from the 1960s whose memory is being kept alive by a single fan. In this case, letting go can be hard for people on both sides of the ethereal divide. In ‘‘The Best Pierogi in Kocierba’’, Agnieszka Halas brings us the story of Paweł, who is stuck in his life. He has to help his mother recover from some particularly bad luck, and his girlfriend broke up with him because he couldn’t move in with her. He goes to visit the Glass Mountain in Kocierba, the stuff of legends. The tour guide at the peak takes time to really talk with him, and he starts to see himself in the legend even as he returns to Cracow.

On the horror side of the ledger, ‘‘Small Offer­ings for a Small God’’ by Virginia M. Mohlere describes a losing Field Marshall cursed to walk the wasteland in autonomous armor that does not let her feel or stop. She picks up a godling of sorts out there and starts making little offerings to it. As it grows into a smidgen of power it offers to remove the curse, and the story doesn’t shy away from what that means, or the question of when punishments of this kind might be just. ‘‘Swallow it Down’’ by Sarah Dropek features Catherine, whose mother is declining. She had written something in a diary before she lost the use of language, and an urge compels Catherine to eat the diary pages. They had always had a fraught relationship, and this may be one last attempt by the mother to manipulate a daughter she was always disappointed by. Both of these stories are subtle but chilling nonetheless.

Shoreline of Infinity is a Scottish venue that’s been publishing since 2015. The March issue has the first two chapters of ‘‘Approaching Human’’, a serial by Eric Brown. It is a noir-style detec­tive story centered on Zorn, an AI private eye. In the intro he delves into VR to discover that a woman’s husband is cheating on her… but is it with another woman or some VR fantasy? And which one would be worse? In the next chapter the main plot is introduced when the brother of a friend goes missing. The victim had been pushing towards a breakthrough in true human uploads, so there are multiple suspects who might have had both motive and opportunity to remove him from the stage. This looks like it will be a lot of fun. In keeping with a bit of a solarpunk theme for this column, the issue also features ‘‘The Tides Rolled In’’ by Christopher R. Moscato, which won a solarpunk story competition. The main character of the story lives on a floating village in a post-sea-level-rise future. She’s a young girl and pretty nervous about docking with a larger floating city for the first time. She’s a document in hand and a plan that’s she’s going to try to implement – and it turns out to be much more important and hopeful than you’d initially expect.

Recommended Stories
‘‘Dinner with Jupiter’’, Clare Diston (Luna Station 3/22)
‘‘Clouds in Her Eyes’’, Glenna Turnbull (Luna Station 3/22)
‘‘Phoenix Tile’’, Guan Un (khōō 3/22)

Karen Burnham is an electromagnetics engineer by way of vocation, and a book reviewer/critic by way of avocation. She has worked on NASA projects including the Dream Chaser spacecraft and currently works in the automotive industry in Michigan. She has reviewed for venues such as Locus Magazine, NYRSF, Strange Horizons, SFSignal.com, and Cascadia Subduction Zone. She has produced podcasts for Locusmag.com and SFSignal.com, especially SF Crossing the Gulf with Karen Lord. Her book on Greg Egan came out from University of Illinois Press in 2014, and she has twice been nominated in the Best Non-Fiction category of the British SF Awards.

This review and more like it in the June 2022 issue of Locus.

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