Charles Payseur Reviews Short Fiction: Diabolical Plots, Flash Fiction Online, and Kaleidotrope

Diabolical Plots 7/22
Flash Fiction Online 7/22
Kaleidotrope 7/22

July’s Diabolical Plots had a strong pair of sto­ries, including Andrew K Hoe’s “Heart of a Plesiosaur”, which finds two orphaned siblings practicing bringing inanimate representations of animals to life, if only for brief amounts of time, and competing against others to see whose animations are most impressive. The magic in the piece is fascinating, limited to children and lost in adulthood, as imagination plays a powerful role in animating. The lives of the children aren’t easy, though, for all they excel at animating, as pollution has ruined large parts of the world and threatens to ruin more. They are plagued by tragedy, by loss, and Hoe does an excellent job of tugging at the heart­strings with an emphasis on the power and endurance of love and memory, which echo even after death.

Following an all-reprint issue, Flash Fiction Online returns with original content in July, including Nathan Makarios’s first fiction publication, the Pinocchio-esque “Dr. Daidalo’s Kouklotheatron”. In it, a wooden boy without a tongue is center stage in wonderful stories he helps his father conjure into being. For all they attract and enthrall the city’s children, though, something about the stories they tell carry a deeper and more dangerous truth that brings them the wrong kind of attention from the city’s adults. It’s a heartbreaking work, but still vibrant and magical, centering the power of stories and storytelling, even and perhaps especially for those stories people have tried to suppress and erase.

The latest from Kaleidotrope features a nice range of short fiction and poetry, including Frances Rowat’s “After Midnight, in a Dead Woman’s Shoes”. In it, Scarrow is a dead woman with a mystery to solve – her own murder. Being undead gives her a limited amount of time and a very clear mission, to avenge her death, but doing so brings her into deepening shadows that conceal horror and atrocity. Rowat keeps the pacing tight and the action visceral as Scarrow has to cling to revenge and the hope that she wrap up her unfinished business before it claims anyone else. There’s nice world building wrapped around an immediate and pulse-pounding plot. “Mistempered Weapons” by Jennifer R. Donohue keeps things rather tense and action-y as it follows Katarina, an actress and sword fighter who’s used to playing second fiddle (and protecting muscle) to her leading-role cousin. When said cousin’s heart gets her into trouble that might end up with her on the street or worse, though, Katarina is thrust into the spotlight as she works desperately to stab, seduce, or sweet-talk her way out of trouble and toward freedom. Donohue manages an easy style and flow in this comedy of errors and manners cut with the sharp point of a dueling sword. Katarina makes for a wry and reckless engine moving the plot forward toward either ruin or triumph (or a delicious mix of both).

Recommended Stories:
“Mistempered Weapons”, Jennifer R. Donohue (Kaleidotrope 7/22)

Charles Payseur is an avid reader, writer, and reviewer of speculative fiction. His works have appeared in The Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy, Lightspeed Magazine, and Beneath Ceaseless Skies, among others, and many are included in his debut collection, The Burning Day and Other Strange Stories (Lethe Press 2021). He is the series editor of We’re Here: The Best Queer Speculative Fiction (Neon Hemlock Press) and a multiple-time Hugo and Ignyte Award finalist for his work at Quick Sip Reviews. When not drunkenly discussing Goosebumps, X-Men comic books, and his cats on his Patreon (/quicksipreviews) and Twitter (@ClowderofTwo), he can probably found raising a beer with his husband, Matt, in their home in Eau Claire, Wisconsin.

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

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