Reviews of Short Fiction: September Edition

Each month, Daniel Haeusser reviews short works of SFT that appear both online and in print. He is an Assistant Professor in the Biology Department at Canisius College, where he teaches microbiology and leads student research projects with bacteria and bacteriophage. He’s also an associate blogger with the American Society for Microbiology’s popular Small Things Considered. Daniel reads broadly in English and French, and his book reviews can be found at Reading1000Lives or Skiffy & Fanty. You can also connect with him on Goodreads or Twitter.

Amorville” by Bella Han, translated from the Chinese by the author

Clarkesworld Magazine Issue 163, September 2019

A rather long short story whose overall message is summed up in an excellent first paragraph. From there it moves slowly, with bloat. A few decades into the future, “Eva,” a Chinese woman given an English name by her company, exists at work and at home within a world of avatars and immersion. She has grown obsessed with “Danny M. Amor,” an actor that she can’t tell is real or purely digital. That obsession begins to cause problems with her own real life. To be fair, the story’s length comes from a lot of nice detail that get the reader fully immersed in the commercial and social landscape of this near future world, but the length also seems excessive for something thematically standard: fleeting happiness in an artificial world of sham relationships, self-destruction amid addiction.


Guests from the Sky” by Ji Yun, translated from the Chinese by Yi Izzy Yu and John Yu Branscum

Samovar Magazine, September 2019

The narrator receives a strange letter from a friend, a man who dies soon afterward, seemingly as a result of his encounter with a xian nü, a fairy – or alien. The story itself is passed on rather matter-of-factly, almost in a style of turn-of-the-century horror tales. The text is followed by notes on comparisons between Chinese and European fairy traditions, and an Ancient Aliens type of discussion on how these bear similarities to UFO and alien abduction traditions. While interesting in an academic sense, it isn’t a particularly striking story.


The Head” by Bora Chung, translated from the Korean by Anton Hur

Samovar Magazine, September 2019

You may not want to read this story while eating lunch, like I did. After going to the bathroom, a woman is surprised to find a dis-formed head peek out from the toilet and speak to her, calling her ‘mother’. Despite her efforts to ignore it or force it away, this creature formed from her own waste keeps returning to her toilet, growing larger as time passes. Chung writes about this somewhat unsettling, and thoroughly weird repeating occurrence with a frankness that also brings humor to the fantasy. Beneath everything is a tale that deals with the uncomfortable realization that there are certain unavoidable actions of our existence that create consequences that we’d rather not think about, or wish we could eliminate. The woman also seeks out a husband – and child – that she hopes will free her from the ‘head’, but there is little love in these relationships either. Finally, the story ends with a theme of the abandonment of the elderly in favor of the young. The story deals with a lot and I’m still not sure how the themes all relate together within its fable framework.


The Oldest Game” by Alberto Chimal, translated from the Spanish by Toshiya Kamei

Æther and Ichor Issue 4: Spells, September 2019

Flash fiction of two enemy witches meeting for a duel to the death, using their powers of transformation. The title refers to the Red Queen type principle of having to run faster and faster to maintain one’s position. For a Chimal story, it is surprisingly predictable, however.


A Ladder to the Moon” by Naoko Awa, translated from the Japanese by Toshiya Kamei

Cosmic Roots and Eldritch Stories, “Stories for Young People from 4 to 400”, September 2019

A piece from a well-regarded Japanese children’s author of modern fairy tales. A young girl is given a rabbit, but warned to not to let it escape on the night of a full moon, for moons and rabbits are fond of one another. Apparently. Fairy tales aren’t, and never have been, my thing. For those that do like them, this does seem beautifully written, and the text is accompanied by beautiful art by Toshio Ebine and Sekkei Yamaguchi.


Yellow” by Liliana Bodoc, translated from the Spanish by Toshiya Kamei

Bewildering Stories Issue 824, September 2019

Ye-Lou, emperor of a vast realm becomes plagued by a recurring nightmare during his naps. A voice warns him of someone in the world that is more venerable and loved than he, whose splendor will overtake Ye-Lou’s. The fantasy goes predictably down the route of prophecy self-fulfillment and the self-destruction of the powerful. Though not a bad story, I didn’t find it particularly noteworthy.


The Building Atop the Hill” by Alexander Bachilo, translated from the Russian by Alex Shvartsman

Future Science Fiction Digest Issue 4, September 2019

This month’s FSFD follows the theme of alien invasion, and here a couple with a young child flee to a building where people are seeking a chance to escape the planet on a ship that will save them from the aliens. As fractured, uncertain news of falling cities, broken families, and conspiracies swirl among the refugees, they try to ensure a spot for themselves on the ship and learn more about the vague promises of their rescue. Aliens are just an SF set-up to tackle issues of human character that would accompany post-apocalyptic breakdown of society. It’s a well written story and I like the openness of its ending – or heavily implied death of many, but it felt a bit too familiar in the territory it covers thematically.


Through the Fog, A Distant Land Appears” by Wanxiang Fengnian, translated from the Chinese by Nathan Faries

Future Science Fiction Digest Issue 4, September 2019

The land is covered in a fog, everyone and everything seems to give off a yellowing of death and decay. Gu Huilan is tending to her daughter who lies in bed after accidentally swallowing a poison, watching a TV that turns to an emergency broadcast and then static. After stepping away briefly, Gu Huilan finds her daughter gone. Silence in the house, silence outside. The people in her village have all vanished, but shadowy figures seem to be left behind, remnants of those who have departed Earth to something new. This surreal, otherworldly story is visually evocative, with beautiful language. As a mother Gu Huilan is driven by love, a commitment that seems to keep her tied to her home even after the strange event takes all others away in a mingling of science fiction and metaphysics.


Yi” by Oskar Källner, translated from the Swedish by Gordon Jones

Future Science Fiction Digest Issue 4, September 2019

An alien race that humans have dubbed ‘cockroaches’ have taken over the moon, terraforming it into a forest as a stepping point for an apparent invasion of Earth. A military team is on a mission to end the Yi threat with an atomic bomb. Strong military SF that also unravels interesting speculation into the realms of biology, human consciousness/identity and technology. An excellent story.


The Messiah of the Thirteenth Colony” by Davide Camparsi, translated from the Italian by Michael Colbert

Future Science Fiction Digest Issue 4, September 2019

A former botanist, soldier in an Earth-colonial war, and now survivor of a cruiser accident, recovers in the Mars Medical Hospital, where he gains notoriety for the sudden ability to miraculously heal others, seemingly linked to a brain tumor within him. The story focuses on his eccentricities and how his abilities draw in disciples, but does not go into any sort of rationalization for how this has occurred. His story ends up paralleling that of Jesus, in terms of crossing authorities, being taken and then disappearing, but leaving his imprint behind on the people and Martian terraformed landscape.

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