Residents of a generation ship maintain continuity by passing memories of the deceased to the ship’s youths in Beth Dawkins’ “The Pulse of Memory”. Every adolescent’s rite-of-passage involves eating a fish that houses memories of the deceased; the catch is that everyone must “willingly” submit to death at age 65 and be fed to the fish, before their memories degrade. Cal watches his beloved grandmother go to her death just before he gets his own fish. He savors the experience so much that he later steals a second fish he hopes will contain his grandmother’s memories. Setting the table for this weird and wonderful premise makes for a solid first half; later it devolves into a muddled conspiracy thriller that squanders its potential.
In a dream-like fantasy world called the Escapement, the Stranger realizes that agents of the Colossi plan to rob the train he is to acquire a dangerous new weapon. But is it too late for him and the Kid to stop them? “The Great Train Robbery” is pure escapism from Lavie Tidhar, one that refers to the ordinary world as a somber contrast to the wondrous happenings of his imaginary one. Not even a dose of bittersweet reflexivity can compete with the vanishing snake oil salesmen, shape-shifting criminal masterminds and monstrous stone giants of this carnivalesque reverie told in classic cliffhanger style.
Images of butterflies appear in unusual places throughout a Romanian neighborhood in Marian Coman’s “The Small White”. The story’s young narrator (referred to only as Four-Eyes) befriends a girl who may be connected to the appearances. This is not a pleasant story to read: the children are nasty to each other, the adults are nasty to the children, and the government is nasty to everyone. The general air of nastiness is undercut by the beauty and hopefulness of the butterfly images before that too is quashed.
A.J. McCullough’s flash piece “Bone Song” is macabre, yet melodic prose poem about a miller who fashions a musical instrument from the bones of a dead woman he finds washed up on the banks of the river.
Three generations of a Vietnamese-American family deal with the consequences of an untested new technology in T.K. Lê’s “2086”. The narrator recalls that at age 8 their neighborhood was the first to receive a teleportation device. Several early users of the device vanished, including the narrator’s Bà Ngoại (grandmother). The family has trouble accepting that Bà Ngoại is gone, and the narrator believes Bà Ngoại’s presence is still with them in some form. The narrator’s recollection of their childhood perspective of the events is convincing and relatable. I was moved by their mother’s reaction to the loss of her own mother, and how the technology created a frustrating uncertainty (is she dead? Just missing? Still here somehow?) about Bà Ngoại’s fate.
Maria Haskins offers lighter-than-usual fare in “Hand Me Downs”, the story of a teenage troll named Tilda who wants to go to a famous dance academy while battling stereotypes about her identity. Her high school dance instructor wants her to wear a troll costume on stage—because being an actual troll isn’t “trollish” enough—and dance to music offensive to her culture. Her father, who already prefers she studies something more practical, doesn’t want her subjected to such humiliations and demands she give up dance altogether. There are nice touches of macabre humor mixed in with Haskins’ heartfelt intentions; overall, it’s an affecting story of self-determination.
Recommended Stories (***Must Read; **Highly Regarded; *Also Recommended)
** “Hand Me Downs” by Maria Haskins
** “The Great Train Robbery” by Lavie Tidhar