I’m a bit shocked that February is already over. I don’t think I can handle another year that somehow flashes by as quickly as 2013 did! But on the other hand, I get to go home to South Africa this March, so yay! I’d also like to spend this month checking out all the Nebula-nominated short fiction because, sadly, I have only read two of them.
But, for now, here are my favourite short stories for February:
This story is based on a thoroughly improbable premise – that water will fall on you from nowhere when you lie, and the quantity and temperature of the water depends on the severity of the lie. The how and why of this is unimportant, but it has profound implications for personal relationships and that’s the subject of Chu’s story.
The protagonist Matt and his boyfriend Gus are in love and perhaps even ready to get married, but Matt has never come out to his traditional Chinese family. Not only is he worried about his parents’ reaction, but about his domineering sister who insists that it is his duty to marry a woman and provide their parents with grandchildren, regardless of his feelings. Matt decides to face the issue head-on by inviting Gus to Christmas dinner with his family.
It’s one of those lovely stories that’s full of emotion – fear, sadness, humour, warmth, tragedy, hope, love. Chu also does an amazing job of weaving Chinese culture and the Mandarin language into the narrative, as in Matt’s way of explaining how he avoided revealing Gus’s gender when speaking about him to his family:
“Mandarin doesn’t have gender-specific third person pronouns. Well, the written language does, but it’s a relatively recent invention and they all sound the same and no one really uses the female and neuter variants anyway. And it’s not like there aren’t words for ‘boyfriend’ or ‘girlfriend’ but I always refer to you as ‘愛人.’ It means ‘sweetheart,’ ‘lover,’ ‘spouse.’ And never using your name isn’t all that unusual. Names are for friends and acquaintances. Members of your family you refer to by title—”
Rather than get angry, Gus handles this with amazing tenderness, and often lightens the mood. I was worried that this might be an emotionally draining story to read, but although it can be difficult it surprised me with its complexity. It’s one of the reasons I love speculative fiction – the way authors can write such touching stories using a premise like water falling on you from nowhere.
“A Raft” by Charlie Human (Pornokitsch / Pandemonium: Ash)
This is a very short story – only 635 words – so go and read it now because it’ll only take a couple of minutes. It’s an absurd, fucked up horror story set on a raft, and it’s the kind of short fiction that seems to hit you out of nowhere.
You can read it for free via the link above, and you can find it in the anthology Pandemonium: Ash – a collection of six stories set in the aftermath of the 1883 explosion of Krakatoa – which can also be downloaded for free.
“Reborn” by Ken Liu (Tor.com)
I’ll be honest – at least half the Ken Liu stories I read are going to make it into my monthly recommendations. This one is part of a three-story series curated by senior Tor Books editor David G. Hartwell. All three are based on a singular piece of art by Richard Anderson and will be released for free on Tor.com. The image to the right is the Anderson artwork that inspired this story.
Liu tackles some of his common themes in this story – colonialism, culture and the irreconcilable conflicts between past and present. The story is set on Earth after it was colonised by the Tawnin a race of aliens that are neither male or female in gender (Liu uses different pronouns for them; difficult to get used to, but it adds to the worldbuilding). The Tawnin have altered some human minds to remove ‘evil’ and the memories of crimes, allowing both races to live in harmony. The people who undergo these procedures are the ‘reborn’, and of course there are lots of thorny ethical issues surrounding this practice.
Joshua Rennon is a reborn human Special Agent who deals with human rebels, and is in an intimate relationship with a Tawnin. When a bomb is detonated at the arrival of the Reborn from The Judgement Ship (based on the ship in the picture, I think), Josh has to find the people responsible. The case is unavoidably personal, forcing him to deal with issues about his own rebirth and his relationship with the Tawnin Kai. The story explores ideas about gender, sexuality and intimacy as well as memory and human nature, all tied up with the problems of colonialism and post-colonialism. It’s a complex socio-political tangle; definitely something I need to read again.