November’s Short Fiction

As I mentioned yesterday, I just finished reading every original short story published by Apex, Clarkesworld, Fantasy, Lightspeed and Strange Horizons in November 2010. Let’s pretend that there’s some kind of transition sentence right here.

The biggest surprise for me was Lightspeed Magazine. Its editor John Joseph Adams has spent the better part of a decade as the assistant editor at the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction (to which I subscribe), so I guess I would have expected the fiction in Lightspeed to be something like that in FSF. However, I would have been pretty surprised to read either of last month’s stories in FSF.

Standard Loneliness Package by Charles Yu kind of resists any sort of stolid, extrapolative, futurism-type reading of its central conceit (call centers in India that experience negative emotions for rich Americans). If emotions can be repackaged and transferred, why is it necessary for anyone to feel them? But who cares about that? The story is totally sweet.

I was particularly captivated by one passage:

I am feeling that feeling. The one that these people get a lot, near the end of a funeral service. These sad and pretty people. It’s a big feeling. Different operators have different ways to describe it. For me, it feels something like a huge boot. Huge, like it fills up the whole sky, the whole galaxy, all of space. Some kind of infinite foot. And it’s stepping on me. The infinite foot is stepping on my chest.

The funeral ends, and the foot is still on me, and it is hard to breathe. People are getting into black town cars. I also appear to have a town car. I get in. The foot, the foot. So heavy. Here we go, yes, this is familiar, the foot, yes, the foot. It doesn’t hurt, exactly. It’s not what I would call comfortable, but it’s not pain, either. More like pressure.

Deepak, who used to be in the next cubicle, once told me that this feeling, which I call the infinite foot—to him it felt more like a knee—is actually the American experience of the Christian God.

It’s sort of a throwaway bit of the story, but it’s a great science-fictional effect. The veil of solipsism prevents us from asking these kind of questions ordinarily. How is Christian grief different from Hindu grief? Not the theology, we know that’s different…but does that different theology result in a different feeling deep down underneath your heart?


Although we’ve never met, I sort of know Alice Sola Kim. At least, we’re friends on Facebook. She graduated Stanford when I was a sophomore. I am sad we did not really know each other, because Hwang’s Billion Brilliant Daughters is totes awesome, starting with the title.

Ninety-nine percent of the time, when the word “daughter” is preceded by an adjective in a title, that adjective is “beautiful” (e.g. The Scale-Hunter’s Beautiful Daughter, The Executioner’s Beautiful Daughter, Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters, etc…). It can’t be accidental that a different ‘b’ adjective chosen here. One that seems, to my eyes, so ugly, so out of place, so wrong.

The story is filled with beautiful, slightly awkward lines, like:

It turns out that everyone has been uploaded into virtual space, but a few people still have to stick around to make sure that buildings stay up and the tanks are clean and operational.

Later, everyone comes back, because it turns out that no one really likes uploaded life.


In bare feet, Hwang was half an inch shorter than his wife, which seemed within the bounds of acceptability. But the world conspired to tip this delicate balance, with slanted sidewalks, with Italian heels, with poor posture. Hwang and his ex-wife each thought that the other cared more about their height discrepancy.

And, of course, the enduring mystery of the story is the identity of the narrator. Personally, I assumed that it was the son. But that doesn’t precisely fit. Read it and get back to me with something better.


A lot of the November stories I read had kind of tricky structures. They were nonlinear, or told in journal entries, or written in books, or interspersed with historical apocrypha. At first glance, Sigrid Ellis’ No Return Address isn’t really like that.. Well, I mean, it was told as a series of letters. But epistolary format is not tricky. It’s kind of the oldest structure for prose fiction. But the story is thematically complex. It’s brimming with all kinds of resonant elements that maybe didn’t really need to be there, but click together in interesting ways.

The mother in the story is writing letters to her daughter, but she does not send the letters because she does not know her daughter’s address. Her daughter is backpacking through Europe, fighting evil faeries from the Unseelie Court, and sending textless postcards to her mom.

That’s kind of fun. Who doesn’t wonder what happens to the parents of teen heroes? Like to Hermione’s parents, or to Bella Swann’s mother, etc. I think the typical solution is to make the parents kind of evil and abusive so you don’t care about them any

But there’s a lot more in this story. The daughter’s trek through Europe is mirrored in three generations. The mother is taking care of the grandmother, who is currently going senile, and recounts shady circumstances in Europe in ’68. The mother herself got into something in Seattle in 1990.

The story brims over with characters, with elements, with walk-ons. I don’t know, it’s kind of what you’re not supposed to do in a short story, but it gets done so artfully that you hardly notice.

The ending is what it has to be, but I found it disturbing. In stories of generational angst, it seems like the elder generation always comes to realize that the younger generation was right to pursue its heart. But the mother’s realization is wrong. Her daughter abandoned her, and it’s inexcusable. Both the mother and grandmother were scarred by their own rebellions, and the daughter will be too.


There’s not so much to say about Aidan Doyle’s Hokkaido Green, and I’m not even really sure it deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as the above stories. But there’s something brief, and momentous, and disarming about this story. It’s like someone sucking in a titanic lungful of air, and then letting it slowly hiss out from between his teeth.

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