"419 Memoirs" Michael Canfield
"The High Chair" Steve Rasnic Tem
"When We Slew Dragons" Jennifer Schwabach
"Corn" Elise Moser
"The After-Life" Jan Wildt
"Discovery's Wake" M.K. Hobson
"Grandma Charlie and the Wolves" David J. Schwartz
"The Sun Diary" Lavie Tidhar
Flytrap #6 is another quality publication from Tropism Press, and if your tastes run to literary fantasy and SF, I recommend checking this one out.
Michael Canfield's "419 Memoirs" makes a strong opening—seemingly disjointed sketches of people's lives in some unspecified but near future paint a complex, multiplayer picture of this future society. But just like the lives of our contemporaries, these future memoirs are funny and sad and poignant and a little pathetic, and the story is quite enjoyable because of that. The future is quite believable, in large part because the author creates neologisms that don't make one cringe, and the hints of new geopolitical divisions are plausible. All in all, a lovely story.
"The High Chair" by Steve Rasnic Tem is a quiet story about an aging childless couple, and the memories and regrets brought on when they discover a high chair they bought 25 years ago, for the child they never had. It is a sad and wistful story, with a sympathetic protagonist. His sadness is ultimately affirming of the choices he made, which is a relief, since so many stories about childless people end with them feeling regret. The speculative element is rather slight and not really necessary for the story, but the story works well nonetheless.
"When We Slew Dragons" by Jennifer Schwabach is a fun short piece about an aging barbarian, wizard, and assassin lamenting their younger days, and then running into an aging arthritic dragon. It's an amusing enough story, and the problem I have with it is the same one I have with much of the comical fantasy genre—making fun of the old clichéd tropes has already become a cliché, and thus is not that surprising or innovative. Still, this story has a few nicely turned phrases, and the characters do rise above the traditional one-dimensionality.
"Corn" by Elise Moser is a flash piece about a woman whose teeth start spontaneously generating corn. It is a pleasant vignette, but as with most flash stories, doesn't really have a lot for the reader to mull over. Still, an interesting concept and an appealing protagonist who deals with her new ability in a human and interesting way.
"The After-Life" by Jan Wildt was the standout story in this issue, and yet it is quite difficult to summarize without giving away a series of brilliant twists and subversions. Suffice it to say that an isolated colony of men is dwindling in numbers, due to several of the Chambers in which new individuals are grown failing. The story revolves around two High Priests—Peng and Rotar—trying to deal with the grim reality of threatening extinction as well as Peng's impending death (he is, after all, 160 years old.) It is quite clever and wonderful, and the world is well realized, as well as the personalities of subdued and wise Peng and curious and inventive Rotar. The ending was genuinely surprising, yet it didn't cheat the reader by withholding information.
That is not to say that the story didn't have any flaws—I found an explanatory paragraph at the end unnecessary, and the biology of chamber reproduction erroneous (it used two somatic cells, which would theoretically lead to chromosome doubling every generation). There were also hints of essentialism that I found a little disconcerting. Nonetheless, a wonderful story with a unique and assured voice, and well worth a read.
"Discovery's Wake" by M.K. Hobson is my second favorite in this issue—a deceptively simple premise ("Who deals with the consequences of Indiana Jones's adventures?") is told in a monologue by a traditional academic who has tenure and graduate students to worry about. Not to mention, trying to reconstruct the destroyed temple demolished by his colleague Discovery Astor's battle with Nazis. It is very funny, and the academic and bitter voice of the narrator is pitch perfect. I found this piece particularly appealing because I could never quite get over Indiana Jones's tendency to destroy valuable artifacts…now I know who deals with his "discoveries" afterwards.
"Grandma Charlie and the Wolves" by David
J. Schwartz is a poignant story with only the slightest speculative element.
It is about a well-known musician, Jean Paul, reconnecting with his old band.
And his grandmother, who is the very embodiment of the "tough love" concept. I
don't want to give away the plot, since this nonlinear narrative treads between
the past and the present, bringing in Johnny Cash and Jean Paul's mother,
Celine, and the music and the atmospheric setting of Louisiana. It's a very honest story, told in
a genuine voice, and, like all Mr. Schwartz's stories I read, it is emotionally
wrenching, yet never slips into melodrama.
"The Sun Diary" by Lavie Tidhar is another one of these strange and difficult to describe stories. It is a diary written by a lone colonist, whose protective bubble is besieged by winged monsters who drop bombs. He gets the news of his relatives dying daily. His animals are dying too, of thirst. This is a disorienting story, but in a good way—while the world is never fully explained, there are enough hints there to piece together the goings-on. An excellent story, and the readers who can tolerate ambiguity will enjoy it greatly.
All in all, another great issue. Flytrap continues to impress me with its consistent quality.