“Stars so Sharp They Break the Skin” by Matthew Sanborn Smith
Reviewed by Kat Day
In “Stars so Sharp They Break the Skin,” by Matthew Sanborn Smith, we meet Cal, who appears to be recovering from some sort of trauma with a woman named Ginny at his bedside. The story jumps around—both in terms of time and point of view—which is presumably meant to reflect Cal’s fragmented mind. There are things to like here: it’s an interesting and original concept, and it’s great to see issues like PTSD explored in fiction. Unfortunately, the scattered nature of this piece meant I found it very difficult to connect with this story, and the ending seemed too light-hearted and throwaway, and certain, after all the build-up.
“Cold Blue Sky,” by J. E. Bates, is a story told from the point of view of an “anthrobotic companion” named Aki who becomes conscious after supposedly having her memory wiped. How is it that Aki can still remember previous events? And why? These questions are intriguing, and on the one hand this is an entirely competent murder-mystery-heist story, but personally I found it difficult to empathize with the character of Aki. I didn’t really care what happened to her, a situation made worse by the fact that chunks of the narrative are described in flashback (so we know what’s coming). As a result, I felt the ending lacked the emotional punch it seemed to be angling towards.
“Mother Jones and the Nasty Eclipse,” by Cherie Priest, is a literary piece written in second person. The main character is a witch, or, at least, someone whom others have called a witch. It’s a sort of epistolary rant, or a curse, or perhaps even a twisted sort of blessing, directed at another character who is never directly identified. It raves about classism, social judgement and prejudice in general. It has all the usual literary things: strong imagery, multiple overly-meaningful aphoristic statements, broken sentences, three-word paragraphs, no plot to speak of. If you enjoy that sort of thing, you’ll love it.
“Fifteen Minute Hate,” by Rich Larson, is set in the near future and begins with a character named Savina waking up to multiple notifications on her phone. It’s not good news. As the story unravels we begin to realize that she lives in a world where social media status is all-important and her crime is gradually revealed. It’s perhaps not the newest story idea out there, but Savina’s character is well-developed and sympathetic. The story is cleverly done and bears a second read-through. Recommended.
“Cherry Wood Coffin,” by Eugenia Triantafyllou, is a piece of flash fiction about a coffin-maker who hears supernatural voices telling him what he needs to build next. This is a creepy little horror piece which packs a big punch for its short word count. It’s an original twist on a couple of well-trodden themes, and another story which benefits from a second read-through, at which point those little touches missed the first time around suddenly become more significant. Again, recommended.
Kat Day makes children handle fire and dangerous chemicals for living (it’s okay, she’s a chemistry teacher). When not doing that, she spends her time writing and trying to wrangle her own two children into line (without fire or dangerous chemicals, because that would be frowned upon). She has had a short story published in Daily Science Fiction and has another upcoming in 24 Stories, an anthology to raise money for the survivors of the Grenfell Tower tragedy. You can follow her on Twitter @chronicleflask.