Reviewed by Ryan Holmes
“Mirror Skinned” by Kelley Sandoval is a story about identity crisis represented in explorations of envy, vanity, voluntary mutilation, and seventeen year old bisexual sex with aliens from multiple worlds. Somehow Sandoval managed to fit it all in a flash fiction. The result is aliens and worlds scantily described in one or two sentences. A couple succeed in depicting them with beautiful phrasing. Most come off incomplete and clumsy like ‘sharp smell of green.’ Sandoval seems to be trying to resonate with troubled adolescents who exist on the fringes of society and do everything they can to shock others for attention because they feel unloved. Instead of counseling them with an encouraging tale of hope that things aren’t as bad as they seem and will get better, Sandoval plays the role of cool mom and pens a story that not only justifies their actions but puts them on a pedestal of pride. She tackles this lofty goal with an attempt at making it all sound beautiful and wondrous through averting the pain involved and promoting the disfigurement, like when her protagonist has three fingers bitten off in throws of girl-on-alien-girl ecstasy. She then shatters that poetic beauty with an unnecessary f-bomb tacked at the end of a stream of poetic language; it jars the reader like the author just jumped off the page and slapped them. This story is a metaphor for serious and often dangerous issues affecting our youth. Glamorizing those issues is probably not the best thing for them.
Oliver Buckram’s “Wikipedia Abduction Myth” is a hidden message contained in a non-fiction article. The story successfully lulls the reader into feeling like they are online reading a Wikipedia article. Then just as the reader gets comfortable, the author inserts segments of an unrelated message, unpunctuated, in the middle of a sentence. The first time it happens, it’s concise and slyly hidden. The reader might assume it to be some editorial blunder. Then it happens again. No editor worth their salt would miss that grammatical goof. Now the main body of the text becomes irrelevant, and the reader seeks out the next clandestine clip of text. The best part is the reader gets to the end and realizes they need to reread the story in order to piece together the message and to comprehend the background text they skimmed over on the first read through, just in case it’s relevant. Buckram isn’t the first author to do this, but he did it with a stroke of cleverness.
“The Cormorant in the Glass-Bottomed Cage” by Rebecca Birch pits obsession against freedom along a river used for fishing with trained cormorants reminiscent of ancient China. Our protagonist obsesses for another man’s property who works the far side of the river. Qiu’s property is a woman named Jiang who does his fishing for him. The ring on her finger becomes the sought after treasure, and when our protagonist wins it, Jiang appears like a genie to grant our protagonist’s wishes while wondering if one will be used to set her free.
Ryan Holmes is a Marine Corps grunt turned aerospace engineer for NASA’s Kennedy Space Center and writes science fiction and fantasy in life’s scant margins. You can find his blog at: www.griffinsquill.blogspot.com