“A Lady of Ganymede, a Sparrow of Io” by Dafydd McKimm
“Gator and the Big Buzz” by Peter S. Drang
“From Her Mouth, the Ashes” by Jessica Jo Horowitz
Reviewed by Alex Granados
This month’s issue of Flash Fiction Online has one fantasy and two science fiction stories that all work to varying degrees, though they all share one common issue: beginnings.
More than in any other genre, it’s tough to start a fantasy or science fiction story, because in addition to introducing characters, setting, plot, etc, the writer also has to bring the reader up to speed on the ways in which the world of the story differs from conventional reality. How does its particular brand of science or magic work, and what does any of that have to do with the characters? It’s even harder in short fiction, because all of that has to happen fast.
“A Lady of Ganymede, a Sparrow of Io” by Dafydd McKimmdoes that the best of the three, perhaps because the notion of someone being able to transplant their consciousness into another body is a well-established science fiction trope at this point. The reader doesn’t have to do as much heavy lifting, so to speak.
Set on Io, a moon of Jupiter in the technologically-advanced future, the story features “the Lady,” who is a slave to “the Duke.” The Lady was once a regular person who, falling on hard times, sold a copy of her consciousness for cash. That consciousness was purchased by the Duke, who then transplants it into a variety of bodies that serve his selfish purposes.
I won’t go too far into the story except to say that the idea, as represented in the story, is both horrifying and vividly portrayed. It expands on ideas explored elsewhere in the world of science fiction, but with a unique twist. Freeing the mind to move between vessels is something that scientists of today ponder with glee, but this story questions whether that freedom could lead to a certain carelessness and cruelty towards the physical body. It also explores misogyny and how technology could allow it to open into terrifying new realms of expression.
As I read the story, my mind raced to figure out how the writer could possibly end this story in a satisfying way. I didn’t see the resolution coming, which is always a pleasant surprise. The satisfaction of the end goes a long way to making up for the confusion at the beginning. It takes a little while for the reader to get the gist of what’s happening, and my initial impulse was to put the story down. I’m glad I didn’t.
“Gator and the Big Buzz” by Peter S. Drang, while well written, carries the problem of beginnings straight through almost to the end of the story. Set in a world where a mysterious cosmic rock has drowned out the ordinary noise of daily living with its own sound, the main character is a musician who finds his chosen passion no longer as in demand as it once was.
The writing is great, though so lyrical that sometimes I felt it was all style with little substance. The story is meandering and seems as though it is going to end without payoff. Fortunately, the writer does tie it all together at the end, though the writing style was confusing enough, at times, that I had to re-read sections to understand what actually happened.
Finally, “From Her Mouth, the Ashes” by Jessica Jo Horowitz, while a beautifully written story, is the kind that requires at least two complete readings. It’s a tale where a man is in love with a woman who, literally, speaks with birds instead of words. The type of bird dictates her moods and meanings. As far as beginnings go, this story does a great job setting up the gimmick of the story quickly, but somehow becomes more confusing as the story progresses.
Alex Granados is a journalist living in Raleigh, NC.