“Till Death” by Karen Heslop (not genre, not reviewed)
Reviewed by Tara Grímravn
I love flash fiction. It never ceases to amaze me when a writer can tell a complete story in so few words. This is likely because I tend to be long-winded, especially in my writing, and I often find myself in awe of those whose skill in conciseness is so keen. In this December issue, the editor of Flash Fiction Online has selected four such super shorts for readers’ enjoyment. There is no common theme linking them, no shared ideals extolled; as the editor says in her editorial, they are simply “great stories.” Of the four, however, only two fit within the SF genre. Readers will find that the remaining two belong to the realm of Literary Fiction and, therefore, are not reviewed here.
“The Thing About Heisenball” by Stewart C. Baker
The game of Heisenball isn’t like any other game you’ve ever played. In this sport, the first player to see the ball starts the game, since observation changes the ball’s momentum. When one gets hit by it, that’s called a conundrum. It gives the struck player observations of past events and future potentialities. When our unnamed narrator steps into a Heisenball court with Paulie, the partner from whom they recently separated, what they see surprises them.
Short and sweet, this is a really good story. As someone who enjoys quantum physics (as an armchair enthusiast—I am neither a physicist nor an expert), the minute the ball disappeared, I immediately thought of the famous Double Slit Experiment and was eager to see where the author was going to take the narrative. I’m not certain that particular research is what Baker had in mind when he wrote the tale but it is certain that he used physics theory, such as the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle and the observer effect, as part of his inspiration.
Of course, the focus of the tale isn’t the game. It’s the relationship between the narrator and Paulie. The game is simply an experience, a means for the two to gain closure so they can move on. The important bits are the players themselves, as readers will see by the end.
“Like Him with Friends Possess’d” by Allan Dyen-Shapiro
Sometime in the future, Cordelia1564 goes live with her VR broadcast on social media. It bombs with her audience, causing her follower count to drop and reducing her chances of getting money for this episode of her show. Hungry and desperate, she grabs a book of Shakespeare that once belonged to her grandmother and begins to read it live on her stream. The reaction she receives is unexpected, to say the least.
In this story, Dyen-Shapiro does a fantastic job of both world-building and eliciting a strong emotional reaction from the reader. The atmosphere he’s built is quite grim and Cordelia’s desperation is palpable. The future of social media and its related phenomena in modern society is unsettling yet entirely believable. As a character, I didn’t find Cordelia herself to be at all likable for many reasons, but her situation is most certainly relatable. At the very least, one can understand her as a product of the society in which she lives. I definitely recommend this one.