Strange Horizons, 21 March 2005

Note: This post was imported from an old content-management system, so please excuse any inconsistencies in formatting.
"Magic in a Certain Slant of Light" by Deborah Coates
"Dog" by Jenn Reese

Deborah Coates‘ short story "Magic in a Certain Slant of Light" begins with a banal question "If you could wish for something magical, what would you wish for?"  And Nora’s answer "talking dogs" sets the scene for something delightfully whimsical (and establishes a two-story "dog" theme when paired with Reese’s flash fiction published in the same week).

Nora is an intensely intuitive Physics professor, able to predict such interpersonal events as pregnancy and relationship dissolution with the same accuracy as she can her physics experiments.  The pairing of one of the more rigorous "physical sciences" with something as nebulous as intuition-bordering-on-precognition, is an interesting device.  Nora reads the signs and indications like research data: the glow of her friend, Sara’s, skin, the brightness of her eyes, her recent marriage to a man seven years her junior, and knows she is pregnant, even though Sara has yet to discover the fact.  She can predict when a woman at a dinner party will create a scene, to the moment, and knows that she will catch three of her students cheating on her next test.  Yet she cannot figure out how to keep her boyfriend, Jeff, from leaving her.  She knows he will break her heart, even though their relationship is currently healthy and satisfactory.   

"Magic in a Certain Slant of Light" explores the age old subject of autonomy versus determinism with a grace and novelty that this reader found refreshing.  Initially, it was difficult getting into the story as I am not a fan of present tense prose, but Coates does an excellent job of bringing readers into Nora’s world, where her intense intuition is both magic and science, and yet neither.   This was an enchanting tale, thoughtful, romantic, and charming.

Jenn Reese‘s story, "Dog," is another installment in the monthly Chinese Zodiac-themed series of flash fiction. It is an amusing piece on identify swapping, and Reese succeeds in making her character sympathetic, which is an impressive feat for an under-500 word tale.  However, "Dog" felt truncated, incomplete to this reader, like it was a couple of pages out of a longer work.  However, having said that, I think that’s more of an indication of the limitations of flash fiction rather than Reese’s ability.