June 2022 short story reading thread

Photo of handwritten short story notes

This post is a roughly tidied version of my June 2022 tweets about short stories. It’s quite long, so I’m putting the rest of it below the cut. There’s a list of all stories at the very end of the post.

Parts of this will very likely end up in other posts in the future, when the ideas gather enough weight.

Background:

  • See Story Shapes — Three-Mood Stories for detail.
  • Each dot point is one possible three-mood shape — one way of reading the shape of the story.
  • I use “mood” very broadly.
  • Very often I am working my way back to well-known maxims from first principles — this is me studying story structure in real time.
  • The tiny descriptions of each story are notes to jog my own memory.

Previous posts:

I’ve posted about how I select these stories. Lists this month’s stories are taken from include Alex Brown’s “must read” posts on Tor.com for February 2022 and…

So, to begin…

  • As Though I Were A Little Sun” — Grace Chan (Fireside Fiction, 2022 — a narrator scientifically hybridised into a tree to save others reflects on choices and love) 1,760
    • being — becoming — valuing
    • explain — recall — evaluate
    • what this situation is — how live now — the reason
    • relate — relive — love
    • situation — theory — practice

This is an effective shape for quite a short story, and it demonstrates one way to spin an idea/what-if into a concept-based story: The idea & how the mechanics work — the human/lived experience of the situation — why or how (or in other stories: whether) it matters.

The first part on its own would be a story idea. The first and second together create a vignette. Adding the meaning gives enough sense of completeness and final weight for it to feel like a story.

The action version of the idea would of course have a different shape, as would the coming-to-terms or perpetual-revolution version. This, however, is quite a peaceful moment-in-time story. Even the dramatic sequences are viewed through that frame.

  • Building Migration #1” — Fran Wilde (The Sunday Morning Transport, 2022 — a protagonist between jobs due to an AI incident finds themselves stranded in a travelling apartment block) 3,807
    • disruption — aggravation — jostling into place
    • exasperation — annoyance — grudgingly convinced
    • unexpected/unwelcome (road trip) — squabbles — arrangement
    • trouble — at fault — terms 3,807

It was neat reading this after Grace Chan’s above, and considering the story-shape as what an author does with their big idea. Here, the idea is taken for a ride (literally) until a new normal is reached. (Assuming an author begins with a what-if, which might not be the case.)

This is also a fun contained disruption shape for a short story — the disaster, the players, the negotiated/tentative outcome.

  • Clear Signal” — Julian Stuart (Fireside Fiction, 2022 — an asteroid miner’s affection for the voice of a guiding Station leads them to try to communicate in the same tones) 3,133
    • affection — plan — unintended use
    • solitary — purposeful — a chance
    • lodestar — compass — emergency
    • hear — make — reach

This protagonist is not a passive character, but it’s interesting how the central activity happens in the middle part of the story, in reaction to the initial state of affairs, and triggering the later (unplanned) consequences.

There are obvious resonances between this and Ziggy Schutz’s “It Is A Pleasure to Receive You” (see here in the April notes), especially the theme of established communication becoming a physical lifesaver, but the story-shapes differ. (Although the progression from a fairly solid everyday to a promise of communion/community is there in both.)

Screenshot of linked tweet

A large reason for this difference is the different number of characters in communication (2 vs 3) and their relative mobility, which changes the musculature of the story. A direct pull/clasped arms vs three linked and moving around each other.

  • Synthetic Perennial” — Vivianni Glass (Tor.com / Fiyah, 2022 — a medically reanimated girl is trapped in hospital while emotions run high outside) 4,744
    • existence — frustration — fragmenting
    • affections — separations — slipping grasps
    • strength/fragility — risk — danger
    • subjected — patronised — hold to humanity/self
    • promised — tantalised — removed repeatedly

The last third uses that zoetrope/strobing effect of dreamlike snatches of time (in this case, actually dreams). Compare eg Kiyomi Appleton Gaines’ “The Elements of Her Self” (discussed here in the May notes).

Screenshot of linked tweet and two following tweets

The story shapes are different, but both deal with external attempts to fragment a self. So the shifting staccato passages align the reader with the protagonist, both trying to hold a person safe/together/defended against outside assault.

“Synthetic Perennial” is also an interesting example of a way to handle a vigorous personality forced into an apparently passive role — the tension this can give a story. Thematically, that’s an interesting lens through which to consider the other characters, too — who they are vs the role they are in.

  • The Calcified Heart of Saint Ignace Battiste” — Christopher Caldwell (Uncanny Magazine, 2022 — an acoylte discovers the secret of a ritual affecting the foundations of their city-state) 2,885
    • stately — breathless — patient
    • mysteries — secrets — knowledge
    • intellectual — personal — professional
    • ominous — passionate — treasuring
    • observe — observe — observe

It’s a story that covers a lifetime but which again puts most of that life into the last third of the story. And that final third has a time-lapse effect, but not the fragmentary-zoetrope style discussed above. More like the otherwise very unlike “Dissent: A Five-Course Meal (With Suggested Pairings)” by Aimee Ogden (see here in the May notes).

Gratifyingly (because I picked up on it), the story-shape of “The Calcified Heart…” captures something that’s only explicitly stated in one line of the story but which felt like the point: how faith and ritual and doubt can function in unexpected ways that aren’t a typical loss-of-faith story. It’s a similar q to Roger Crane’s play The Last Confession, which isn’t about losing faith so much as what it means to not have faith yet realise a hollowed-out institution is the closest you might get to glimpsing the numinous.

It picks up some similar threads to Dustin Steinacker’s “The Patron God of Tawn” (see here in the March notes), although the conclusions are different, as are the shapes (although there are echoes there).

Screenshot of linked tweet

“The Calcified Heart…” demonstrates a nice shape for a story that feels like it started with almost a still-frame image and/or aesthetic: the scene — the true meaning — what you do about that.

But it’s also almost one of those stories where a mood (observational) remains throughout the story, but shifting its weight/angle and gaining meaning by persisting: observe (objective) — observe (active) — observe (passionately dispassionate).

I also really enjoyed this interview (Caroline M Yoachim interviewing Christopher Caldwell), which (among other things) made me look forward even more to visiting Glasgow.

  • Tooth, Teeth, Tongue” — AI Jiang (The Dark, 2022 — a child’s first lost tooth is the first step in being socialised to allow things be taken quietly) 2,053
    • normalise — suffer — speak
    • visceral — public — take back
    • the bargain — the reality — break the terms
    • apprehension — building resentment — revolt

This story draws a very direct parallel between what it’s nominally about and what it’s actually dealing with. For all the story’s grimness, this approach gives it that sort of matter-of-fact fable pacing, which shows up in the very pointed story-shape: What it feels like is what it’s about.

It’s a parallel of intention and mood/shape that I’ve seen most often in stories about the creative process. But it is there in a few shaking-with-fury-at-injustice short-short stories. See eg Nhamo’s “Before Whom Evil Trembles” (see here in the February notes), which has aspects of both.

Screenshot of linked tweet
  • Where the Heather Grows” — Shaoni C White (Nightmare Magazine, 2022 — a contemporary woman is haunted by the sound of water and an old ballad about a murdered sister) 2,178
    • hold door closed — door forced open — go through
    • anxiety — dread — terror/defiance
    • precipice — slip — fall
    • narrow path — hint of risk — reality
    • hint — encroaching knowledge — understanding

The story could have worked just ending on the character understanding what’s happening. But I love that little twist of defiance at the end, which deepens both the character’s and the reader’s understanding.

Also note the version of the Gothic shape: the door held closed, forced open, and then the character going through. That lingering dread after the door is closed at the end of another classic Gothic shape is here displaced to the beginning of the story.

Considered as a retelling, it moves from allusion to something more than metaphor to literal retelling. The character (and reader) are outside the reference story and then gradually move through to the inside of it. Swallowed up.

There’s also an interview about the story (including the approach to retellings) here: Shaoni C White interviewed by Xander Odell.

  • Becomes the Color” — E Catherine Tobler (Three-Lobed Burning Eye, 2022 — the protagonist goes for a night swim in a beautiful, possibly haunted lake, and can’t get back to the cabin) 4,918
    • enter — circle — through
    • carefree — panicked — determined
    • door — what is through it — door
    • growing alarm — terrified — worn down /exhausted resignation
    • alone — hunted — reaching

Two water-focussed approaches to a Gothic shape in a row! Here, doors are certainly passed through, and because it is not always clear precisely when the threshold was crossed or which side you want to be on, the typical final lingering dread infuses the whole centre of the story.

What lingers at the end is mingled hope and unease. A threshold has been crossed, but you’re still facing the door and haven’t turned around to confront or identify reality.

“Becomes the Color” shares with “Where the Heather Grows” a sense of loops and of being driven (by fate or a predator or an avenging force) towards a conclusion that is at first resisted and finally (although perhaps there is no real other choice) defiantly or determinedly *chosen*.

The treatment, the plot, the culpability/complicity, are all quite different, of course, but I rather like this questionable but relieved defiance. The shared shape would be something like “pursued — driven — choosing to leap“.

  • Sword of Bone, Halls of Thorns” — Aliette de Bodard (The Sunday Morning Transport, 2022 — a general returned from death attempts to visit her betrothed, and finds the house barred by official magic) 3,525
    • expectations — realisations — conversation
    • return — hold — release
    • gathering fragments — forcing together — piecing together
    • approach — pursue — separation/dismissal
    • metal — decay — change
    • unclear intention — cling to it — clarify

This story has a variation on a coming-to-terms-with-death(s) story-shape. Often one person must go on with life and/or settle their past. Here what’s done is done, and consequences have happened, and everyone remaining (if not exactly surviving) must take or insist on their next step.

It made me remember the (very different) “What Sleeps At The Heart of Aurora Station” (by Margaret Dunlap — see here in the May notes). I thought it was just the thorn motif. But while the story-shapes aren’t the same, there’s an echo in that “metal — decay — change/move forward” shape. A sort of aesthetic/directional resonance (spaceships vs mansions, obviously).

  • Christopher Mills, Return to Sender” — Isabel J Kim (Fantasy Magazine, 2022 — a dead teenager is brought back by his necromancer sister to testify about his own murder) 5,987
    • disgruntled — disgruntled — disgruntled
    • pulled — pushed — rearranged
    • questioned — answered — acted upon
    • plan — redirection — new plan
    • or: redirection x 3
    • displaced — faint protest — resettled

Most of this story is things being done to the main character, which works very well because he is dead, to begin with, and because it’s a picture of a particular sibling relationship, and because Christopher’s apathy is funnier than a narrative-driving character would be.

(From his sister’s point of view, it’s an unshakable and calm refusal-to-come-to-terms story.)

Isabel J Kim has written about the emotional distance of the dead and the inconvenient persistence of the living before, in “AP Practical Literary Theory Suggests This Is A Quest (Or: What Danny Did Over Spring Break)” (see here in the March notes). While this similarity establishes the humour inherent in set-up, it’s delightful to see the differences between the two stories.

Screenshot of linked tweet

Reading “Sword of Bone…” (above) and “Christopher Mills…” side-by-side was neat because both involve revenants, returns, expected vs real explanations of death, complicity/culpability, altered plans and acceptance of where you’ve ended up… but with wildly different treatments & shapes.

Another thing about “Christopher Mills…” is that repeated mood: disgruntled x 3 (or from the other side, cheerful/professional persistence x 3). Repeated/sustained/persistent moods can give nuance to that mood, and gain resonance over time. This story demonstrates the (not outright, but definite) comedic application.

  • The Golden Hour” — Erica Ruppert (Nightmare Magazine, 2022 — a boy envious of a mystery his brother has found takes drastic action, and must exist with the consequences) 3,406
    • foreboding — longing — (a)biding
    • hungry — unfilled — hollow
    • mirage — reach — keep playing out
    • denied — unsatisfied — crumbs
    • desire — consequence — compulsion
    • envy — possess — endure

This story also sustains a stately/mellow register, which tints all the moods and could almost be a mood itself.

Both the story and the shape have classic (even ancient) horror/gothic elements. The brother-envy, that shape of initial crime/temptation, confirmation of that course of action, & eternal tail of consequences.

And that shape has a clear short-story scope. You could imagine this easily becoming the backstory for a larger tale, but to BE a larger story it would require fractally detailed variations, additions, side-plots and answers.

  • The Splinters of our Bond” — Marissa Lingen (Beneath Ceaseless Skies, 2022 — a wood-witch discovers that her brother expects her to conceal his crimes) 3,069
    • inconvenience — frustration — relocation
    • habit — compulsion — correction
    • approval — dismay — opt out
    • put upon — accomplice — evasion
    • urgent — casual — decisive

This is a situation and story-shape you can imagine being spun out further — it has room for all sorts of complications & events. At this shorter story length, it supports quite a charming (if murderous) story of eventually noping out of a situation. This is actually not a terribly common outcome I’ve seen for untenable setups in stories. Violence or complicity or getting away with something with lingering guilt, yes. But I like the mechanics of this conclusion.

  • Hood Alchemy” — Nicole D Sconiers (Lightspeed, 2022 — an aspirational fashion emulating a rapper leads to a strange sickness) 1,504
    • forewarning — acquisitive — decay
    • scramble — lengths — in consequence
    • believe — ignore — realise
    • hero/admire — trendsetter/follow — breakaway
    • aspire — reach — let fall
    • mirage — facade — break through
    • false promise — false offer — true consequence

That direct progression of the “offer — acceptance — result” shape suits and supports a quite short story. The simplicity of the shape is a strength at this length — clear and purposeful.

That shape also immediately implies a specific fairytale/fable shape of hubris/vanity and overreach. This is where the story varies its effect. There’s an atmosphere of injustice and desperation and outright lies. In that context, the choices of teenagers (particularly ones explicitly not likely to be “rescued”) become understandable & inevitable.

That inevitability gives a sense of cyclical defrauding, which also feeds back into (and is fed by) that fable/legend mood.

I’m interested to compare that cyclical shape in fables of injustice to the cyclical shape of eternal-revolution stories. See also the notes on Kristina Tem’s “Beginnings” (see here in May notes).

This all makes sense, of course — the lesson-fable and the explicit-warning-fairytale are both told to point out the way things are. Together with the urban legend format, there’s a sense of “this could happen again/ in your neighbourhood”.

  • The House Diminished” — Devan Barlow (Diabolical Plots, 2022 — an inhabitant deals with a house that gradually cuts off pieces of itself — including what it contains) 1,700
    • contract — compress — curl in
    • accept — adapt — commit
    • resignation — it’s fine — fear the alternative
    • diminish — diminish — diminish

You can already see that final repeated shape (compress — compress — compress) in the shapes above it. The tension is not from fear or wild action, but from that repetition and how much less there is to work with each time.

It’s neat how being acted upon and taking action are twinned in this story. The protagonist could have been very passive (acted upon by the house) or obviously active (resistance). But their acceptance involves constant action and adaptation, which finally aligns them with the house. Not to otherwise compare this to Howl’s Moving Castle, but it reminds me of how (in the novel) Sophie Hatter’s active complicity in and adoption of the curse placed on her turn it into something that can’t be removed until she decides to let go.

  • Shared Data” — Malka Older (Popular Science, 2022 — in a future of intensifying climate disasters, two coworkers discuss the possibilities of a data co-op) 2,344
    • the more things change — personal involvement — practical steps
    • theoretical — personal — practical
    • resignation — impact — lenses
    • everyday stress — skeptical — options
    • existence — components — possibilities

“Shared Data” feels far more like an exploration of ideas than a traditional story, because it is and that’s its purpose. That theoretical/educational purpose shows pretty clearly in the shape it follows — the prose-fiction pattern of a speculative essay/projection.

I’m adjacent to some speculative futures projects, so this difference in shapes is of particular interest.

  • Tenure” — Devon Mihesuah (Apex Magazine, 2022 — an academic feigns Choctaw and Cherokee descent to further his career) 5,780
    • slovenly — sly — smug
    • foundations — building — cracking
    • irreverence — hypocrisy — ignorance
    • going after it —getting it — *getting* it
    • off-putting — aggravating — ominous

A strong classic hubris/bad decisions/comeuppance story-shape.

Some such stories disguise their shape, or create sympathy with the protagonist, so the stress is in their eventual unravelling. This story comes out of the gate with an unsympathetic protagonist making bad choices & succeeding, so the tension is in the wait for the inevitable.

Its shape obviously maps fairly neatly to a classic Gothic shape, to which these story-shapes are or can be related: a door unwisely opened, the hint of something worse, etc.

The simplicity of a shape like this means it can be easy (when writing) to feel it is too simple. But when reading, these shapes can be extremely satisfying, with lots of space to fill with detail, nuance, research, sly asides, etc, which might crowd a more experimental shape.

  • The Topography of Memory” — Jennifer Hudak (Fusion Fragment, 2022 — the narrator, attempting to return home after a long time (and bereavements) struggles to find the road) mid-length
    • thwarted — insufficient — tentative
    • desire — outsider — hesitant
    • loss — disconnection — offered
    • lost — changed — waiting

Although the specifics & subgenres differ, this has some thematic connections to Nicasio Andres Reed’s “Babang Luksa” (see here in the February notes) — the return after a funeral, loss and topographies, how places and families do and don’t change — and there are echoes in the shapes, too.

Screenshot of linked tweet

The bumpy/rough return, the differences and apparent exclusions (and self-exclusion) and some measure of peace/acceptance that is not a restoration or redemption, but is at least an acknowledgement of what has been, which might be enough to be getting on with.

It’s a more ambiguous, less resolved/tidy approach to the coming-to-terms-with-loss story shapes. And in both (in different ways) the changes to/around the physical topography echo and replicate and enforce the human/emotional landscape.

For cross-referencing purposes: Jaime Marvin’s “Silver Bells” (see here in the March notes) also deals with driving and driving and not reaching home, although with different effects.

  • Fifteen Minutes of Grace” — Meg Elison (Sunday Morning Transport, 2022 — in a only slightly hotter, higher-tech future, a man tries to get into his car after it is locked remotely) 3,310
    • tension — tension — tension
    • alarm — terror — horror
    • bare normalcy — feigned calm — drastic action
    • annoyance—fear—desperation
    • evasion—frantic—guilt
    • expectation—frustration—dissociation
    • self-justification — self-protection — self-confrontation

This one really highlights the difference between the third mood and what actually happens at the end — the final note. There’s relief here, and success, but it’s not a situation in which that terror and inability to forgive oneself are going to evaporate.

It’s also quite precisely a “problem — attempts — solution” story. But the mood is so overwhelming that it doesn’t *feel* like that’s the shape. The final release doesn’t feel like a release. It’s an example of wringing tension & lingering dread out of a story that only covers a few minutes.

Also, putting an infant in peril — while effective! — could easily feel cheaply so. But this is such an every-summer’s-headlines situation, rolled forward by a few years, that it seems natural.

This story is *barely* classically story-shaped (this is not a criticism!). It’s arguably a (charming) vignette/slice-of-life. But there’s just the whisper of a full shape there, enough to give it a bit more volume, the whisker of a conclusion, and to hint at broader events and personalities.

It’s easy to imagine this connecting to other stories, or expanding into ongoing territorial-museum-disputes-via-paperwork, or other clashes of personalities, or further archival depredations. But does this story actually need them to be a full story?

It’s treading (joyfully) a very fine line between modes. And there are definite mood shifts — the tidy fascinated initial voice, the erudite central digression suddenly turning back to the petty & fed-up.

All this is a lot of fun, and it’s also worth a read to work out where the boundaries of what the reader defines as a story are — and (as an exercise) possibly worth attempting to replicate its shape and see how it feels writing a piece like this from the inside.

(To be very clear — this isn’t a criticism! It’s an appreciation, and it’s me working out what mechanics an author is using and to what effect.)

  • The Bleak Communion of Abandoned Things” — M A Blanchard (Pseudopod, 2022 — after a divorce, the narrator moves into a haunted house and begins — again — to clean) 4,700
    • determined — satisfied — unresisting
    • independent — collaboration — diffident
    • new start — uncertainty — old habits
    • firm — shaky — submit
    • acquire — yielding — acquired
    • clean—neat—austere

If I try and impose my favourite Gothic story-shape on this story, it becomes: “go through door — linger — remain (unsettling)”. It’s not a story of surprises and jump-scares but of recognition and acceptance (of things that perhaps ought not to be).

It’s interesting reading it alongside “The House Diminished” (see notes above), which has resonant concerns — at least to the extent of houses & complying with one’s own compression.

There’s an initial appearance of more active agency in “The Bleak Communion…”, but a question of whether that physicality is perhaps merely a more willing compliance. That contrast in how agency is presented/effective is neat.

  • Four Glass Cubes (Item Description)” — Bogi Takács (Baffling Magazine, 2022 — a curatorial consideration of four mysterious glass artworks by a reclusive artist) 988
    • object — mysteries — questions
    • observations — speculations — disputes
    • objective/professional — collating voices — voices in opposition
    • questions — questions — questions

The format (item description) again gives a pre-determined shape to the story, or at least a general structure within which a narrative can operate and feel complete, even as it refuses to give answers.

Within that structure, the journey of the story (its shape) comes from leaning into the repetition. It is the concentrated effect of a repeated attempts to extract an answer — the questions/questions/questions, the intensity of that speculation and theoretical examination, and the finality of the innate privacy of the object or its maker.

So that questioning — questioning — questioning has a sort of battering effect at something that maybe was never intended to be a public provocation.

More broadly, I’m interested in how those story shapes with a sustained/repeated mood work on the reader. The way that persistence can give a feeling of necessity and yielding (processing/coming to terms), or of futility or strength (try again), or of an aspect of humanity.

  • A Lumberjack’s Guide to Dryad Spotting” — Charles Payseur (Flash Fiction Online, 2017 — a lumberjack sees dryad’s trees as a chance at a life where he can love without judgement) 908
    • flashes — fears — dreams
    • enchanting — ominous — longing
    • apparent purpose — deeper purpose — possible purpose
    • cosy — threats — alternatives
    • sympathetic — called into doubt — “ “ sympathy

This is a lovely little example of a tiny story shaped by repeatedly destabilising the reader’s position vs the central idea. What will happen in the long term is left in doubt, but that shift from foot to foot and back again is enough to give the shape/beats of a story: “What if — but what if — but what IF, though, what *if*“.

It’s also an interesting story to consider when looking at how questions of complicity are handled/created (for character and/or reader).

  • “Keys to the Murder Castle” — Jennifer Lee Rossman (HyphenPunk #3, 2022 — during a steampunk version of Chicago’s World Fair, a woman with plans of her own meets the serial killer H H Holmes) 3,429
    • turn tables — erode foundation — change plans
    • focus — evade distraction — new focus
    • wicked — sly — practical
    • exchange — lure — trade
    • visceral/physical — mechanical — human

This is another example of a destabilising-the-position story-shape, but at a greater length. And here the reader is more entertained observer than emotional participant. It’s also a destabilisation that’s consciously accepted by the protagonist: “success — next stage in plan reveals new information — scrap and redraft”.

To the extent it involves an element of retelling (one fairytale, two serial killers) it mostly takes those facts/allusions/themes as a jumping-off point for role-reversal & extrapolation. If you add a+b+c, where could the story go next?

  • Men, Women, and Chainsaws” — Stephen Graham Jones (Tor.com, 2022 — a young woman whose ex has just returned to town finds an abandoned car with a thirst for blood) 7,881
    • disappointment — grudge — determination
    • wistful — grim — carried along
    • dream dashed — new dream — meets the road
    • losses — sacrifices — earned
    • stall — repair — get started
    • as it goes — revisit — not quite as imagined

A revenge/avenge/belonging story, fairly straightforward & warming, although not delivered quite as might be imagined. And that little disconnect adds a sense of anticipation/friction/stakes to the final mood (that sense of earning something, or a dream meeting the road).

It’s interesting comparing it to the last revenge-fantasy I read, Devon Mihesuah’s “Tenure” (see earlier in this post).

Screenshot of linked tweet

The protagonists are on opposite sides of the vengeance in question, and it’s neat to consider them as mirrors.

  • “Me (Now)” — Tom Cox (Villager, 2022 — an entity centred on a moorland village describes a painting made by a former resident and muses on its value) mid-length (NB — Villager is a novel, but many of its chapters function as short stories)
    • circling out — circling in — circling out
    • a thought — associations — glance against & off again
    • object — setting — meaning
    • jumping off — variable present — gather

A meandering, variably vague, garrulous story from a gradually emerging point of view. But it is held just sufficiently together by its pragmatic-wistful-kindly-cantankerous tone and a story-shape that (however loosely) returns to its subject like circling birds or seasons.

It could also be: “Raconteur — distracted — realistic codger“, and it’s rather a lovely example of voice-as-story-shape.

Tom Cox lands this differently (and uses a very different narrator) than Mark Twain would. But those first two moods (anecdote and branching detours) show up frequently in Twain, and I find them very charming.

  • “Ground Under Repair (1990)” — Tom Cox (Villager, 2022 — the lives of two boyhood friends growing up playing golf against small-town odds begin to diverge when they meet a man sleeping in the bushes on the walk home from the golf course) mid-long (NB — Villager is a novel, but many of its chapters function as short stories)
    • ephemeral eternal (present) — restless discontent — wistful contentment
    • fullest — meetings of ways — roads taken
    • living — questioning — yearning

This story is not at all horror and only glancingly possibly ghostly, and very English, and yet it reminded me of something in Stephen Graham Jones’ stories — I thinking it’s the pacing of a story dealing with specific boyhood friendships and what happens to or because of them.

As a story covering much of a life, again about half focuses on a small portion, then an event a few years later, and the last little bit skitters forward through time — although in this case, the story also explicitly considers that experience of time as you get older, and about the apparent importance of some early events vs later ones.

The moods of the story-shape definitely describe & echo a particular experience of growing up — an unconsidered in-the-moment innocence, a crossroads of knowledge and questions and offers, and finally the consequences of what was chosen.

  • The Tree at the Edge of an Unknown Land” — Miyuki Jane Pinckard (The Sunday Morning Transport, 2022 — a tree grudgingly shelters a community of refugees over a period of time) 3,233
    • disgruntled — grudging — affectionate
    • reluctant — against better judgement — habit
    • unfamiliar — familiar — changed resist — resent — pleased

This could be almost entirely a mood/observation piece — the viewpoint tree does act but in apparently small ways, and while it is changed by events that happens very subtly.

Also, it again covers a life (or a significant span of one), but spends the first 2/3 on a relatively short early portion.

  • The Book of Unwritten Poems” — Curtis C Chen (The Sunday Morning Transport, 2022 — a narrator, distracted by their own relationship breakdown, attempts to describe the operation of a mysterious book of poems) 3,217
    • rambly — resentful — impassioned
    • missteps — throw caution to wind — personal
    • steaming — explaining — counselling
    • frank mystery — frank mystery — frank mystery
    • answers — at a loss — advice

Some stories take a cool idea and play it out over a story. This one keeps the idea in the air while the story happens around it. Those first three interpretations of the story-shape are not about the book. (And the last could go either way.)

  • Missing Pieces” — Jared Povanda (Uncharted, 2022 — a physically vulnerable human Humpty Dumpty, married to the Wolf of the tales, navigates the modern world) 2,225
    • cautious — shaken — reassured
    • distracted — isolated — whole
    • fears — realised — beyond
    • vulnerable — fractured — plans

This sits alongside some of the chronic illness & eternal revolution stories, in that it isn’t a tale about a cure, but life lived and decisions made.

Also while it is a positive story, a change to that final mood (or even a deeper note sounded below it) could have tipped it into psychological horror territory.

  • “Needs, Wants and Dead Things” — Kirk A Johnson (Fiyah #22, 2022 — after his parents die from plague, the protagonist approaches a bush wizard to find out how to bring them back) mid-length
    • unwisdom — risk — horror
    • doubts — determination — delight
    • loss — mourning — visceral
    • sacrifice — love — means
    • doubts re others — doubts re efficacy — alarming lack of doubt

It follows a sort of be-careful-what-you-wish-for shape, but the placement of the protagonist’s doubt is moved from the end of the story to the earlier parts — the protagonist (as far as we see) is satisfied at the end (although horror dawns for the reader).

  • Six Steps To Become A Saint” — Avi Burton (Apparition Literary Magazine, 2022 — after his father’s death, a first-generation immigrant candidate for the priesthood returns to his father’s workshop to find a way to bring back what he lost) 2,915
    • desire — effort — return
    • pursuit — loss — build
    • choose — choose again — burn bright
    • chosen road — lost road — new road

This shares some motivating forces (love of parents, death & loss, revenants) with Kirk A Johnson’s “Needs, Wants and Dead Things” above, while feeling completely different. There are echoes in the story-shapes, but to the extent each has elements of fable/allegory, they use choice a joy in very varied ways.

  • “Driftwood (1968)” — Tom Cox (Villager, 2022 — in the 1960s, a young Californian singer drifts to England and Underhill) fairly long (NB — Villager is a novel, but many of its chapters function as short stories)
    • spiralling in — half-landing — spiral away
    • reaching for — beginning to make — let it go on the wind
    • steps in — being there — steps away
    • open hands — growing through — pulling free
    • faint aims — something like a goal — uprooting

Tom Cox writes like a spirograph.

This story is all a rolling, circling, tumbling mood, always in movement, grabbing hold of tufts and pulling them up and staggering on and turning again with the wind. This means that, while the tone is sustained throughout the story, it is never monotonous from sentence to sentence or paragraph to paragraph.

And that’s the end of the June 2022 short story reading notes.

All stories read in this post (with internal links to the first place they’re discussed)

  • As Though I Were A Little Sun” — Grace Chan (Fireside Fiction, 2022 — a narrator scientifically hybridised into a tree to save others reflects on choices and love) 1,760
  • Building Migration #1” — Fran Wilde (The Sunday Morning Transport, 2022 — a protagonist between jobs due to an AI incident finds themselves stranded in a travelling apartment block) 3,807
  • Clear Signal” — Julian Stuart (Fireside Fiction, 2022 — an asteroid miner’s affection for the voice of a Station leads them to try to communicate in the same tones) 3,133
  • Synthetic Perennial” — Vivianni Glass (Tor.com / Fiyah, 2022 — a medically reanimated girl is trapped in hospital while emotions run high outside) 4,744
  • The Calcified Heart of Saint Ignace Battiste” — Christopher Caldwell (Uncanny Magazine, 2022 — an acoylte discovers the secret of a ritual affecting the foundations of their city-state) 2,885
  • Tooth, Teeth, Tongue” — AI Jiang (The Dark, 2022 — a child’s first lost tooth is the first step in being socialised to allow things be taken quietly) 2,053
  • Where the Heather Grows” — Shaoni C White (Nightmare Magazine, 2022 — a contemporary woman is haunted by the sound of water and an old ballad about a murdered sister) 2,178
  • Becomes the Color” — E Catherine Tobler (Three-Lobed Burning Eye, 2022 — the protagonist goes for a night swim in a beautiful, possibly haunted lake, and can’t get back to the cabin) 4,918
  • Sword of Bone, Halls of Thorns” — Aliette de Bodard (The Sunday Morning Transport, 2022 — a general returned from death attempts to visit her betrothed, and finds the house barred by official magic) 3,525
  • Christopher Mills, Return to Sender” — Isabel J Kim (Fantasy Magazine, 2022 — a dead teenager is brought back by his necromancer sister to testify about his own murder) 5,987
  • The Golden Hour” — Erica Ruppert (Nightmare Magazine, 2022 — a boy envious of a mystery his brother has found takes drastic action, and must exist with the consequences) 3,406
  • The Splinters of our Bond” — Marissa Lingen (Beneath Ceaseless Skies, 2022 — a wood-witch discovers that her brother expects her to conceal his crimes) 3,069
  • Hood Alchemy” — Nicole D Sconiers (Lightspeed, 2022 — an aspirational fashion emulating a rapper leads to a strange sickness) 1,504
  • The House Diminished” — Devan Barlow (Diabolical Plots, 2022 — an inhabitant deals with a house that gradually cuts off pieces of itself — including what it contains) 1,700
  • Shared Data” — Malka Older (Popular Science, 2022 — in a future of intensifying climate disasters, two coworkers discuss the possibilities of a data co-op) 2,344
  • Tenure” — Devon Mihesuah (Apex Magazine, 2022 — an academic feigns Choctaw and Cherokee descent to further his career) 5,780
  • The Topography of Memory” — Jennifer Hudak (Fusion Fragment, 2022 — the narrator, attempting to return home after a long time (and bereavements) struggles to find the road) mid-length
  • Fifteen Minutes of Grace” — Meg Elison (Sunday Morning Transport, 2022 — in a only slightly hotter, higher-tech future, a man tries to get into his car after it is locked remotely) 3,310
  • Two Condition Reports From the Museum of Mythologic Science and Paranatural History” — Gabrielle Bleu (Hexagon Magazine #8, 2022 — after an incident in the museum, reports are filed relating to damage to two artefacts) 1,206
  • The Bleak Communion of Abandoned Things” — M A Blanchard (Pseudopod, 2022 — after a divorce, the narrator moves into a haunted house and begins — again — to clean) 4,700
  • Four Glass Cubes (Item Description)” — Bogi Takács (Baffling Magazine, 2022 — a curatorial consideration of four mysterious glass artworks by a reclusive artist) 988
  • A Lumberjack’s Guide to Dryad Spotting” — Charles Payseur (Flash Fiction Online, 2017 — a lumberjack sees dryad’s trees as a chance at a life where he can love without judgement) 908
  • Keys to the Murder Castle” — Jennifer Lee Rossman (HyphenPunk #3, 2022 — during a steampunk version of Chicago’s World Fair, a woman with plans of her own meets the serial killer H H Holmes) 3,429
  • Men, Women, and Chainsaws” — Stephen Graham Jones (Tor.com, 2022 — a young woman whose ex has just returned to town finds an abandoned car with a thirst for blood) 7,881
  • Me (Now)” — Tom Cox (Villager, 2022 — an entity centred on a moorland village describes a painting made by a former resident and muses on its value) mid-length
  • Ground Under Repair (1990)” — Tom Cox (Villager, 2022 — the lives of two boyhood friends growing up playing golf against small-town odds begin to diverge when they meet a man sleeping in the bushes on the walk home from the golf course) mid-long
  • The Tree at the Edge of an Unknown Land” — Miyuki Jane Pinckard (The Sunday Morning Transport, 2022 — a tree grudgingly shelters a community of refugees over a period of time) 3,233
  • The Book of Unwritten Poems” — Curtis C Chen (The Sunday Morning Transport, 2022 — a narrator, distracted by their own relationship breakdown, attempts to describe the operation of a mysterious book of poems) 3,217
  • Needs, Wants and Dead Things” — Kirk A Johnson (Fiyah #22, 2022 — after his parents die from plague, the protagonist approaches a bush wizard to find out how to bring them back) mid-length
  • Six Steps To Become A Saint” — Avi Burton (Apparition Literary Magazine, 2022 — after his father’s death, a first-generation immigrant candidate for the priesthood returns to his father’s workshop to find a way to bring back what he lost) 2,915
  • Driftwood (1968)” — Tom Cox (Villager, 2022 — in the 1960s, a young Californian singer drifts through the west of England and to Underhill) fairly long

8 thoughts on “June 2022 short story reading thread

  1. Pingback: April short story reading post | Kathleen Jennings

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  3. Pingback: March short story reading post | Kathleen Jennings

  4. Pingback: February short story reading thread | Kathleen Jennings

  5. Pingback: January 2022 Big Giant Three-Mood Story Reading Thread | Kathleen Jennings

  6. Pingback: June 2022 — round-up of posts | Kathleen Jennings

  7. Pingback: July 2022 Short Story Reading Post | Kathleen Jennings

  8. Pingback: August 2022 Short Story Reading Post | Kathleen Jennings

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