There's a vast trove of excellent fiction published in years or decades past that would be inaccessible to most readers, if it weren't for reprint anthologies and magazine editors. Luckily, a lot of anthologies are available as ebooks (like the fairy tale anthologies edited by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling!) Plus online magazines are doing more reprints.
When I was younger and first started reading science fiction and fantasy, one of the great sadnesses of my life was that I could not lay hands on all the stories I wanted to read. I've always been more of a short fiction reader than a novel reader, so the majority of my books were anthologies. Books that tempted me with promises of other volumes from the same editors. Volumes I could not find in bookstores or libraries, because they were out of print and our local library didn't think SF anthologies were worth reading.
Thank goodness the internet has largely solved these problems — and now a lot of the best fiction found only in books, or in print magazines from the past, is available online. This being the last week of the month, this week's short fiction column highlights several of these reprints, all mixed in with my favorite originals.
image credit: Cover detail of Monstrous Affections.
Her Furry Face by Leigh Kennedy | Clarkesworld Magazine, reprinted from Isaac Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine (December 1983)
Douglas was embarrassed when he saw Annie and Vernon mating.
He'd seen hours of sex between orangutans, but this time was different. He'd never seen Annie doing it. He stood in the shade of the pecan tree for a moment, iced tea glasses sweating in his hand, shocked, then he backed around the comer of the brick building. He was confused. The cicadas seemed louder than usual, the sun hotter, and the squeals of pleasure from the apes strange.
He walked back to the front porch and sat down. His mind still saw the two giant mounds of red-orange fur moving together like one being.
When the two orangs came back around, Douglas thought he saw smugness in Vernon's face. Why not, he thought? I guess I would be smug, too.
Some of you are going to make a face at me for suggesting this story, especially after I had such words for that unicorn story a couple of weeks ago. (Also because I need to include a trigger warning for rape.) I made a face when I read it, so I'm not going to blame you. The reason I picked it for you is that the characterization here is excellent. Douglas, the orangutans, Therese, everyone. Especially Douglas, who is one of the best examples of a Nice Guy™ I've seen in fiction. And this is from the 80's.
Ten Rules for Being an Intergalactic Smuggler (the Successful Kind) by Holly Black | Lightspeed Magazine, reprinted from the new book Monstrous Affections
1. There are no rules.
That's what your uncle tells you, after he finds you stowing away in his transport ship, the Celeris, which you used to call the Celery when you were growing up, back when you only dreamed of getting off the crappy planet your parents brought you to as a baby. No matter how many times you told them their dumb dream of being homesteaders and digging in the red dirt wasn't yours, no matter how many times you begged your uncle to take you with him, even though your parents swore that he was a smuggler and bad news besides, it wasn't until you climbed out of your hidey-hole with the vastness of space in the transparent alumina windows behind you that anyone really believed you'd meant any of it.
This one's just a lot of fun and I loved it for the voice and also for how the ending makes me hopeful for future adventures. Black's heroine is convincingly young and has a touch (not too much) of the sensawunda that makes exploring this science fictional interesting and not tedious, which cannot always be said for tales set on spaceships and space stations. Don't mistake this for YA, though. There are enough bodies to satisfy GRRM—not a thing wrong with that.
As Good As New by Charlie Jane Anders | Tor.com
Marisol got into an intense relationship with the people on The Facts of Life, to the point where Tootie and Mrs. Garrett became her imaginary best friends and she shared every last thought with them. She told Tootie about the rash she got from wearing the same bra every day for two years, and she had a long talk with Mrs. Garrett about her regrets that she hadn't said a proper goodbye to her best friend Julie and her on-again/off-again boyfriend Rod, before they died along with everybody else.
Stories that deconstruct or challenge well-known tropes and conventions are always a big hit with me. Especially when said stories take a stab at "solving" the inherent problems found in the trope. Here Charlie Jane takes on two at once, to great effect. Not surprising, as this is what she seems to be best at: taking concepts and ideas that are tired and wrung out and making them fresh and interesting again.
Désiré by Megan Arkenberg | SciGentasy, reprinted from Crossed Genres 2.0
You really ought to meet him, Bea. He has exactly your sense of humor. A few weeks ago, Richard and I were at the Symphony, and Désiré joined us in our box, quite unexpectedly. Richard, who was blushing and awkward as it was, tried to talk music with Désiré. "This seems to tell a story, doesn't it?" he said.
"It most certainly does," Désiré said. "Like Margaret's uncle Kunibert. It starts with something fascinating, then derails itself talking about buttons and waistcoats. If we're lucky, it might work its way back to its original point. Most likely it will put us to sleep until someone rudely disturbs us by applauding."
...he's so wonderfully full of himself, he has no room to pretend to be anyone else.
He's like a ruby, clear and dark and beautiful to look at, but hard to the core.
This story, told in excerpts pulled from different fictional books, articles, found documents, and other such material, takes some time to hit it's stride. It's worth it, and worth a second read once you've reached the end, because the unfolding story has some beautiful and poignant moments. I don't buy that this takes place in the future for several reasons—perhaps it's actually an alternate world, despite the Earthy-sounding date. Despite that issue, I found myself really falling for this story. I blame all that time spent studying as an opera singer.
The Semaphore Society by Kate Heartfield | Crossed Genres
Gia blinks twice to drop the keyboard-display down. She doesn't want to talk to her mom anymore and that's the quickest – and, if she's honest, the most satisfyingly annoying – way to make that clear.
"If you won't let me help –" her mom says. Her fingers grip the back of Gia's wheelchair so hard that it shudders, and the monitor screen mounted to one arm of the chair shakes.
Her mother never stops trying to make it all better. Gia is so goddamn sick of it. And she's itching to log in to the Semaphore Society. Maybe Manon will be back today; she left so abruptly last night. Any conversation that isn't about therapy or the power of positive thinking would be a relief.
I don't see much fiction where the characters have a disability and the story isn't about some technological or magical thing coming along that "fixes" them. This story is most definitely not that type. The use of technology is pretty clever and makes me wonder if chat rooms like the one described exist.
Which of these stories did you like best this week? Let me know in the comments!