Evening Pages 10/31/19

Their stomachs were distended. All of them. The fifty or so wuddies, as Worsten called them. Even the men looked to be pregnant. Or were they starving? No, couldn’t be from the cows milling in the small clearing, the chickens cluckin’ round their roost.
“Who’s in charge here?” asked Captain Byers, astride his horse.
the wuddies didn’t say nothing. They all looked at the Captain. In stark contrast to themselves, he wore shining armor, emblazoned with the fiery crest of Arifel. The town folk, by comparison, wore grubby sacks for tunics and if any knew how to sit a horse with any grace Byers’d be damned.
“I said, who’s in charge here?”
The congregation didn’t say a word.
They hadn’t since the soldiers rode up. Not a one had made a noise.
It’d been eerie riding up through the trail, their horses clipping along loose rocks and the occasional root and year no sound of talking, only the wind in the tress the occasional patter of water dripping from the trees as the wind blew the settled rain from branches. Byers didn’t like it. No more did Nemeth, his second, or Worsten, the young recruit they’d picked up a town or two over some days back. Right holy child he had been.
And they had ridden right up and seen all the wuddies working without a word. Some milked the cows, others tended the potat beds, and some simply nursed children or wove baskets. But no matter the job they did, Byers was yet to hear them speak a word.
The captain drew a scroll of parchment from a satchel at his side. He spread it open and read.
“By the law of the order of Arifel, I hereby order you to reveal and deliver unto us, the witch or warlock who has taken residence in your community. Failure to deliver and any attempt to conceal said individual shall be seen as a crime against Arifel himself, and merciless justice shall be carried out upon you.”
Byers folded the command and put it back in his satchel.
The wuddies exchanged glances. A middle-aged man looked to a young woman who was believably heavy with child. But the middle-aged man with red hair and beard carried the same strange and bulbous bump in his stomach. It seemed that his breasts had come swollen just as his woman’s had.
A couple rows back an old man with a staff pushed and prodded his way forward. He stood straight enough but leaned on the staff as though he carried a great weight on his shoulders. When he came to the front of the congregation and inhabited the space between the mounted soldiers and his own people he opened his mouth to speak.
At first, no sound came out. And then, slowly, as though he’d long lost the habit of using it, he spoke.
“Our people have no leader,” he said, like dried being set alight.
“Come now,” said Byers. “Even in primitive cultures like your own, someone makes decisions. Let him step forward.”

Small Thoughts: Short Story Review

Sparkle and Shine

By Tonia Laird
Speculative City, Volume Five: Occult

Speculative City is a small, but quality speculative fiction magazine, only published online. They run a Patreon here, but it’s mostly to supplement/offset the money the editors spend (out of pocket) in order to produce the mag.

Sparkle and Shine by Tonia Laird is a flash fiction piece that focuses on the occult dealings of humans with demons. Goes with the territory I suppose.

Flash fiction works in some pretty confined ways, and with this piece just under 700 words, you can see why. The premise is built quickly. A husband and wife have arrived home. Everything from the syntax to the word choice feels gloomy. Whatever the reason for their late arrival can’t be good.

Then the information of the plot, which is also backstory comes to life.

This is common in flash fic. The form often deals more with the consequences of what has already happened than the events themselves, simply because there aren’t enough words to go, step by step, through the whole plot. The plot is implied and the consequences of it are now becoming clear.

For me, Sparkle and Shine does this well. It establishes plot, mystery, setting, and then turns the circumstances back on those who created them.

A quick and satisfying read over a morning coffee.

Small Thoughts: Unfinished Business by Bill Johnson, Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine, May/June 2019

It’s been a long time since I reviewed a short story here. Like most people, my interests ebb and flow with time. I have been diligently working on (and reading many) comics, but took time this, and last, week to read a short story out of the latest Asimov’s issue.

Unfinished Business by Bill Johnson was unfortunately not an inspired reading choice–not for me anyway. This story takes place in the same literary/genre world Johnson has created in his series of novels, and so context may serve some readers better and worse. Unfortunately for me, I was on the worse side of this contextualized issue. As far as I can tell, this story takes places on a future Earth that also has a large and multi-leveled spaceship hovering above it (?). This spaceship is so large it houses different levels that all act as a separate continent for different (sentient) alien life forms.

The plot revolves around the recreation of a mating ritual that transpired millions of years ago but was somehow interrupted. Some species on the ship want this recreation to be carried out, others don’t, but everything must be exactly the same as was hypothesized in accordance with a series of fossils that apparently tell the story.

For me, this is a flimsy premise, but perhaps if I were more familiar with Johnson’s Ship Series, I would find it more intriguing.

The main characters are a human couple who help in the recreation of this mating ritual timeline. They are clearing suppose to be quaker and charming, but to me just come off rather bland. Neither feels real nor important to the outcome of the story.

My last grievance with this piece is the way alien life portrayed. All the aliens in this piece seem startlingly human, or at least have human-esk motivations, sensibilities, and reason. Though they may look like, “a giant cockroach,” this isn’t enough to make them feel like an alien. It just feels *shrug* and makes me wonder why the author didn’t tell without the genre aspect mixed in, as it doesn’t seem to add much to the plot.

My last last grievance (I just thought of another one) is that of tension. I never really had a sense of the consequences in this piece. The two main characters seem, by and large, inconsequential to most of the events, and what they do contribute at the end, could easily have been pretty much anyone, not only them (which is what is needed in fiction, i.e. how is the main character(s) specifically and uniquely suited to impact events).

Maybe readers of Johnson’s novel series would enjoy this, but as a newcomer to his writing, I’d pass on this one if I could.