Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Short fiction read in February 2019

Short Fiction read in February 2019

This blog post is dreadfully late; here it is April 2, and I'm just now posting about my February short fiction reading. I've kept up with the reading throughout March, but the posting, not so much. But I'm determined to keep with this project, even if I'm a little slow posting about it.

At any rate, my reading for February was a little unusual for me. As usual, I mostly read SF&F in February, but only one of the pieces I want to talk about falls in that category. The other two are a contemporary Japanese story in translation, and a British period piece published around 1927. I'll start with that last one.

"O Tempora! O Mores!" by E.M. Delafield

Length: 6,353 words (estimated based on word/page count)
Category: British period fiction (short story)
Where Published: The Entertainment and Other Stories (collection)
When Published: 1927 (anthology date)
Link: N/A

Years ago, I fell in love with E.M. Delafield's novel Thank Heaven Fasting -- long enough ago that I don't recall how I happened to stumble upon it. My copy is a Virago Modern Classic edition, and at one point I casually began acquiring those, but I can't remember if I started collecting them because I loved Delafield's novel and hoped to find more in the same vein, or if I was already collecting them and that's how I happened to come across Delafield's book.

No matter. I love that book. Love it. So much so that I can quote a great many lines from it. It's about a girl named Monica who makes her debut -- formally presented at court, to royalty, in London in the early 20th century. Monica's entire upbringing has been centered on making her attractive to eligible men, in a world where there aren't enough men to go around and girls often "get left."

It sounds so simple. But the story is beautifully complex.

In the intervening years, I've read additional Delafield novels; I'm even listed as "producing" the novel Consequences on Project Guternberg because I proofread the OCR text for the Girlebooks website several years ago. But it wasn't until last year that I learned she published at least two short story collections. Interlibrary Loan to the rescue! I read Love Has No Resurrections and Other Stories (1939) in September 2018, and I just finished The Entertainment and Other Stories (1927) a few days ago. Surprisingly to me, I found the earlier stories to be stronger. In both of these collections, most of the individual stories don't stand out in an obvious way, but all I have to do is read my one-line summary of each story and I can easily recall its characters and many of its details. This is in contrast to the fact that I often forget a genre story I've read within a day, if it doesn't truly grab me. In any case, Delafield writes of society girls, convent-raised girls, servants, and landladies, and makes them all come to life. She's realistic about class differences and rarely goes for the fairy tale ending. And I've only just begun to scratch the surface of her work.

As it happens, I only read three of the works in The Entertainment and Other Stories in time for February's reading round-up; the rest will be listed with my March short fiction reading. Of the three I read in February, I wanted to mention "O Tempora! O Mores!" in particular. In this story, Amabel Forrester is an upper-class young woman who does what such young women do; that is, she arranges flowers, does needlework, and waits for someone to propose. (This isn't far off from Austen's work in that regard.) By chance, she meets a young man while volunteering at an annual summer school day party for children that takes place at the vicarage. The young man, however, is the eldest son of a semi-local farming family; he had gone to Canada to seek his fortune and is back for a family visit. But upper class girls are not meant to mingle with farmers, so.... but I won't give away anything else on the off chance that someone wants to read up on Delafield. In the end, while I've come to love Jane Austen's work, I find Delafield's prose style much more accessible.

I'm so glad I was able to get this through Interlibrary Loan, because I truly enjoyed almost every story, which I can rarely say about any collection or anthology.

Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata

Translated from the Japanese by Ginny Tapley Takemori
Length: 33,660 words (estimated based on word/page count)
Category: Contemporary Japanese fiction (novella)
Where Published: Grove Press (standalone work)
When Published: June 2018 (English language edition)
Link (Amazon book page)

This novella follows Keiko Furukawa, a Japanese woman in her thirties who is still working part-time at a convenience store instead of either getting married or pursuing a "real" job -- that is, "real" as defined by her parents and most of Japanese society. Even Keiko's managers, who value her absolute reliability and pride in her work, urge her to find something better. But while Keiko is not necessarily happy in the convenience store, she's comfortable there, and that's not nothing. The store's envirnoment supplies her with mechanisms for dealing with the social cues that she rarely understands. And the rules about engaging with customers are plain and simple, which is just what Keiko needs to fit in.

Nonetheless, the social pressure to find some ambition continues to grow, so Keiko tries an experiment: letting a man, whose employment at the convenience store is very short-lived, stay in her apartment so she can pretend she has a live-in boyfriend. If I have any complaints about this novella, it's that the man is such a jerk, but that is kind of the point. At any rate, this is a quick and compelling little read.

"Counting Days" by Patricia Lundy

Length: 989 words
Category: Science fiction (flash fiction)
Where Published: Daily Science Fiction
When Published: February 1, 2019
Link (free to readers)

Two young woman, one who cuts herself and one who hurts herself in a decidedly more science fictional way, learn to support each other in their efforts to cope with their self-harm compulsions.

In the past few years, I've gotten to know several people experiencing long-term, significant emotional pain, and I felt that this short piece captures that reality quite well. That's one of the things I love about speculative fiction -- it often examines very familiar topics in new ways.

Complete list of stories read in February 2019:

(alphabetical by author)
  1. "Bleed" by Brenda Joyce Anderson (2019)
  2. "Unraveling" by K.G. Anderson (2016)
  3. "Sonny Liston Takes the Fall" by Elizabeth Bear (2008)
  4. "Local Senior Celebrates Milestone" by Matthew Claxton (2019)
  5. "Taste" by Roald Dahl (1945)
  6. "The Entertainment" by E.M. Delafield (ca. 1927)
  7. "Incidental" by E.M. Delafield (ca. 1927)
  8. "O Tempora! O Mores!" by E.M. Delafield (ca. 1927)
  9. "Yona's Android" by Michelle Denham (2019)
  10. "The Debt" by Meg Elison (2018)
  11. "Childhood of a Famous Military Leader" by Jay Gershwin (2019)
  12. "Evening Star" By Paul Alex Gray (2017)
  13. "Give the Family My Love" by A.T. Greenblatt (2019)
  14. "Only in New York" by Libby Heily (2019)
  15. "Cherubim" by Julia Heslin (2019)
  16. "The Magician's Clown" by M.L. Kejera (2019)
  17. "Universal Print" by Fonda Lee (2015)
  18. "Counting Days" by Patricia Lundy (2019)
  19. "Convenience Store Woman" by Sayaka Murata (2016 Japanese; 2018 English)
  20. "Reach Out and Touch Someone" by Val Nolan (2019)
  21. "In September" by Aimee Ogden (2019)
  22. "A La Carte" by Joy Kennedy-O'Neill (2019)
  23. "Painwise" by Robert Reed (2019)
  24. "The Experiment" by Michael Adam Robson (2019)
  25. "How Much is Too Much?" by Paavo Saari (2019)
  26. "Gifts of Prometheus" by Alex Shvartsman (2019)
  27. "The Goblin" by Christina Sng (2019)
  28. "Ardent Clouds" by Lucy Sussex (2008)
  29. "3 Minutes" by Adam Walker (2019)
  30. "The Tentacle and You" by John Wiswell (2019)
  31. "Wet" by John Wiswell (2014)
  32. "Lullaby" by Lynden Xu (2019)

List of the sources from which these stories came: (alphabetical by anthology title, magazine title, website name, etc.)
  • Clarkesworld
  • Crossed Genres
  • Curious Fictions (fiction reprint website)
  • Daily Science Fiction
  • The Del Rey Book of Science Fiction and Fantasy (anthology, 2008)
  • Diabolical Plots
  • The Entertainment and Other Stories (collection by E.M. Delafield, 1927)
  • Every Day Fiction
  • Food Fictions (audio reprint anthology, 2007)
  • Ladies Home Journal
  • The London Reader
  • Nature

I'm going to hold off posting stats for February because I've messed up somewhere on my numbers, and I need to figure out where. (That's actually a big part of why this post is so late!)

Read more!