Review of Flash Fiction Online, ed. Suzanne W. Vincent, September 2017 [Read Here / Purchase Here]. Reviewed by Meryl Stenhouse.
Stories in this issue:
“Listen and You Will Hear Us Speak” by A.T. Greenblatt
“The Last Man on Earth Crawls Back to Life – A Mini-Novel Sequel” by John Guzlowski
“What Lasts” by Jared W. Cooper
“And All Our Bones Were Dust” by Steven Fischer
Editorial by Suzanne W. Vincent
Vincent quotes Ray Bradbury in her editorial, to point out that a science fiction story is any story about an idea that changes the world. It is the art of the possible, not the impossible, says Bradbury. Three of the four stories in this issue touch on the impossible, one of them blatantly, so my acceptance of them as science fiction is incomplete.
That said, if the stories were presented without genre boundaries, I would have enjoyed them unreservedly. A well-curated collection.
Listen and You Will Hear Us Speak by A.T. Greenblatt
Being the science fiction pedant that I am, I will say straight out that this is science fantasy; there’s no scientific method to remove voices the way they are removed in the story. It’s a magical box. Let’s move on.
There are layers to this story, which is an achievement in so few words. The unnamed narrator is one of the voiceless – people stolen from their home, their voices taken away from them, sold into indentured servitude from which they cannot escape – because how can the voiceless have a say in their fate?
I won’t ruin the ending for you, but I do like the way that Greenblatt’s victims win by embracing their difference and finding the power to control their fates, and their oppressors. The parallels to the voiceless in our current society can’t be ignored. Uplifting, tightly written, delicious rebellion story.
The Last Man on Earth Crawls Back to Life – A Mini-Novel Sequel by John Guzlowski
The concept of this piece appealed to me. The last man on Earth chooses suicide, but then finds himself unable to follow through. The rest of the story answers the question of why.
I winced at the recitation of his bird list. I doubt very much that, at any stage in history, this observation: “they were everywhere: In the trees and on the sidewalks, between houses and abandoned cars, on the empty roads…” would include birds such as “emus and antbirds, cassowaries and penguins”, especially not in the middle of the USA. Besides, a cassowary on the footpath is a suggestion that you should find another road to walk down, mate. The comment that the narrator had seen Mousebirds (denizens of sub-Saharan Africa) hints that he had travelled widely before deciding to kill himself, and this raises other questions that, on close examination (food, fuel, ocean crossings), start to unravel the worldbuilding.
Best to stick with your local birds.
The rest of the story is beautiful. It’s about loneliness, and a personal concept of God, and the recognition that humans, social animals, start to unravel when left alone. It’s a sadness reminiscent of the death of the last of any species; the endling (a name coined by Robert Webster in 2004 to denote the last member of a species). The thylacine, the passenger pigeon, soon the white rhino. To consider a human to be one of these lonely beings is humbling. The fact that the author doesn’t give this endling a name says everything. It could be any one of us.
What Lasts by Jared W. Cooper
This is a love story.
It’s also a story about pain that won’t go away, that you wish you could excise from your body and throw away.
It’s a story about loss, and a story about gain. Losing your old self, finding someone knew in the ashes, someone stronger.
Well played, Mr. Cooper.
And All Our Bones Were Dust by Steven Fischer
This story is the opposite in so many ways to What Lasts, and reading them one after the other felt like two halves of the same symphony. It’s a love that crumbles, rather than a love that builds.
I’m going to comment on the visions, because I have opinions on what makes a story science fiction, and this one edges into science fantasy again. Not only for the visions, which have no explanation, but for the use the narrator makes of those visions.
In her editorial Vincent considers this story heartwarming, but I would call it frustrating. It’s a classic case of seeing the disaster coming but being unable to change it. The frustration comes with the narrator not even trying to save both of them; he follows the path set out for him, right to the final moment, with no attempt to reclaim or understand.
The story is beautifully executed, but not for me. I don’t like watching the axe fall. The joy in a story comes from the struggle, not the chop.