There is so much free or inexpensive short fiction available on the internet these days. Here are a few stories we read this week that we wanted you to know about.
The Case of the Little Bloody Slipper by Carlie St. George (2015, free at The Book Smugglers)
Jimmy Prince is a private investigator in Spindle City, a rough town with a thin veneer of civility and populated by spins on familiar fairy-tale tropes. If you’re looking for a fancy dress or some rented companionship, the Godmother has what you need… for a price, of course. A lethal disease known as Pins & Needles runs rampant, killing anyone who isn’t wealthy enough to afford the exorbitantly-priced medicine. And sometimes dead bodies turn up in dark alleyways, missing their toes and heels. That particular calling card and a mysterious young woman named Ella (who flees a fancy ball just before midnight) draw Jack into a series of conspiracies and mysteries that will intrigue fans of hardboiled-detective fiction and fairy-tale updates alike.
The characters are compelling, St. George’s style is impeccable, and her handling of the fairy tale-noir mixture is both familiar and fresh. Prince is a capable P.I., but must rely on his teenaged assistant/receptionist, Jack, to solve cases and survive the worst of what Spindle City has to offer. As they investigate Ella’s identity and a growing stack of bodies, it becomes clear to the reader that St. George has created a much larger world, and The Case of the Little Bloody Slipper is only a small part of it.
St. George has written three interconnected novelettes, calling them THE SPINDLE CITY MYSTERIES. This story, The Case of the Little Bloody Slipper, comes first, to be followed by The Price You Pay is Red and The Long and Silent Ever After. I’m absolutely eager to read the next two novelettes, which should be published in late November and early December 2015, respectively. ~Jana Nyman
“The City of Your Soul” by Robert Reed (Nov/Dec issue of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction; free as part of the digest subscription)
Preparing to board a flight to Seattle, our unnamed narrator and his fellow passengers in line are startled by a news bulletin that an entire large town in Brazil, population eighty thousand, has disappeared. On board the plane, passengers try to garner information from the web or their flight attendants, but web connections are spotty and the former offers up little information, while the flight attendants simply repeat that they know as little as the passengers. Anxious conversations ensue, but when they land (after some nervous joking about Seattle being there or not), nobody else seems to know anything about it; it’s as if it never happened. The narrator and the other passengers stay in touch via the net and keep worrying at it, theorizing, tracking down others, until their story becomes a news story in and of itself: “the crazy flight.”
I was wholly captivated by Reed’s story, and especially enjoyed how the story was not about the obvious point — a city suddenly gone missing — but instead was a more indirect tale about the impact of the city’s disappearance on a group of people who know that it disappeared but are the only ones who remember it. As such, it becomes a more human story about the bond that forms amongst those affected; the distance that occurs between our narrator and his family; a story about obsession, conspiracy theories, the media. And most of all, a story about mystery and its effects on individuals and on society (the mysterious is wonderfully represented by both jaguars and jungles). If this were all Reed did with the story, it would have been good. But it is his ending that elevates the story to excellent, though I don’t want to say anything more about the close. Suffice to say it adds both emotional impact as well as another layer of depth, one that should linger for some time with the reader. ~Bill Capossere
H.P. Lovecraft’s “The Cats of Ulthar” is an odd tale, only ten paragraphs long, told in a portentous voice:
It is said that in Ulthar, which lies beyond the river Skai, no man may kill a cat; and this I can verily believe as I gaze upon him who sitteth purring before the fire. For the cat is cryptic, and close to strange things which men cannot see. He is the soul of antique Aegyptus, and bearer of tales from forgotten cities in Meroe and Ophir. He is the kin of the jungle’s lords, and heir to the secrets of hoary and sinister Africa. The Sphinx is his cousin, and he speaks her language; but he is more ancient than the Sphinx, and remembers that which she hath forgotten.
It’s a very promising start, but I felt like most of its potential went unrealized. There’s a highly creepy old couple, doing something unspecified, but painful and fatal, with all of the village cats they can get their hands on, and there are the sheep-like villagers, unwilling to do anything about the repeated disappearance of their cats. When a caravan of strange wanderers comes into town, things come to a head in a gruesome, otherworldly kind of way, as so often happens with Lovecraft.
I thought this was a rather thin tale, perhaps in part because of its very short length, but I know other readers who very much like this story, so your mileage may vary. ~Tadiana Jones
Cloaked in Red by Vivian Vande Velde (2010)
I picked up Cloaked in Red when it was on sale at Audible. After the author’s note, in which Vivian Vande Velde explains why Little Red Riding Hood is such a stupid story, she gives us eight very short retellings of this fairy tale. Each is unique and features a new twist on the essential elements of the story — a little girl, a red cloak, a grandmother, a basket of food, a wolf, a woodcutter, and the “What a big…” dialogue. For example, in one story Granny is a werewolf, in another Granny saves a wolf from a trap and they become friends, and in another a wolf finds a basket of food and tries to return it to its owner.
I admired the way the author created so many retellings of the same story and I can see this being a useful example of an imaginative exercise for someone who wants to be a writer. However, I didn’t enjoy most of the stories. They were supposed to be funny, but I thought they were just silly and, unlike the original fairy tale, they seem to lack any moral or meaning. Many of them poke fun at the flaws in the original story, which is a great idea, but didn’t actually entertain me. The only story I actually liked was the last one, in which a fairy godmother is planning to bless a baby girl with intelligence but accidentally blesses the red cloak instead. The “smart cloak” spends its life trying to protect the stupid little girl.
The best part of Cloaked in Red is the audio narration of Brilliance Audio’s edition. Laural Merlington gives an excellent performance. It’s three hours long. ~Kat Hooper