There is so much free or inexpensive short fiction available on the internet these days. Here are a few stories we read (or listened to!) this week that we wanted you to know about.
Klara, the daughter of a woodcutter, now a kitchen maid at a wealthy baron’s castle, deeply loves fairy tales, which are the only outlet for her imagination. Perhaps she is a princess in disguise, or at least can help one someday. So one day when a mysterious, lovely ― and naked ― woman collapses in the outside doorway to the kitchen, Klara brings her into the castle, shows her around and helps her to prepare for the next night’s ball in honor of the engagement of the baron’s son, convinced that she’s secretly a princess come to dance with the visiting Prince Radomir and win his heart.
Theodora Goss does an admirable job in preserving the feel of classic fairy tales in this story, despite the fact that it is an original plot, though it contains many echoes of other tales. It’s easy, at first, to gloss over the fact that this is set in relatively modern times, in the years leading up to WWII. In the aftermath of the main events in this story, Klara becomes part of the Resistance of the Nazi occupation of her eastern European country. Though it seems at first an odd dénouement to the story, there are themes that tie it in to the rest of the tale.
“Stories are everywhere, and everyone tells them. But our stories may be different from yours. About the Old Woman of the Forest, who grants your heart’s desire if you ask her right, and the Fair Ladies who live in trees, and the White Stag, who can lead you astray or lead you home . . .”
I highly recommend this short story for readers who like fairy tales with a few twists. ~Tadiana Jones
“Freedom, Spiced and Drunk” by M.C.A. Hogarth (2010, free Kindle, $1.95 Audible)
“Freedom, Spiced and Drunk” is a short story set in M.C.A Hogarth’s world of the Jokka. They are an alien species that exists in three sexes — female, male, and neuter. They have two puberties during which they may spontaneously change sex. Only the females can have babies, but that comes at a price. This short story is about one of the aliens who is born female but wants to be free.
The story is beautifully written and touching. Though the characters are alien, they are not hard to connect to because they want the same things we want, especially freedom and the ability to determine our own destinies. I am not sure if Hogarth was purposely making a statement about motherhood and freedom in this story, but as a mother I found it thought-provoking.
The audio version is 37 minutes long and perfectly read by Moe Egan. ~Kat Hooper
“Asymmetrical warfare” by S.R. Algernon (2015, free at Nature.com), 2016 Hugo award nominee (short story)
As I perused the list of Hugo award nominees, I was one of those disheartened to see that the Rabid Puppies slate swept the short story category. Of those nominees, this is the only one available free online that appears to be legitimate speculative fiction. It has garnered some positive reviews, so I read it to whether the cream of the Puppies’ chosen crop has any real merit.
“Asymmetrical warfare” is told from the point of view of the commander of a force of alien invaders that is attacking Earth, as he (though possibly “she” or maybe “it”) writes log entries describing the progress of the invasion and his/her/its thoughts on the oddly-shaped inhabitants of Earth. The commander is appalled to discover that humans are not star-shaped, like the most intelligent and civilized races must be. (The commander holds out hope, however, “that the people of Earth are somehow a degenerate stellate race, and that living on dry land has led their appendages to droop downward.”) Worse yet, when humans are killed, to the aliens’ bewilderment, their bodies don’t regenerate, despite the aliens’ most conscientious efforts.
S.R. Algernon commented in a companion piece on Nature.com: “I wrote Asymmetrical warfare as a commentary on two conflicting roles of the military. Military service is often promoted as building character, but warfare can destroy families and scar the children and adults who are caught up in it. Our rituals of war often play down this collateral damage and portray death in combat as a sacrifice for the next generation.” There are additional illuminating comments from the author in this short article, but readers should read the story first to avoid being spoiled.
“Asymmetrical warfare” is a very short story, and I’m not certain why it captured the attention of the Rabid Puppies crowd. The nature of the invaders’ physiques and their confusion about humans’ bodies stretched believability for me. It seems rather derivative of other alien invasion tales, although the frequent humor that arises through the commander’s massive misunderstanding of the nature of the human race makes it an enjoyable read, with some deeper undertones. ~Tadiana Jones
“Clean Sweeps” tells the story of an elite troop of soldiers who are sent on various missions around the galaxy. They don’t get much attention from the media unless they screw up. When a washed-up reporter gives their superiors a tip about a group of illegal gun runners, the troop is sent to bust up their operation. The deal is that the reporter gets to come along for the ride, something that should be a win-win situation for both the reporter and the soldiers, who would like some good PR for a change. But the raid doesn’t go down as planned…
This gruesome story is told from the perspective of the troop’s foul-mouthed sergeant, who is not happy to have the reporter along. He’s hilarious, and the narrator, Ray Porter, gives a fabulous performance. It’s worth the price of this 25-minute story just to hear Porter. ~Kat Hooper