Part of the mission of Short Fiction Wednesday is that old SF standby, exploring new worlds and seeking out new civilizations, or, more prosaically, new fiction venues and new writers. Electric Spec is a venue that's featured in a previous entry (I really enjoyed that one) but which I hadn't heard of before I started Short Fiction Wednesday, and Prinkipria is newly found for this week's instalment. Prinkipria has been publishing just this year; maybe I just have a weird perspective because of the whole short fiction thing, but it seems to me that there are not only a lot of venues out there, but that they are steadily multiplying.
Print is dead, chums. Charging for stories, well, sadly that's also probably dead. Pay-walls are for half-dead Australian tycoons, not short fiction sites! It's hard enough to get people to read, let alone read short fiction, let alone pay for the (sometimes) dubious pleasure.
On that note, you may notice that Short Fiction Wednesday isn't the most critical review feature on the internet. I'm totally up front about this: Short Fiction Wednesday is about promotion and celebration, not frowning critical engagement. “But surely, Patrick,” I hear you say through the bugging devices I have installed in your skull, “Surely some stories are just no good?” Indeed so, and these stories don't make it to Short Fiction Wednesday. If I can't find something positive to say about a story, then I put it to one side and an appearance in Short Fiction Wednesday can be considered as a mark of quality from my wobbly old sensorium, whatever that may be worth.
I'd say, though, that easily three-quarters of what I read is just fine, not always perfect but well worth the investment of time (minimal) and money (zero) to read. When you take a look at the crappy novels that commercial publishers expect you to spend eight quid and a week of your life with, you will find that the stories featured here are pretty good alternative. So, without further ado, let's take a look at this weeks offerings...
Streetwise by Phil Emery is a slice of vaguely dystopian cyber-punky life. It examines the idea of the second chance, of the possibility we can use our children (although here it's a clone self) as a way to avoid the mistakes we've made through our lives. In this case we get to see the narrator in crisis when he sees his plans falling apart (or are they?) and he examines his own life and hopes and dreams.
Plenty of people (it seems to me) complain about the darkness of the SF vision, but I'm not sure if it's entirely fair to call this sort of story dystopia. It lacks the political engagement of a true dystopia and if your idea of hell on Earth is “some folk are rich some folk are poor; some folk are happy, some folk are sad” then, welcome to the jungle, creeps!
Instead, stories that are sometimes labelled “dystopia” have a more personal sort of misery in their sights. I think that SF's need to create a consistent world can make a subjectively negative world view seem like an overly objective description of a world. In stories with this kind of close POV and short window of exploration, the setting is more an expression of character. Some people are just downers, and I think Emery's narrator is probably one of them.
Emery does a particularly good job of creating a consistent world through the persistent use of neologisms, any of which on its own might be dubious, but add up to a highly individualised world. Perhaps there's a little too much going on, but Emery keeps us going through his story and offers his troubled protagonist a hope of something better in the future.
Interview With the Bigfoot is a really fun story (think about the title for a minute!) from Chris Morrow, who I hadn't heard of before. He's Pinkipria's featured author for June and he has a few ebooks out with Aspen Mountain Press - they've got an interview with him, too if you want to find out more.
I'm a bigfoot fan myself, an old Fortean from way back before it was cool and everything, so I particularly found this very appealing. Beyond the subject matter, I really liked Neal the amiable loser who has hooked up with the BFHA (the Bigfoot Hunters of America) as a way to get out of the house. The story has a sweet undercurrent about friends and friendship, but the main thrust is the enocunter with the big hairy bloke himself. He seems like a good natured source, but ... well, I shan't give away any more. Just saying “but” probably enough of a spoiler!