io9 Newsstand: Best Stories for the Week of August 18 - 23

I want to focus on short fiction found in magazines, but the large number of awesome anthologies cannot be discounted and I know you love them. So once a month I'm going to take a tiny break from magazines and call out an anthology I'm enjoying too.

image credit: Glyn Lowe, Flickr

Letter to Lethe ("Kirje Lethelle") by Pasi Ilmari Jääskeläinen, translated by Lola Rogers | Words Without Borders

Just so you know, my beloved daughter, they tell me I was a charming man, the kind of witty rascal whose arms women had the bad habit of throwing themselves into. "You would have liked yourself," I'm often told. "It was impossible to be bored in your company." On the other hand, they also say that I was a compulsive Don Juan, that erotic conquests were as natural and indispensable to me as reading is to a bookworm.

I've heard other things about me, too. I have a notebook where I've collected anecdotes about myself, which I use to study the past. Some of them make me wish that I had known myself. Some don't.

Translated works have been on my mind a lot lately. I recently released an idea on my blog about how we can get more translations into major SF magazines that has people talking and considering. Members of the Interstitial Arts Foundation did a panel at WorldCon brainstorming and asking for suggestions on how do get more non-English work to English readers. And Neil Clarke of Clarkesworld has been rumbling quietly about a translation project he's been working on for the magazine, full details to come later this year. It's about to be an exciting time if you're into expanding your horizons, fiction-wise.

If you want to get a jump start, check out this story from Words Without Borders, which has been translating fiction from all over the world into English for over ten years now! The fiction is not always speculative, but this story is.

It took me a while to get into "Letter to Lethe" for a number of reasons, but I kept on with it because I was so intrigued by the idea. Eventually the protagonist's voice caught me and I finally started getting into the characters. And the ending—wow. I attributed part of my inability to engage with this fully right off the bat to the fact that it's a translated work. It's not at all translated badly, it's just hard to translate cultural context, the expectation of a certain type of voice, genre furniture. This is why I want more translations.

io9 Newsstand: Best Stories for the Week of August 18 - 23

Why I Hate Zombie Unicorns by Laura Pearlman | Shimmer

The good news is, zombie unicorns almost never bite. The bad news is, even a tiny scratch from a zombie unicorn horn will turn you into a zombie. Mom discovered that by accident.

Mom got startled and cut her finger on one of the edges of the zombie horn. It was just a tiny cut. The kind you cover with one of those Band-Aids that's a circle instead of a rectangle, and then it just falls off the next day and you forget there was even a cut there at all. But this time, when she took off her gloves, her hand was already turning gray.

This short piece starts out fun and lighthearted, despite the morbidness of mom death by zombie. I have a fondness for zombie unicorns for reasons that are too lengthy to explain. I admit, this is what drew me in. Once again: the end really nails it.

io9 Newsstand: Best Stories for the Week of August 18 - 23

io9 Newsstand: Best Stories for the Week of August 18 - 23

I just finished the YA anthology Kaleidoscope, edited by Julia Rios and Alisa Krasnostein. It's a book of diverse contemporary YA fantasy stories, and that diversity is not just about race. The teens and tweens found in these pages are not all neurotypical, not all physically abled, not all straight, and not all white. And while the aspects that mark them as not "mainstream" (white, able-bodied, straight, cis male) might not be key to the plot or the source of conflict in the stories, they are important parts of who the characters are.

My favorites include "Cookie Cutter Superhero" by Tansy Rayner Roberts, "The Truth About Owls" by Amal El-Mohtar, "Careful Magaic" by Karen Healey, and "Krishna Blue" by Shveta Thakrar. I particularly loved "Seventh Day of the Seventh Moon" by Ken Liu because it's an antidote to the constant theme that teenage love is the most important, forever love. That stuff drives me up a wall.


The Djinn Who Sought To Kill The Sun by Tahmeed Shafiq | Lightspeed Magazine

"The guardians told him what the place was, who I was, but that only seemed to encourage him. He killed them, and entered the chamber. He freed me from my shackles . . . and bound me again. In a lamp. Cheap copper bought from a trader. To contain me.

"For the next forty-eight years he kept me a slave. Had me kill the magicians and build him his kingdom and win your mother's heart. Forced to do his bidding, for . . . forty-eight years . . ."

Two hundred years in chains, overall.

The djinn looked up at the night sky to clear his eyes from the smoke. Two tears slipped down his chin to lie in the sand. My love, he thought sadly. He glanced at the boy, asleep curled up like a cat.

"Sleep well," he said. "Tomorrow we go to kill the sun."

Retellings of folk tales are always high on my list, especially if I already love the story they're based on. However, here the scaffolding from the story of Alladin seems more to give the story a context western readers may be familiar with and less about really delving into the background and undergrowth of the story the way mythpunk does. I could be wrong! At any rate, the story builds on itself patiently and beautifully, and even though the lesson the protagonist finally learns at the end isn't as profound as I was hoping it would be, I enjoyed the journey there so much I can forgive it.

Have you read any great stories in magazines, anthologies, or in translation lately? Tell me about them in the comments.