Short Thoughts on Short Fiction is a new monthly column that will focus on short stories. Each month we will review a small selection of short stories from anthologies, collections, and zines, both old and new. We want to acknowledge some of the great short fiction that’s out there, shine a light on emerging writers, and point readers in the direction of great fiction.
“The 13th Floor” by Frank Gruber
This originally appeared in the January, 1949 issue of Weird Tales and I read it in the mass market paperback collection Boris Karloff’s Favorite Horror Stories. Look, the genre has changed a lot since this story was first published. The story is fine but there’s nothing remarkable about it.
I did however want to mention it because of one line that jumped out at me as outdated in a way that made me laugh. I’ve read some of Gruber’s westerns and they are meat and potatoes books. A western genre reference book I have says the following about Gruber’s writing:
“Women are scarce, and when they appear they are stereotypes and male dominated.”
I was reminded of that line when I came across this passage in the story:
“He didn’t really expect to find it in a department store, but he had seen the motto in the store’s newspaper advertisements that morning and it was worth a trial.
So he let the women buffet him along toward the elevators. There was a sale of print dresses on the third floor and you know what print dresses do to women.”
Is there such a thing as quaint chauvinism? I dunno but this made me laugh. And now I want an all female author anthology about what print dresses do to women 🙂
“When Helium Isn’t Enough” by Nick Manzolillo from Night Frights Issue #1
This is a story about a balloon that shows up and the strange things that occur upon it’s arrival. When thinking of stories of red balloons and children it’s easy to think of It. This is a horror zine after all. I think for this story it’s better to think of something else. Those of us a certain age watched the short French film, The Red Balloon, in school when we were children. For many of us it was likely our first real shot of emotion and complexity in art. When Helium Isn’t Enough is like a horror story version of The Red Balloon.
“Red_Bati” by Dilman Dila from Dominion: An Anthology of Speculative Fiction from Africa and the African Diaspora
What is human seems to be one of those fundamental questions that science fiction likes to grapple with. From Theodore Sturgeon’s novel More Than Human to Roy Batty’s ending monologue. “Red_Bati” explores this idea in a vivid and action packed way. So much happens here and by the end I was really rooting for the main character but also thinking along ethical an philosophical lines. Just a really great SF story. Once an old woman’s pet, a robot sent to mine an asteroid faces an existential crisis.
“Kahramana” by Anoud from IRAQ +100
A depressing story that left me feeling very conflicted. Not much of a sci-fi element here, apart from a brief mention of technology, but…that works, I think. Because this is a story set in an area that will continue to be repressed and struggling for years to come. Kahramana’s struggles are understandable, but she was a hard character to root for, and the end was, while realistic, extremely unsatisfactory.
Do Not recommend.
Brian Lindenmuth is the former non-fiction editor of Spinetingler Magazine and the former editor of Snubnose Press. He likes both kinds of books, fiction and non-fiction. He blogs about subtitled TV shows and movies at One Inch Tall Movies
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