Short Story Review: “Kabu Kabu” by Nnedi Okorafor and Alan Dean Foster

2 of 5 stars.

The landscape of Chicago gets imbued with specters of the Nigerian Igbo culture in this short story. Not unlike Jarmusch’s Night on Earth which shows the flavor of five major world cities from the backseat of taxis, this tale veers through the narrative from the backseat of an illegal cab in Chicago which bears an uncanny resemblance to a Nigerian kabu kabu, ie car for hire.

Ngozi’s hesitance to fly to Nigeria for her sister’s wedding rises to the top as she confronts both her lack of knowledge and yet her pride in her native culture. She doesn’t speak the language nor recognize much of the cultural iconography. The kabu kabu, in return, gives her more of a ride and lesson than she originally planned when it stops to pick up 3 other passengers much to her discomfort. In short order, she’s missed her flight at O’Hare and been robbed of her credit cards and cell phone. Allegorically, she’s stripped of her western safety net.

Her journey bounces from a confused Chicago landscape through otherworldly highways on her fantastical trek to the land of her parents.

This tale would be strengthened by a coherent sense of Chicago’s landscape rather than naming landmarks and streets that don’t pertain to any sensible trip to the airport. Also, the three passengers–who they are or what they represent–could also be made more clear. The second is barely human, if at all, and the third is drenched in human blood. Some sort of explanation is in order.

This tale appears in Okorafor’s anthology, Kabu Kabu by Prime Books.
 
 
 
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Short Story Review: “The Magical Negro” by Nnedi Okorafor

2 of 5 stars.

Certain tropes linger beyond their expiration date. This is certainly true of white-washed fantasy and sci-fi, and I do mean racially white. While many tales have moved on to incorporate a diversity of characters, others make do with token characters, such as the kindly “magical negro” that acts as a selfless mentor. What these token characters often lack is depth and family.

This very short tale leans into allegorical cliche fantasies, drawing humor from breaking the trope. The heroic male with long blond flowing hair thinks heroic thoughts of his country and cause and of his fairest of fair [read: whitest of white] wife back home and his innocent daughter named . . . Chastity. The noble hero, bejeweled sword in hand, is backed onto a cliff by the blackest of black evil shadow beasts. The hero also has a jeweled talisman around his neck which he doesn’t know how to use.

When everything looks its bleakest, a magical negro appears between the hero and evil shadow. Sacrificing his own safety, the magical negro quickly tells the hero how to activate the amulet [listen to your heart] and begs him to save himself. And then the shadow pierces and fatally wounds the magical negro . . .

HOLD. UP. No way, no how is the magical negro offering his last moments–as if he doesn’t have his own family–to save a stupid white hero that got himself into this mess . . . and the story quickly gets rewritten.

The lack of depth in this vignette reflects the general lack of depth in the cliched tales it lampoons. But, it also fails to tell a tale of its own beyond the breaking of the trope.

This tale appears in Okorafor’s anthology, Kabu Kabu by Prime Books.
 
 
 
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Short Story Review: “The Committee” by Margarita Tenser

2 of 5 stars.

Mankind has been trying to explain the larger happenings and rules of the cosmos for as long as kids have jumped at the ground-rumbling roll of thunder. This has led to a diverse array of fantastical mythologies for how everything came to be and what it all means. Sometimes, the scientific explanations proffered seem just as fantastical. The conundrum of trying to rectify quantum physics with cosmic physics leads to some very interesting, if not immediately graspable theories and hypotheses.

This short humor piece implies that the rules were decided by committee, and thus the lack of sense and cohesion. The committee is comprised of allegorical gods and goddesses representing everything from Quarks to Combustion. The dysfunctional meeting strays deeper off-topic during their world-building as they contemplate mass and distance for the cosmos and the lowly quark, and how to initiate creation itself. Combustion unpopularly suggests a Big Bang . . .

This tale appears in Abbreviated Epics, a Third Flatiron Anthology, edited by Juliana Rew.
 
 
 
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Short Story Review: “I Come From Future” by Darine Hotait

2 of 5 stars.

Existentialism emerged from French art and philosophy melding into a disassociative POV. A narrator may or may not be aware of the socio-cultural constraints which dictate one’s worldview.

This tale’s narrator, Ob short for “object”, knows that his world, Future, is very limited in scope and that other realities exist beyond the range of Future. What Ob cannot be sure of is whether he is awake or dreaming or lucid. But Ob’s confident that there are other ways and mindsets, or at the very least, past ones.

In an allegorical bent, all Obs [as every object is an Ob] have 3 cartons. One for one’s memories, one for current thoughts [These are highly regulated.], and one for goals [These are forbidden.]. All Obs, despite potential immortality, receive precisely timed terminations at which time the contents of Carton 1, the memories, are destroyed. Except that Ob remembers some things from before . . . or Ob is dreaming it . . .

This tale appears in the magazine Blindspot: Testing Reality, Issue #1 by the founders of Angle Mort. Their mission is to translate French science fiction into English to bridge the American and French science fiction communities. I received my copy of this issue directly from one of the editors through bookreviewdirectory.wordpress.com.
 
 
 
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Short Story Review: “The Absence of Words” by Swapna Kishore

4 of 5 stars.

Dysfunctional family relationships and dynamics can fester for years as a wedge splitting the generations. This tale leans into an allegorical interpretation of just such a scenario when three generations of women in one family struggle with anger issues that they tend to unleash upon each other.

Years earlier after a missed curfew, mother and daughter blew things out of proportion with unchecked emotion and nastiness. This was followed by the grandmother and mother having words, and then finally the granddaughter and grandmother having words. The grandmother has been electively mute ever since, or so the other two assume, each taking on a mantle of guilt.

However, the silence runs deeper than the grandmother not speaking. Whenever one or both of the younger women are in the presence of the grandmother, ALL sound ceases . . .

This tale appears in The Year’s Best Dark Fantasy & Horror: 2016 edited by Paula Guran, I received directly from Prime Books.

 

 

 

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Short Story Review: “The Scavenger’s Nursery” by Maria Dahvana Headley

1 of 5 stars.

Environmental disasters loom and bloom all over the world as a human byproduct. A sea of plastic churns in the Pacific. Landfills overflow. Smog engulfs urban centers. Once one of these disasters is allowed to fester, it begets further disasters.

This series of plotless vignettes allegorically has a variety of environmental disasters literally spawn trash and smog monsters that move and grow. Without a plot, many of the vignettes are snapshots without context as a mere outline to an eventual story. A few string together around single human characters that interact with the emergent monsters. But even here, the tale lacks character development or motivation.

A tale could be made with a focus on one or two such monsters and then developed.

This tale appears in The Year’s Best Dark Fantasy & Horror: 2016 edited by Paula Guran, I received directly from Prime Books. I’ve previously read this author’s “Who is Your Executioner?”.

 

 

 

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Short Story Review: “The Long Goodnight of Violet Wild” by Catherynne M. Valente

The Long Goodnight of Violet WildThe Long Goodnight of Violet Wild by Catherynne M. Valente
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

As a subject, Death is often treated with allegory–and sometimes even absurdist allegory. This cloying tale wraps itself in cleverness making no bones about being absurdist and allegorical. While some images work–such as metaphysical, purple squirrels pregnant with possible futures–most of the tale reads as an ungrounded Suessical nightmare.

Violet lives in the Purple Country where everything and everyone is a shade of purple and named after a shade of purple. Her best friend, and paramour, Orchid, is taken from her by the time-space squirrels as all lovers are eventually fated to be parted by time. Violet takes on a journey across the rainbow of countries with her mammoth and unicorn to find Orchid and bring him back from death.

The representational aspect of language and metaphor changes across the countries with “loved one” variously meaning “needed one”, “one she’d eat”, “one she’d kill”, “hated one” and sometimes even straight forwardly meaning “loved one.” Emotions and concepts of money, tears, time, sorrow, stories etc. all flux in their symbolism. The cleverness is saccharine.

This tale appears in The Year’s Best Science Fiction & Fantasy: 2016 edited by Rich Horton, which I received directly from Prime Books. I’ve previously read Valente’s “A Delicate Architecture”, “The Lily and the Horn”, “Palimpsest”, and “Urchins, While Swimming”.
 
 
 
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