Millcara by Holly Black
This story felt a little more familiar to me than the others. I was part of the Twilight generation, which spawned the vampires of Vampire Academy and Bloodlines, as well as True Blood, Vampire Diaries, and probably a whole heap of others that I’m no thinking of. Vampires are even one of the major powers in the Shadowhunter Chronicles. I know vampires. I do not know vampires like this.
Millcara follows the story of twelve year old Millcara (didn’t see that one coming, did you?), who has been twelve for decades. Her power is never spoken of but we know. We just know. Millcara finds a very powerful friend (lover?) in the daughter of the family that she and her mother had been trying to con. I liked the idea of vampires running cons. That was fresh. I also liked the never naming vampiric tendencies or vampire hunters (there were vampire hunters in Millcara’s adoptive conned family). It was nice. Black took our over-familiarity with vampires and turned it on its head. I love that. And here I was thinking that there was no new way to present vampires.
Fun fact: this story was inspired by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu’s Carmilla. Realising that, and the connection to the protagonist of this story was one of those delectable moments that we get every so often as readers.
When First We Were Gods by Rick Yancey
In all stories of the supernatural, humans are protected because we are the flame that burns too brightly and for too short a time. But what happens when humans take away that intergral part of themselves: their mortality?
In Yancey’s universe a rich, immortal man falls in love with his wife’s mortal servant. Yancey explored this world in such depth and detail that this felt a little like reading humanity’s future. Because death is what makes life beautiful. What happens when we have too much time? When we can outlive planets and stars? We stagnate. Yancey portrayed this beautifully. There’s no more progression, because we’ve already conquered what we need to. The nobility who actually go to work don’t do very much at all because, well, what’s there to do that machines can’t do? Yancey also tackles the idea of marriage and how it becomes meaningless when humans can live forever. You can agree with Yancey or not, but his narrative argument is quite compelling.
I can’t really explain this story very well. It feels as prophetic, for lack of a better work, as Gary Shteyngart’s Super Sad True Love Story. We strive so hard to defeat death and ageing that I don’t know if we’ve realised that the inevitability of death is what makes life such a gift. And without death, everything we value becomes superfluous.
Sirocco by Margaret Stohl
Sirocco is my favourite kind of fantasy: where magic works its way into reality. Theo just thinks he’s working on another film with his dickhead dad, until things start to get weird. Like a trailer falling into the sea, with one of the film’s biggest stars inside. Or an elephant woman hanging around each dark corner that Theo turns down. Or even Isabella, the Bulgarian gangster’s daughter. But all of these things happen in a completely mundane setting.
I think, for me, when magic winds its way into our reality the magic seems both more fantastic and more plausible. Like, believable, I suppose. So, although the rest of the stories in these collections so far have been absolutely stunning, Sirocco is the only one I truly understand.
Which, funnily enough, means that I am much too under-qualified to critique this story. Suffice it to say that I loved it, and Stohl is amazing at putting ordinary characters into extraordinary situations.
Awakened by Melissa Marr
I haven’t read many stories about selkies (selchies, in this story). All I know about them is what Jamie tells Claire in Outlander. But this is a myth that I want to read more about, thanks to Marr. How do you produce such vivid characters in such a small amount of time? Portray the vulnerable strength of Eden the selchie? But, most impressive, was the conplexity of Leo. He wanted so badly to be different from his father, the wifebeater, that he chose a wife that he couldn’t beat, lest he lose her. But, in taking Eden’s selchie skin, he traps her, just like his father had done to Leo’s mother.
This story was more than a retold myth. It was a study (for lack of a better word) into innate behaviour and how people will go to terrible lengths to make sure that they don’t do terrible things. Awakened was definitely one of the most philosophical myths I’ve ever read. And that’s why I’m adding the inspiration to this story, Kate Chopin’s The Awakened, to my TBR mountain.
New Chicago by Kelley Armstrong
I hate zombies. I don’t understand why zombies are (were?) the new craze. I just don’t get it. Creepy humanoid things that look like us but aren’t us, I mean, what’s the draw? Vampires and werewolves I get, but not zombies. So anything that is remotely zombie-like, I stay away from.
What I love is when creators (show runners, authors, etc) change up the zombie disease. Like in Dante Stack’s Solve the World podcast. Or, in Kelley Armstrong’s short story New Chicago. Zombies are gross and, to be honest I think the fact that I can’t suspend my disbelief enough to buy that corpses reanimated have the strength to do anything is why I hate them so much. They’re corpses. Everything should be falling off them. They shouldn’t be able to walk let alone run around and eat people.
I’m getting sidetracked. In this short story, there is an incredibly infectious disease that causes people to turn ferocious. The disease is transmitted through the bites of the infected. The story takes place in one of the last strongholds of the healthy, New Chicago (which, I had to keep reminding myself, was not Newcago from Brandon Sanderson’s Steelheart, although there were marked similarities). This was a post-apocalyptic story with magic, but the magic in folklore. You know, “Magic always comes with a price, dearie”, and all that. Our protagonist, Cole, finds a monkey paw that grants three wishes. But in the most messed up way possible. I think it’s an allegory for not taking the easy way out, but Cole and his brother Tyler had been fighting to make enough money to move somewhere safer, so I think that’s mean.
I loved that the ending was left to interpretation. You can imagine Tyler and Cole living happily ever after if you wanted to. Or dead in a ditch after being bitten by the infected. But it’s all up to you.
What I didn’t love is that I kept getting the characters of Cole and Tyler mixed up. This could have been my fault for reading shallowly, but I feel like when characters are properly written and attributed, mix-ups actually can’t happen. The voices and actions of the characters are so unique that it’s impossible to mistake them for anyone else.
Bottom line, this story is great. Just some characterisation issues.