“Rendered Down”, by Cory Skerry, is a modern selkie folktale. Miranda is a young woman who works at a clothing store in a mall. She is fat, and she doesn’t like having to manage people’s expectations, their fake sympathy, and the other consequences of being big. She wishes she was thinner, and wishes skinny cute guys would give her more attention. She stops at a beach on the way home from work and sees a perfect boy lying on the rocks. She notices his seal pelt lying nearby. She knows what she’s seeing, and the plot unfolds from there.
Miranda is a well-drawn viewpoint character. Her thoughts and feelings are a little bit stereotypical, but they feel authentic in spite of that. The use of the selkie myth is relatively light, which works well in the story. It’s mostly about Miranda and her struggles, not about the selkie per se. The selkie myth is not only a metaphor in the story, so it is a spec-fic piece.
“A Letter From Northern Niaro”, by Alter S. Reiss, is set in China in the year 410. Shen Xa-Xhu narrates it in a letter to his brother Lian. Xa-Xhu works as a bodyguard for a businessman named Huang Ba, and is traveling to Deep Spring village with him on business. Xa-Xhu gets roped into a tiger hunt there. A child has been killed by the tiger by the time Huang Ba’s group arrives, and a servant is missing. The widow Li, with whom they dine and whose servant is the one missing, tells them of tigers who change into humans and gives them silver bullets. The rest of the story concerns the hunt and its aftermath.
I like the setting of the story, and I didn’t mind its epistolary form. There is something stilted about the story though. The narrator’s descriptions are extensive, and while they often add vivid detail, they also sound overdone at times, as if the elder brother is trying to impress the younger (Lian) with his writing, and I found that distracting. I wasn’t sure if the writer was using a slightly stilted style on purpose or not, perhaps as a way to remind that the correspondents were not writing in English? Those who don’t mind the style will enjoy the story. Others might find it hard to get through.
“Chrestomathy”, by Anatoly Belilovsky, is not really a story. It’s more of a postmodern collage piece. It begins with Pushkin’s duel with Georges d’Anthès in 1837, presented as an excerpt from The Reluctant Revolutionist, by Nabokov (not a real book in our world). In this version of the duel, Pushkin survives. In reality, he was mortally wounded and died two days later.
What follows are excerpts from Nabokov’s novel and other invented works by Pushkin, Mary Shelley, Edgar Allen Poe, Nikolai Gogol, and others. It’s very confusing. I think there is a thread in it about slavery—several of the excerpts mention it. Perhaps the this story-collage is meant to map Pushkin’s influence on other writers in a new way? I had to do some quick research just to comprehend the first page, and understanding the rest at any depth would require time I’m just not ready to put in. I’m just not fascinated enough by the game that’s being played here. I come to fiction magazines for stories, not po-mo puzzle pieces. If I had more knowledge readily at hand I might have enjoyed this piece more or found it clever instead of tiresome and impenetrable. Maybe.
This is one of those pieces that strains slipstream to a degree I’m not sure I’m comfortable with. To me, it’s a po-mo lit-fic somethingorother that is not really any species of story. Slipstream is supposed to be for stories, narratives of some stripe. At least that’s my take. Whether this piece belongs in this ‘zine is up to the editor of course. It’s certainly within the fantastic broadly defined. I’m not sure what to call it or where it belongs. I just didn’t find it very much fun. I might have, with a little more help, or a little more humor.