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Not if You Were the Last Short Story on Earth
Marked out for (or from?) the apocalypse
Asimov's, in its October/November issue, serves up "Blood Dauber," by Ted Kosmatka & Michael Poore. This story really freaked me out. There are three, almost separate, strands: a man's relationship with his girlfriend; his relationship with a convict doing community service; and his work at a zoo, where he's working with a curious grub. The three strands weave together, of course, but the beauty (and perhaps the horror?) of the story is that it was impossible for me to figure out which one was the most important - or, I guess, if that's a relevant question. It's not a pleasant story, although there's nothing gory or overtly horrific about it. It uses mundanity in a surprisingly compelling manner, if that makes sense... or maybe I'm still disturbed by it and not making sense.

Eros, Philia, Agape by Rachel Swirksy, over at Tor.com, packs a huge punch. As the title suggests, it concerns itself with love in its various forms, and asks those questions musicians have been trying to answer for us for decades - and does it with style, and panache, and heart-wrenchingly wonderful prose. Characters who are all too real and three-dimensional - even when they're a bird; scenarios that are all too believable. I'll be watching out for more of Swirsky's work, even though I know she'll probably put my heart through the wringer.

Trent Jamieson's "Iron Temple," in the novella anthology x6, surprised me with how much I enjoyed it. Jamieson develops a compelling galaxy riven by turmoil and - as clever storytellers manage - balances it finely with a very personal love story. It's the sort of story that dragged me on: there was no way I could not know what happened to those characters.

Finally, let me make a frighteningly big admission: I am not usually a huge fan of Margo Lanagan's work. It's not that I dislike her writing; on the contrary, I think she is hugely talented author. For me, though, her stories tend to just be too dark to enjoy; and the very fact that she writes so beautifully, I think, makes it all the more distressing to read. Also in x6, however, is Lanagan's "Sea-Hearts." This story captivated me. It seemed weird, after reading it, that few novellas capitalise on the form in a way that seems most suited: by telling a story that takes place over a long period of time. Lanagan does that, and it surprised me a few times when the story kept going - but it made sense every time, and every addition to the story developed it more and more richly. Fleshing out, as it were, the old story of the selkie wife, it examines relationships in all their complexities. Finally, a Lanagan story that - while still being dark and murky - doesn't make me want to cry at the rottenness of the world!

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