‘The Finite Canvass’ By Brit Mandelo & ‘Swift, Brutal Retaliation’ By Meghan McCarron

full_finitecanvasI read the later the other day but the first, I read some time ago, but just never got around to marking my thoughts. They were both nominated for Nebula Awards for best short story, which is how I came across them.

The first one is traditional sci-fi taking place in a wonderfully and economically crafted world and is basically a two person show between two people involved in organized crime groups (‘Syndicates’). One is a doctor who crossed them and is now banished to a climate change ravaged Earth and the other is an assassin. Both are women. In a variation on the idea of yakuza tattoos, the hitwoman has scars crafted onto her body to memorialize each assassination. Her final scar, done while on the run after her Syndicate was taken down by law enforcement, is to honor her lover, the man who sold their Syndicate out to law enforcement. She loved him and she wants him well remembered and she tells the tale while the doctor carefully cuts her and ensures that they will form scars. Yada yada. The mob killer is herself killed and the doctor cuts herself scars to remember her. Despire the ‘yada yada’ it’s a gripping little read. It’s available for free on Tor.com, so don’t be shy.

The second one is also available on Tor.com and it’s really a psychological ghost story told from the limited perspectives of two sisters – one on the edge of puberty and the other a little younger – in the days immediately after the death of their older brother by leukemia. His ghost haunts the two girls and causes the household tension to escalate. Oh, and the father is a cruel minded alcoholic and the mother self-medicates herself with prescription drugs. And the dead brother/son… well, it sounds like he was his father’s son, which is to say, a cruel little cuss. The ghost seems to pressure the girls into an escalating series of cruel pranks and retributions (it’s in the title: swift, brutal retaliation) and, during the final one, the ghost of the brother, who had already been engaging in some poltergeist-y destruction, starts smashing dishes and causing all sorts of chaos at dinner. And then it ends. No letdown, no satisfying conclusion – which is satisfying in its own way, because their is no real hope of one from those parents and because it is in keeping with the title. This story is about familial destruction, not happy endings.

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