In the background of the other books I’m reading, I continue to burrow my way through Tor’s archive of short fiction. In fact, I’ve stacked up so many of their short stories to write about that I’ve divided them into thematic groups. Here, to kick things off, are five stories dealing with tales you think you know, retold with flair and a twist. From fairy tale to Greek myth to Gothic horror, these novelettes reintroduce us to familiar heroes and villains as you’ve never quite seen them before.
A MEMORY OF WIND: RACHEL SWIRSKY
We all know the story of the Trojan fleet becalmed at Aulis, and of the terrible bargain that Agamemnon makes in order to ensure a favourable wind. This tells the story in the voice of his daughter Iphigenia, the unwitting sacrifice, who is brought to Aulis with the promise of a wedding to Achilles, only to find a bloodstained altar awaiting her. Swirsky sticks closely to the original and casually includes words like ‘megaron’ and ‘hequetai’ that left me running for the dictionary. But she adds a poignant twist in the way that, from the moment the sacrifice is decided, Iphigenia begins turning into wind. Fragment by fragment, scent by word by memory, her existence strips away. Beautifully conceived and just as beautifully written, it’s a worthy addition to the canon of Troy stories.
Illustration by Sam Weber
A KISS WITH TEETH: MAX GLADSTONE
Things aren’t what they used to be. Vlad tries very hard to be normal; has tried hard, ever since marrying Sarah and settling down to raise their son Paul. Both of them are determined he will be a normal child. He enjoys sports, does homework grudgingly, gets poor report scores. His mother is a librarian; his father, as far as he knows, is an accountant. And Vlad is a good accountant, as long as he remembers to make enough mistakes to appear human. He spends his life reining himself in, frustrated, blunting and deadening his responses, committed to this masquerade. But patience wears thin. And, when Vlad makes an appointment to see Paul’s teacher, to discuss his disappointing grades, he finds the old hunger awakening. It would be easy. So easy. But what of the choice he has made? A darkly humorous and moving take on vampire folklore.
Illustration by Dave Palumbo
BALLROOM BLITZ: VERONICA SCHANOES
Twelve brothers are under a curse as punishment for the eldest’s violent temper, bound to remain within the walls of a rock club for all eternity – unless they can win their freedom. And it isn’t as fun as it sounds: they are unable to see sunlight, unable to sleep properly, trapped in a crushing rhythm of waking broken and miserable, slaving to clean up the club, and healing just in time to revel in another long night’s chaos. Even when they’re worn to the bone, they have to dance. They can’t stop. They can’t escape. They can’t die, and God knows one or two of them have tried. But then, one night, twelve sisters come into the club and the boys begin to hope that their salvation has arrived. Fairy tale meets rock dive, this is self-consciously cool, even if it only really has one note: a tale of squalor, love, hope and music above all.
Illustration by Anna & Elena Balbusso
VARIATIONS ON AN APPLE: YOON HA LEE
Now this… is a strange one. A bizarre remix of the Iliad set in a futuristic, crumbling city; a vision of the world in which the apple never made it to Helen; a story that is both incredibly ancient and fiercely original. Paris is, indeed, entranced by the fairest of the fair – but here he’s in love with the personification of Ilion (Troy) itself. He is not a shepherd but a philosopher of numbers, dreaming of equations and calculus which will better allow him to understand the city he adores. Here nothing – not even the apple – is beautiful; the story unfolds in a great bleak vacuum. Perhaps Ilion is on another planet, or a space-station. This dizzying combination of sci-fi and myth is definitely clever, revelling in ideas as if written on a high, but sometimes it’s just that little bit too clever to be entirely comprehensible.
Illustration by Wesley Allsbrook
THE MAIDEN THIEF: MELISSA MARR
Every year, around the time of Verena’s birthday, a girl goes missing. There’s no pattern. Some are short and some are tall; they may be fourteen years old or thirty. There’s never any sign of them again. Verena is sixteen when her older sister Karis disappears, ripping the heart out of a family that has already lost too much. Shortly afterwards, her other sister Amina also vanishes, although Verena knows that she hasn’t been snatched: instead she’s run away with her lover Jakob. But this is something she’s promised to keep secret, and so she resigns herself to a miserable life with her grief-stricken, hard-handed father… Until, one day, Jakob reappears in order to seduce Verena herself, promising her the world if she turns out to be the one perfect wife. A refreshingly dark feminist reimagining of Bluebeard, this is an eerie story of male control and female defiance.
Illustration by Rovina Cai